14. Knowledge Management

The purpose of this section of notes is to summarize our view of what Knowledge Management contents and how its various components come together. The major difficult with this subject has been it poor definitional basis and the highly abstract nature of the subject. We start with a few beliefs proposed by Kathy Shelfer:

14.1. A Structure for Knowledge Management

14.1.1 Defining Knowledge

To put these into a perspective, let's expand our definition of knowledge in particular, the "tacit" representation of knowledge, which is a form of information. Note that based on our initial concept of knowledge, only some tacit form of it can be transmitted. We will adopt a formalist or structural definition as:
  • Classifications of objects and things,
  • Models and descriptions of the relationships between things, and
  • Forecasts of things, and
  • Methods of making things happen.
14.1.2 Gaining Knowledge As we have previously noted, knowledge is gained by the interaction of people with information. We can define direct knowledge as those findings that are unique to an individual and derived from primary or raw information. It should be noted, that we have not asserted that primary knowledge need not be new to the world, only that it is new to the individual. Derived knowledge is obtained from previously obtained knowledge. Hopefully, this consists of most all knowledge that, as individuals, we gain from the thoughts of others. The information used to obtain "Derived Knowledge" is the captured or Tacit Knowledge of others. We usually refer to gaining Direct Knowledge as epistemology since it focuses on the fundamentals of what we know. Obtaining derived knowledge more associated with the learning process and we can gain insight by exploring the pedagogy processes.

14.1.3 Characteristics of Knowledge

Not all forms of knowledge are created equal. In order to explore the characteristics of knowledge, once again we must focus on the information representation of knowledge rather than knowledge itself. There are properties of knowledge that are inherent. These are associated with knowledge itself and not how the element of knowledge will be used. A second set of properties of knowledge requires an external structure of definitions and approaches, which we will refer to as paradigms.

Inherent properties include: (1) the extent of its content, (2) its "truth" and (3) its generality. The extent of its content reflects an information theory concept of its "entropy." As data is processed to form information and information is processed to form knowledge it becomes less robust. "Information" is lost. The finally resulting knowledge no longer reflects all of the derivable information that it contents. "Truth" in this context, is defined by the rules of logic rather than correspondence with external standards. The final inherent property relates to the generality of the knowledge and reflects the range of applications of the knowledge.

While these characteristics are interesting, from a theoretical perspective they do not reflect the value of the knowledge. To evaluate value the knowledge needs to be imbedded into a context or paradigm. It should be noted that any organization is likely to have a number of different paradigms reflecting differing functions, cultures and objectives. There are at least three contextual characteristics of knowledge: (1) usefulness, (2) validity, and (3) quality. The usefulness refers to the value of the knowledge in solving acceptable questions embedded in the paradigm. Validity is the consistency and acceptability of the knowledge with the body of "conventional wisdom" which defines the paradigm. And quality of the knowledge is the ease by which the knowledge is learned by practitioners of the paradigm. It must be understood that the same knowledge may be evaluated differently depending on the context. Excellent research knowledge may have little value in a business decision but of great value to the continuation of the scientific enterprise.

14.1.4 Loss and Transfer of Knowledge

Since true knowledge is in the mind of people, it is inevitable that knowledge is lost. The issue is how to capture as much of the knowledge as is economically advantageous. Note that lost knowledge can be regained by rediscovery. The question is one of economic. It is usually, cheaper, faster, and maybe better to learn from others than to rediscover knowledge yourself. There are at least four modes of transferring knowledge among people: (1) self-canonization, where people report on what they believe they know, (2) mentoring, (3) reporting on other peoples' knowledge, and (4) formal knowledge capturing.

Self-canonization is the traditional academic method of capturing knowledge. Traditionally reports are periodically generated to capture scientific knowledge. However, management and analysis work are often not formally reported. Much knowledge is thereby lost. The term "mentoring" is used in a very general context to include teaching and collaboration. In this mode, working with people will tend to transfer knowledge. This mentoring process can be extended to include the reporting of other peoples' knowledge. This is often in the form of a "monograph" on a subject, which includes knowledge, gleaned from a number of individuals. Finally, if the form of knowledge being sought has a predictive structure, methods exist to capture the rules and structures implicit in that knowledge. This type of formal knowledge capturing can be extended to a number of individuals creating a "organizational" knowledge base.

14.1.5 Structuring Knowledge Management Objectives In order to get right knowledge to the right people economically, we need to address an number of issues including:
  • Increasing the Production of Useful Knowledge
  • Reducing the Loss of Useful Knowledge
  • Enabling the Effective Use of Knowledge

Each of these is a key objective in their own right. However, we must understand that they are sub-objectives. It is the overall economic objectives that need to be addressed.

