Monday, 1 June 2020

The issues of combining KM with another discipline

It is increasingly common to combine KM with another discipline, for example Knowledge and Information Management (KIM) or Knowledge and Innovation. Recent survey data suggests that this may create differences in outcome of the KM program.

In the recent 2020 survey of global KM, we asked a new question - whether KM was combined with another discipline within a single organisational unit. The responses from the participants showed that this happens very frequently, with the a combination with IM being the most common.


But does this combination have any effect on the way KM operates? Lets look at some survey results and see what the evidence is.

Skills on the KM team.

The survey asked people to rank a number of skills as critical to the KM team, placing them in a ranked order from 8 down to 1.  The skills are as follows, and all are potentially valuable to KM:

  • IM and library skills (important for management of explicit knowledge)
  •  Organization/Industry skills and experience (important to tailor KM to the context of the orgamisation)
  • Facilitation skills (important for management of tacit knowledge)
  • IT skills (important for selecting the right technology)
  •  Change management skills (important for KMimplementation)
  • Journalism/communication/PR skills (important for the communication 
  • HR skills (important for setting up the roles)
We can look at preferences either by a) taking the average ranking, or b) looking at the percentage of respondents that chose each skill as first choice. The average ranking is shown in the table below, with particularly high ranks (greater than 5) shaded in yellow, and low ranks (less than 3.5) in orange.

Combination with KM
IT skill
IM and library
skills
Industry skills
Change mgt skills
Facilitation skills
Journalism skills
HR skills
None - KM is stand-alone
4.4
4.7
4.2
4.6
4.8
4.0
3.8
Information management including library and records
4.6
5.6
4.3
4.3
4.3
3.2
3.3
Learning and Development
3.9
4.7
4.6
4.2
4.7
3.6
4.3
Innovation
4.9
4.6
4.8
5.1
4.5
3.4
2.8
Research
4.3
5.4
4.8
4.3
4.1
3.2
3.4
Collaboration
4.3
5.1
4.8
4.0
4.5
3.3
3.5
Data (small)
6.8
5.5
3.0
2.5
5.0
5.5
2.0
Quality (small)
5.0
3.8
4.8
5.0
3.8
5.3
2.3
Lesson learning (small)
4.3
3.8
4.0
5.5
5.8
3.3
2.5


Perhaps unsurprisingly, when KM is partnered with IM, IM skills are strongly preferred, and when KM is partnered with Data, IT skills are strongly preferred. Where KM is a standalone discipline or paired with L&D, the mix of skills seems more even, with similar average ranks given to IM skills (explicit knowledge) and facilitation (tacit knowledge). The KM/Innovation combination gives the strongest weight to Change Management skills

The figure below shows the percentage of respondents in each category which gave highest rank to each of the skills, which highlights the differences even more strongly.



Where KM was a standalone discipline, equal numbers chose IM skills, facilitaiton skills and organsation skills as the top ranked skill, and where KM was partnered with L&D, the picture was similar. Where KM was partnered with IM, IM skills were first choice for nearly half, with very few choosing facilitation skills (the picture was similat where KM was partnered with research). Where KM was partnered with Data, IT skills were the strong first choice.

Use of tacit approaches.

The survey contained optional sections looking at four KM approaches which are tailored more towards tacit knowledge. These were

  • Communities of practice, which exist to share and document tacit knowledge;
  • Best Practice, which involves comparing tacit practices across many experts and teams, and extracting the best way;
  • Lesson learning, which involves translating the tacit experience of project teams into process improvements; and
  • Knowledge retention, which is about eliciting tacit knowledge from experts.

The percentage of usage of these approaches may be taken as a proxy for the attention given to tacit knowledge within a KM program. The figures below shows the percentage use of these tacit elements as a bar chart. The partner options with smaller numbers have been omitted as the numbers were getting really too few to trust.



The differences are quite subtle here, but the partner disciplines which seem to make more use of the tacit elements are L&D, and collaboration. 80% of the KM program that partner with Collaboration cover communities of practice (as you might expect), compared to less than half of those which partner with Innovation.

Effectiveness of tacit approaches.

Usage is one thing, effectiveness is another. In the optional sections we asked participants to rate the effectiveness of each tacit approach in terms of "marks out of 5". The average effectiveness is shown below.



Here we can see that the best effectiveness of the tacit elements comes when KM is partnered with L&D.  Partnership with IM or with collaboration gives the lowest effectiveness (although partnering with Innovation seems to results in moderately effective CoPs).  The others are somewhere in between.

Use of explicit knowledge/IM approaches

How about the use of  approaches to management of explicit knowledge and documents? Again we see a difference depending on partner approach. The figure below shows the frequency of use of  various information management elements, depending on partner discipline.



Here we can see the percentage of respondents from each KM parthership said they use these specific IM approaches. The thick red line is the percent that said they use none of them.  Many of these approaches are most common when KM is partnered with IM, although the lowest point of the thick red line is where KM is a standalone discipline. The highest point of the red line is where KM is partnered with L&D. A partnership wth research results in the highest percentage use of records management.

Approaches to documented knowledge.

Our final plot looks at the approach to documented knowledge - whether it is scattered across many locations, whether it is gathered, tagged, curated, or synthesised and combined. Remember, the C is the SECI model refers to combination - combining old knowledge and new together to develop a synthesised resource, such as a best practice.  Synthesised knowledge is probably our aim - to develop a core of knowledge assets which collect, resolve and synthesise what is known about a topic. Like wikipedia.


Synthesised knowledge is most common where KM is partnered with L&D or lesson learning, where knowledge is synthesised into learning material or in to practice guidance. Curated knowledge is most common where KM is partnered with Innovation or Research. A partnership between KM and IM seems to result in a lot of tagging, but not so much curation and very little synthesis.

So what can we conclude from all of this?

The main conclusion is that the choice of a partner discipline for KM will affect your KM program. For example;

Partnering with Learning and Development will result in a balanced KM team, an effective set of tacit knowledge approaches, and good synthesised knowledge, but may leave your documents in a more poorly managed state.

Partnering with IM will result in a team with a bias to IM skills rather than to facilitation skills, and less effective tacit components within the KM program. You may end up with a better organised and tagged set of documents, but with less attention to knowledge synthesis.

Partnering with Innovation leads to a focus on change management skills and organisational skills, effective CoPs and Best Practices, but not so good at Retention and Lesson Learning.

Other combinations can be read from the graphs above.

Be aware, when you partner KM, that this will affect the outcome. Try if you can to assign a team with broad skills,  retain the balance between tacit and explicit knowledge, and keep a focus on curated and synthesised knowledge. 


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