posted 1 Aug 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 10
Case study: Knowledge strategy
Knowledge dimensions, processes and analysis
Knowledge management is actively thought about and discussed at the Welsh Assembly Government, thanks to its comprehensive KM tools.
By Galvin Doyle
[For a full PDF of the article, including graphics illustrating the various tools and concepts, please e-mail the editor, Graeme Burton, firstname.lastname@example.org]
The Welsh Assembly Government is the executive body of the National Assembly for Wales, which enjoys devolved powers under the United Kingdom. It was established in 1999 following a referendum and comprises a first minister and cabinet drawn from the National Assembly, also called the Welsh Assembly, which has 60 elected members.
Knowledge management (KM) provides an important framework for collaboration within the Welsh Assembly Government, as well as an understanding of how knowledge is shared and how it can be shared better.
We use two key tools: our Knowledge Dimension Framework (KDF) forms the basis for recognising, exploiting and managing the knowledge dimension of what we do, which taken with the K-Wheel (and its associated 6As knowledge processes) forms the basis for understanding KM in the Welsh Assembly Government.
These tools also provide a basis for designing various different knowledge management interventions as new initiatives, technologies or processes, which are grounded in the dimensions and processes associated with knowledge and its management. One result of this has been the development of the Knowledge Analysis Tool and Technique (KATT); an effective and efficient way of applying the KDF; and, processes (the K-Wheel) to create almost real-time learning, change and performance improvement.
The KDF is designed to enable people and organisations to examine an activity they are engaged with in order to improve it in knowledge terms. This means examining the knowledge (learning together), participation (thinking together), communication (talking together) and the behaviour/action (working together) dimensions of the activity.
Learning together is concerned with processes around knowing, namely what types of knowledge are available, being created and exploited in an activity. This is a practice-based understanding of knowledge. The extent to which learning can take place depends heavily on the type of participation, motivation, investment and stake people have, or are allowed to have, in a given situation or activity. Knowledge can be thought of as bound up with action and activity (know-how), information (know-through) and awareness or superficial knowing (know-of), as described below:
This is what people know how to do. It is what is learned from direct experience of activity, practice and action. Know-how is the dominant form of valuable knowledge in organisations as it is what people and organisations know how to do. All other forms of knowledge, such as information, and asset utilisation depend on know-how;
Is knowledge acquired through a medium other than direct experience? Know-through is often gained through information, or description and representations of know-how (instruction manuals for example). Know-through is what can be learnt from information and other largely explicit types of knowledge. The value of know-through comes from its portability, cost-effectiveness in transmission, ability to inform and represent or describe know-how, as well as its ability to record and store. Know-through allows people to ‘know-about’ something, rather than ‘know-of ’ it, which is a more superficial type of knowledge;
This is literally knowledge of something, of its existence, relevance and, to some extent, potential. Know-of is explicit knowledge and normally the result of exposure to, but passive consumption of, some form of information. Know-of results in recognition, awareness, ability to recall, name and superficially describe. The advantage of know-of is the ease and cost-effective exposure to information it affords (marketers and brand managers know this type of knowledge well as it underpins brand awareness).
However, know-of implies that there isn’t much that can be done with the knowledge without engagement on the know-through and/or know-how levels;
In many respects not knowing is as important and valuable in managing knowledge as knowing. Know-not is awareness of fertile gaps in one’s own knowledge (recognition that gaps are potential opportunities) which can lead to a receptive and inquisitive attitude and willingness to learn. Know-not, is ‘knowledge that I-know-not, but would like to know’;
This is the assumption that others do not know. How not-know is managed affects and often hinders what we share and are willing to learn from others. Explicit management of not-know can ensure that it doesn’t close down or hinder how we relate to others’ knowledge. Not-know can also affect training, communications, working and interaction in organisations.
What people know is one thing, what they share when they talk, think and work together – collaborate – is quite another:
- Talking together
How people talk influences, and is strongly influenced by, how people think – a process called talking together. If we are talked at or talked to, we are likely to think less and acknowledge or comply without much commitment or engagement. If we contribute, talk-with or talktogether, we are likely to be more engaged in terms of thinking and action and more committed to outcomes;
- Thinking together
Is concerned with inclusion and participation in thinking processes, such as decision-making, problem-solving, and task and goal formation. Such processes include:
- Thinking-with, which is inclusive (without the elimination of authority or power relations) and involves partnering, involving, facilitating, mentoring and coaching;
- Thinking-for tends to be hierarchical and involves; directing, telling, selling, imparting, not-sharing, restricting information flows and hoarding knowledge.
