Tuesday 4 May 2021

How Covid has affected KM in organisations

A month ago, I opened a survey to investigate how KM has fared during the pandemic and associated recession. Here are the results.

We conducted the last of our three triennial Knoco Global Surveys of Knowledge Management in 2020, and these reflect the state of KM in organisations prior to the pandemic. So we decided to conduct an additional survey in April/May 2021 to investigate how the pandemic affected the state of KM in organisations, and also how KM supported these organisations.

The 2021 Covid Survey was released through Twitter, Linked-In, this blog, and also direct emails to respondents to the 2020 global survey. A total of 83 responses were received. 

Not all respondents answered every question, as respondents who reported that their KM program had been closed down were not required to go on to answer questions investigating changes to the KM program. Please note that no demographic data were recorded from respondents. However 59 responses were previous respondents to the 2020 survey, where we had already recorded a suite of demographics. This will allow some further analysis at a future date.

Continued existence of the KM program

The first survey question covered the continued existence of KM programs during the Covid period. 6 options were offered, and the proportion of responses to each option is shown below. 

In the vast majority of cases, the KM program either remained the same, or expanded. Only in 6% of cases had the KM program had been cancelled or put on hold, and 5% reported a contracted program. 

Despite all the difficulties Covid has brought to various industries, organisations and businesses, KM has largely survived as a function, and often increased in scope.

KM budget.

Although KM continues, has the level of investment remained the same? The responses are shown below.

In the majority of cases (58%), the KM budget remains unchanged. There are roughly equal segments where the budget has increased (16%) and decreased (19%). Given that, in the previous pie chart, only 5% of respondents reported a contraction in the KM program, then in some cases the KM program must have continued with less money. Also the 46% who reported an expansion of the KM program is not matched by an expansion in budget. So although KM continues, it seems KM professionals are often being asked to contribute more. 

 Continuity of KM roles.

Given the continuity of KM programs, it is no surprise to see continuity of KM roles. Very few respondents have left their KM programs, and only 3 people out of the 83 surveyed reported losing their KM job during the pandemic. Although the loss of these three jobs will have been a huge issue to the people involved, it seems in general as if there has been a reassuring level of role continuity during Covid.

However it must be acknowledged that the survey sample set is biased in favour of people who remain in KM employment, are still answering email addresses linked to the 2020 survey, and are still following KM blogs and twitter feeds. The true percentage of people who have lost a KM job due to the pandemic and associated recession may well be higher than the 6% recorded here. 

Whether KM was easier or harder during the pandemic.

For those respondents whose KM programs continued during the pandemic, the next series of questions looked at how the programs changed. The first of these questions addressed whether KM had been easier or harder during Covid-induced lockdowns and remote working. The pie chart below shows that respondents were roughly even split between those who found it harder, those who found it easier, and those for whom there was no difference.


We asked respondents what had made KM easier/harder. 

There was a wide range of responses from people who had answered that it was harder. The most common theme was the relative difficulty of remote KM interaction compared to face-to-face. Other themes included a reduction in ad-hoc knowledge sharing, the general overloading of staff during the pandemic, and the need to learn new skills. 

 There was a smaller range of responses from people who had answered that it was easier. The most common theme was the fact that remote working exposed a need for KM and that there was therefore a wider recognition of its value. Other common themes were improved (remote) access to people across the organisation, and easier collaboration. 

 Changes in focus for KM

Respondents were asked whether the focus of their KM program had changed. Answers are shown below. About half said there was a slight change in focus, a quarter said a significant change, and a quarter reported no change in focus.

Participants were asked what new work items had been added to the KM scope. 31% reported no new work items. The most commonly reported new work items were collaboration, digital transformation, expansion within the organisation, and delivery/facilitation of online events. Other than these, there was a very wide range of new items, each mentioned by very few people.

Participants were asked what old work items had been removed from the KM scope. 77% reported no removal of old work items, which perhaps continues the theme of KM programs expanding and doing more, albeit not always with more budget. The most commonly reported removed work item was the facilitation of face to face events.

How else has KM changed?

Again there was a range of responses to this question, and the free-text responses from the respondents were grouped into themes as shown in the pie chart below. As you might expect, the most common theme reflected the move to online/virtual working, but other responses include an increase in demand for KM, a contraction of KM in those organisations where the budget reduced, and a reorganisation of KM.

The final question asked how KM has supported the organisations during the pandemic. 

Again, free-text responses from the respondents were grouped into themes as shown in the pie chart below. 

The most common benefits KM has provided to their organisations have been the provision of knowledge to staff working remotely - both generic knowledge, and knowledge of the Covid response itself - and support for new ways of working - remote working, use of collaborative tools, and collaborative behaviours. 


I think that the responses to the survey, as shown in the graphs here, demonstrate that Knowledge Management has stepped up and played a significant and valuable supporting role to organisations during the Covid pandemic. 

This supporting role has generated an increased understanding and demand for KM, which meant that KM programs generally have not suffered significantly but have often expanded in reach and scope, if not always in budget. KM has had its challenges (new ways of working, the difficulties of remote knowledge sharing, a loss of the ad-hoc opportunities for knowledge exchange), but has also found some things easier, like better access to staff, easier virtual collaboration, and a greater level of organisational support. 

The pandemic has been KM's time to step forward, show its value, and support people and organisations through an astonishingly difficult time. Let's hope we can continue to build on this role as we move towards a post-Covid world. 

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