Friday, 12 July 2019

Is your KM progam reactive, or proactive?

Is your Knowledge Management framework reactive, or proactive? And what's the difference?


Let's look at two ways in which you can develop a KM approach of KM Framework. Let's call them reactive, and proactive.

Reactive KM

A reactive KM framework reacts to events.

  • You may react to the threat of knowledge loss, for example putting in place retention interviewing when a key person is about to retire from the organisation. 
  • You may react to knowledge gain, by capturing and documenting lessons from a project, ensuring that knowledge captured from success or failure is documented for future use.
  • You may collecting best practices from people when they have delivered a great piece of work. 
  • You may react in communities of practice, where people ask for help in solving the problems they have just encountered. 

Proactive KM

A proactive KM framework anticipates events.

  • You may ask, "what is the strategic knowledge the company will need going forward? How will we create it; where will it come from"?  Then you put in place activities and accountabilities to develop that knowledge.
  • You may ask "what is our core knowledge we need to retain and deepen? Where is it, and how do we protect and improve it". You identify where the knowledge is held by only one person, for example, and make sure that knowledge becomes spread among the community, and documented where possible. You protect the knowledge well before there is any risk of loss. 
  • You may take a proactive view of knowledge in a project, developing a Knowledge Management plan to ensure the project has the knowledge it needs at the start, and identifies the knowledge it should create for others.
  • You may take a proactive view in a community of practice, and ask "What are our key community topics? Lets get our heads together and see if we can combien our knowledge of these topics, and find better ways to work".
  • Or questions in communities of practice may be more like "How do I avoid problems in my upcoming project".


A proactive KM approach identifies the key knowledge or knowledge gaps in advance, and puts in place strategies to manage this, whereas in a reactive approach, knowledge management is always "after the event". As one person described a lesson management system - a typical reactive approach when used in isolation  - as "a thousand locked stable doors after a thousand bolted horses".

You need both reactive and proactive of course; Knowledge Management is always more "both/and" than "either/or", and reactive knowledge capture from a "bolted horse" can lead to all the other stables proactively locking their doors (if I may be allowed to extend a metaphor). 

You need both, and if you omit the proactive side, your KM will always be playing catch-up.

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