How people work together is strongly affected by the extent to which they can learn, think and talk together. As the ability to participate increases so does the contribution people can make. In highly involved team working, participation and cooperation tend to be higher, as do levels of motivation, commitment and personal investment. The lower involvement end of working together implies awareness and acknowledgement in terms of knowledge, and compliance and modified behaviour in terms of actions.
To help apply the knowledge dimensions, basic patterns of knowledge-based activity have been identified and developed. Each pattern models a knowledge-based activity as a typical example or template for what we do in our work and interactions.
They have been developed on the basis that any organisational activity or task will always involve some degree of each. They are general enough to accommodate most knowledge-based activities by being roughly analogous (as an indicator or guide) or by representing an activity directly. The patterns and knowledge dimensions are presented as the KDF below.
The KDF activity patterns are intended to simplify all this. There is some interplay between activities at various levels. For example, one could spot every pattern represented in the KDF in one interaction between two or more colleagues. The main KDF patterns are as follows:
- Transmission: occurs when information is efficiently transmitted to a wide audience without much scope for conversation or feedback. The main form of talk is ‘talk-at’. Because of its superficial and often simple content, transmission produces ‘know-of ’, which is a form of awareness. Transmission is based on ‘telling’ others what has been thought about elsewhere. Transmission normally leads to ‘acknowledgement’ and ‘compliance’ (doing what one has to) if action is required;
- Informing: involves cascading, disseminating or pushing information which has been generated elsewhere, but with more effort put into ensuring understanding. Informing is a more in-depth process than transmission and produces ‘know-through’; the audience gets to ‘know-about’ (rather than ‘know-of ’) something else. As with transmission and dissemination, the danger is that commitment to what’s being communicated is higher at the origin of the information than at the point of consumption. This can lead to ‘selling’ or ‘telling’. The resultant ‘modification of behaviour’ or action is normally of the order of awareness, compliance or conformity;
- Consulting: in its traditional sense involves gathering information (‘know-through’) from stakeholders in order to feed it into someone else’s work. The consulting pattern occurs widely in organisational activity from sound-boarding, product research and development, policy development and so on, to types of project involvement and requirements engineering. Talking in consultation is jigsaw in nature and pieced together from different views (‘talk-in-pieces’). This is reflected in the type of thinking involved for contributors which is limited to what they are ‘asked’ to input. This reduces the creative, knowledge and participative potential of ‘contributors’ to inputs into work and thinking, which are largely carried out elsewhere;
- Engaging: is about involving others early on to harness their knowledge, creative potential and capabilities to improve the quality of a solution. Engagement occurs from the inception of a solution to its execution. A key aspect of engagement is the problem and solution space (with ultimate authority and decision-making) will often belong to someone else. People are recruited or engaged on a helping, capacity, skills, knowledge or expertise-sharing basis. Engagement is inclusive (people ‘talk-with’) and leverages individual and collective knowledge. However, thinking together (as ‘involvement’) might be partial or limited, as is common with project-based work where decision processes (thinking) can be more top-down than inclusive. Even so, levels of understanding (‘know-through’), knowledge sharing, commitment, motivation, action and learning (‘know-how’) are potentially far higher than with other types of pattern or knowledge-based activity. Particularly transmission and informing, which all but disconnect thinking and doing (the thinking behind the action is done elsewhere);
- The collaboration pattern involves the delegation of a problem or opportunity space to an individual or group with the right skills, knowledge, aptitudes and motivations (and normally with the right track-record). Collaboration involves full ownership of a problem or opportunity as ‘partners’ from inception to delivery of a solution or other valuable outcome. Collaboration means that those involved in the activity work, think and ‘talk-together’ to achieve its success. This doesn’t mean the removal of reporting lines, hierarchical accountability or the introduction of anarchistic or even dramatically different working practices. Rather, it means that stakeholders fully ‘participate’ of responsibility, accountability and (usually) motivation, can fully engage in committed action and are entrusted by their managers and organisation to deliver to the best of their abilities.
