posted 28 Jan 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 5
Part II - State of
: Lacking fundamental agreement KM
This feature is continued from the previous issue of Inside Knowledge. In Part I, Joe Firestone cited research that showed knowledge management (KM) was growing, but in a mess due to a lack of agreement on four fundamentals. He also wrote about disagreement on what KM is and what knowledge is.
CONTINUING, IF you cannot show others that your efforts resulted in better quality knowledge because there is no agreement between you and others on what you’re talking about when you use the term 'knowledge', then how will you trace the results of your efforts through the KM, learning, knowledge, integration, impact and results chain?
Third, 'knowledge processing' refers to how we make new knowledge and also to how we integrate it in our organisations. And there are theories about each of these processes in KM literature. But KM also has no agreement on which of these theories is closer to the truth, or on what amounts to the same thing. That is how 'knowledge processing' – the behaviour that KM is immediately trying to regulate and which, in turn, leads to higher quality knowledge (whatever that is) – works.
Fourth, there is also no agreement in KM on 'knowledge metrics' or 'knowledge-processing metrics'. Nor, in consequence, are there are any generally accepted metrics for evaluating the impact of KM interventions on the quality of knowledge processing or the quality of knowledge.
So, we have activities and processes that people call KM and that may or may not be KM, which have unmeasured impacts on the quality of knowledge processing. In turn, this has unmeasured impacts on what may or may not be knowledge, and on changes in the quality of knowledge outcomes. We also have business processes, business outcomes and business process and outcome metrics. However, since we have no knowledge-quality metrics, we can’t measure the impact of changes in knowledge quality on business processes and outcomes.
In short, we have nothing in-between KM interventions and business process and outcome metrics, except confusion. And, at the same time, we have the biggest upsurge of interest in KM we’ve had in years. That’s one big mess, and it suggests that KM is riding for a fall.
Should this make people who care about KM despair? Not entirely, because KM from 30,000 feet is not KM from the perspective of any particular programme or project. There are successful KM projects, such as those at Partners HealthCare and Halliburton, which illustrate that it is possible to do KM with at least some level of clarity and some incorporation of metrics that enable us to demonstrate success when it occurs. So, in spite of the general situation, failure is not inevitable, but it is more than likely in a discipline whose general state is so chaotic, and which therefore provides so little support for the individual practitioner. To change this picture, we need much more concern with KM and knowledge-processing theory, and also with knowledge-processing metrics, than in the past. We do not need more KM practice, the impact of which, due to the absence of good theory and metrics, cannot be clearly evaluated.
Joe Firestone is managing director and chief executive officer of Knowledge Management Consortium International, US (www.kmci.org). He can be contacted at email@example.com.