Knowledge processes: The 6As and the K-Wheel
The KDF forms the basis of recognising, potentially exploiting and managing the knowledge dimension of what we do. Within these dimensions there are specific processes which are directly linked with knowledge creation and use. These include the 6As, which forms the building-block knowledge processes that underpin more widely known and talked about knowledge management categories of activity. These normally represent the underlying objective of specific KM initiatives, whether they are designed to encourage and enable knowledge sharing, creation, learning or use. The knowledge management objectives are represented as the K-Wheel (see figure three) in which each of the 6As form the dominant underpinning processes of a KM aim or objective.
The 6A’s, as they relate to knowledge management objectives, consist of:
- Sharing: underpinned by awareness and acquisition;
- Creation: underpinned by acquisition and assimilation;
- Learning: underpinned by association and adaptation;
- Usage: underpinned by adaptation and application.
The K-Wheel provides a useful way of pin-pointing the dominant processes on which to concentrate when developing KM initiatives. The K-Wheel also offers an equally useful method for analysing existing knowledge activities to clarify and understand the processes at play. In addition to this, each KM objective (sharing, creating, learning or using) as expressed in the K-Wheel, relates to a knowledge dimension, enabling fuller analysis of proposed processes in the design of KM initiatives. The links between the K-Wheel and KDF are as follows:
- Sharing (talking together)
This is the acquisition of knowledge from another. It relies on awareness of having knowledge (something to share) and a need for knowledge (‘know-not’);
- Creation (thinking together)
This is the acquisition and assimilation of knowledge from one’s experience, others or other places (for example, buying knowledge);
- Learning (learning together)
Association is learning about what you already know by linking it with different knowledge and contexts. Adaptation is changing what you know (and know how to do) based on what you are working on and who you are working with;
- Usage (working together)
Is the adaptation and application of what you know and know how to do based on ‘doing’.
The knowledge analysis tool and technique (KATT)
The KATT offers a way of enhancing learning from experience by going beyond the event itself and delving deeper into perhaps trickier territory. This is why a KATT session needs to facilitated. The KATT enables almost real-time change and performance improvement. The ‘tool’ in the KATT is the KDF; the ‘technique’ is detailed as the process below.
A KATT session asks the questions in the following five steps:
1. What was supposed to happen?:
Re-clarify the objectives for the activity (creates/confirms know-of the activity);
2. Locate what happened on the KDF?
How did we think together?
How did we talk together?
How did we work together/how involved were we?
What did we learn?
- Awareness (knowledge-of);
- Know-about/information (knowledge-through);
- Skill, competence, capability (know-how);
- What didn’t we know (know-not)?
This encourages thinking and sharing of the dominant characteristics of the activity through creating awareness of how people thought, talked, worked and learnt. This deeper level of awareness results in the creation of new knowledge; acquisition of knowledge about factors affecting how people interacted with their task, systems and each other;
3. What does this tell us about what actually happened? How did the dominant characteristics of what was identified in step two affect how well things were going in the task or activity? These should be organised around:
- Thinking together;
- Talking together;
- Working together;
- Learning together.
This process aids assimilation of the new (acquired) knowledge generated from step two about the event or activity and its context. This is achieved by re-stating the new knowledge (know-through) in relation to the event. It also helps to consolidate knowledge through assimilation as a basis for learning;
4. What can or should we change (if anything) about the way we are working?
- Thinking together: Do we need to involve or engage more?
- Talking together: Do we need different types of interaction, conversation, or communications?
- Working together: Do we need to engage or get more or less involved in certain aspects of the activity?
- Learning together: Do we need access to, or to generate different types of, knowledge to be more effective.
This enables learning by associating the new knowledge of what happened (steps two and three) and adapting this to change the state of affairs; learning though change (towards know-how);
5. If relevant, develop an action plan to move up or down the KDF with regard to the activity in question. This is recommended as it opens up potential for adaptation through application (know-how). It is also recommended that further KATTs are carried out as a convenient way to monitor progress against the action plan.
Summary of the KATT:
Step one: Says what was supposed to happen;
Step two: Tells us something about what happened (that is to say, how we thought, talked, worked and learned);
Step three: Links steps one and two and tells us something about the intent versus the event;
Step four: Looks at performance improvement by linking step three with step two;
Step five: Puts performance improvement or change into action monitored by further KATT exercises.
The KATT is designed to enable deeper understanding on the premise that change and action occur in relation to this deeper type of analysis and learning, than more superficial exploration.
It also helps to change they way we think and talk about events and activities. This affects the way we interact and can change the way we work. Changing understanding, beliefs and perceptions effectively changes minds and can modify behaviours – KATT leads to actionable knowledge.
Deeper understanding enabled through KATT is available without much extra resource cost compared to something like an after-action review. The main benefit of KATT is that it brings a depth of awareness, knowledge and understanding to participants, helping them to improve their performance.
KATT in action
Here is just one example of KATT in action. An urgent meeting is called because there is a need to see how things are going during the course of a crisis. The group does a KATT session and uses the KDF to analyse the knowledge dimensions of what they are doing. It shows that their activity is roughly at the level of engaging. That is to say, people are talking-with each other, they are involved in decision-making and they are committed to the actions they need to do.
What to change: while these might be desirable aspects of the activity they are unlikely to be appropriate to a crisis where there are time-pressures and serious consequences. More appropriate (and likely) would be one person taking charge, telling the others what to do (talking-at or to them), while they acknowledge and comply in order to resolve the crisis as quickly as possible. The KATT session might suggest that they change their interactions and pattern from engagement, to transmission or informing to become more effective for the crisis situation at hand.
Monitor and adjust: a KATT session later on suggests that some of the decisions where there is uncertainty around what to do are causing problems. The outcomes of the KATT (again, using the KDF) around this particular aspect of the activity suggest that consulting (asking, talk-in pieces and getting information) is an efficient way of accessing other’s knowledge to improve the quality of the outcomes in the crisis. To become more effective, the group move some of their interactions and behaviours one step up the KDF where there is a need to address emerging details or ambiguity in the situation through consulting the team.
Beyond the event: once the crisis is over, the group uses the KDF and K-Wheel to think about and develop a new procedure to ensure that such crises are averted or better managed (and prepared for) in the future. The KDF would suggest that dissemination or informing the team of a process designed solely by the team leader based on their experience and knowledge is less likely to be as useful as one that taps into everyone’s knowledge and experience of the crisis. This can even be the case with involvement via consultation with team members, as large parts of the thinking will be effectively done for them; they will be handed a solution that they have only had input into, rather than a solution reflecting more fully their knowledge and experience.
Ownership and commitment to outcomes from higher involvement (engagement or collaboration) are more likely to pay dividends if the procedure is ever needed again by the team.
This is because they will already have intimate knowledge of its details and some belief in its efficacy. Participants are also likely to learn more about their own experience and role in the crisis through inclusion in the development of a solution. This demonstrates both the analytic and predictive potential of the KATT and attendant knowledge dimensions and processes.
Knowledge is the product of how we talk, think, learn and work. The knowledge dimensions and their underpinning processes (the 6As/K-Wheel) have allowed the definition of KM in the Welsh Assembly Government as ‘the management of the dimensions and processes which enable us to think, talk, learn and work together more effectively’. In this respect, the KDF is an embodiment of the Welsh Assembly Government’s KM strategy; a strategy which has been developed using the frameworks outlined above to talk, think and learn about knowledge and its management in the organisation.
The KATT, KDF and K-Wheel put the KM strategy into practice in very tangible ways by enabling people to analyse, learn and improve how they manage knowledge in practice.
So, the tools and frameworks are strategic and practical, linking thinking with doing. The KDF and K-Wheel have also been used to develop a whole suite of KM initiatives (branded processes with supporting tools and activities that have a KM objective as their end).
The KATT is one such initiative, which was developed using the KDF and K-Wheel with the explicit aim of putting the KDF and K-Wheel into practice. The KATT enables knowledge-dimension thinking and enables us to improve the management of, and types of, knowledge and learning available in what we do; it reconnects or makes explicit the relationship between thinking and doing. These knowledge dimensions frequently go unnoticed, unmanaged or managed informally, so the KATT is a core tool for managing knowledge to enable change and improvement.
Galvin Doyle is head of knowledge management strategy, consulting and initiatives at the Welsh Assembly Government and is currently writing a book called Upsetting the KM Applecart, intended for publication in 2008. He can be contacted by e-mailing email@example.com.
1. Bertrand Russell describes know-through as “knowledge by description” and know-how as “knowledge by acquaintance”, (1912), The Problems of Philosophy, OUP, pp.24-25. I have taken this and the knowledge dimensions from part of the organisational epistemology developed in Doyle, (2006-7) ‘Multi-dimensional Knowing’ in Upsetting the KM Applecart, working manuscript pending.