14.1.6 Knowledge Management Areas There are at least four identified (or modified for our purposes) knowledge management areas which now can be applied. Information Management All knowledge is obtained and transferred through information. All that we understand about knowledge is represented as information. As such, information management issues including accessibility and storage of text and multimedia need to be included within an overall Knowledge Management plan. In fact, I would believe that good Information Management must be the corner stone for any Knowledge Management Program. Augmenting Information Flow and Collaboration Though often considered a part of the Information Management effort, managing the flow of information and the use of collaboration can be critical to assure Knowledge transfer. However, this is not merely the issue of connectivity. It involves the encouragement and tools for disseminating information in a form that fosters learning. Managing Knowledge Paradigms (Learning Organization) As mentioned earlier, the use of knowledge is integrated into the paradigms of the organization. Little effort has been done in most organizations to understand their own paradigm let alone to management and control them. This is critical for knowledge management. What defines useful, valid and quality knowledge is the paradigm for its use. Managing the portfolio of paradigm is difficult and often over-looked. It is probably the most under scrutinized area of Knowledge Management. Capturing Knowledge Rarely do companies undertake a formal activity of capturing knowledge until it is almost too late. In most case, however, only the "expert" approach to capturing knowledge is managed. The totality of mentoring and canonization is rarely considered in the total plan.

14.2 Of The Nature of Knowledge Paradigms

All knowledge is gained through a paradigm or context. The concept of a knowledge paradigm has been attributed to Thomas Kuhn in his classic work " On the structure of Scientific Revolutions." The paradigm reflects the core beliefs and historical knowledge accumulated by a discipline. While Kuhn applied this concept to scientific disciplines, it is equally applicable to any other area of knowledge development including management, medicine, crafts, and the arts.

Kuhn had applied the term "paradigm" to mean only the core elements but not the totality of the tools necessary to create new knowledge. From a management perspective, however, the term "paradigm" should include all of the elements associated with the development and use of knowledge.

We must recognize that there are many paradigms that can be applied to specific sets of knowledge and information. In this context, knowledge is shared across paradigms. However, the paradigm defines the meaning and usefulness of that knowledge. Knowledge is created within a paradigm. Used outside of that paradigm, the knowledge can have a very different meaning.

14.2.1 The Sacred Core It is important to understand the fundamental nature of paradigms before we can appreciate the mechanism for transferring knowledge between them. The core of all paradigms is a set of beliefs and structures that are considered to be fundamental and true within its applicable context. The core of paradigm, furthermore, defines the range and scope of application. And finally, this sacred parts of the paradigm defines how we know what is true, its epistemology.

These beliefs transcend language and are believed by the practitioners to be fundamental truths. This acts as the "culture" of the paradigm. These would include in physical science the acceptance of "Occam’s Razor," or in capitalist finance the concept of the "Efficient Free Market," or in western theology the existence of God. All of these are givens and not to be debated within the paradigm.

Kuhn argued that the paradigms’ cores are very invariant. They resistant change and attacks. Kuhn furthermore asserts that people do not change this fundamental part of their beliefs, they rarely can adapt but usually die still holding to older beliefs. This is similar conclusion that Moses had leading the Israelites. It is very difficult for people to change the fundamental beliefs and directions. To successfully challenge the core of a paradigm is either to create a new paradigm or to mount a revolution.

14.2.3 The Learning Organization Recently, there has been a new popular business initiative targeted to the development of "learning organizations." As is the case of almost all popular business initiatives, most of its content is hype. However, the basis of the initiative is to change the fundamental paradigm of the organization. The goals of the learning organization are to: (1) facilitate the accumulation and dispersion of the company's knowledge and (2) to save its knowledge-base. The ultimate objective is to improve utilization of knowledge and thereby produce value for the firm. Unfortunately, most of the business leaders involved in developing this type of paradigm shift do not understand its potential impact. To truly change a paradigm means a change in all the basic assumptions of the organization.

For an organization to be truly learning, it must have at least three characteristics: openness, reciprocity, and self modification. Openness is the ability of the organization to take in knowledge from outside of its self. This is the antithesis of "not invented here" syndrome. This is a unidirectional issue of getting information and knowledge from elsewhere. It is the outward focus spoken about by Drucker.

Reciprocity is the willingness to share information with the outside. It is the flip side of openness in that to truly get information from the outside of the organization, it is necessary to share knowledge. This sharing of knowledge usually is a critical step in learning the paradigm of the outside sources of knowledge.

Finally, a learning organization must be self-modifying. That is, the organization's paradigm must adjust to the new knowledge-base. This is a radical thought for a paradigm. Paradigms are conservative. The core of the paradigm is a fact invariant or at least very resistant to change. Yet for an organization to be truly a learning endeavor, it must be willing to change its paradigm, or at least to modify it, in order to understand and utilize the new knowledge.

This last concept of a self-modifying paradigm goes far beyond what most practitioners endeavor to accomplish in developing their "learning organizations." In order to push towards such an organization its leadership must be willing to also pushed change. Such an activity will inevitably involve understanding the history of the organization and its myths. It is through its history and myths that an organization maintains and modified its core paradigms.

14.2.4 The Shared Corona of Knowledge

Fortunately, from an operational perspective of Knowledge Management, our interests are not as much in changing the fundamental core of the paradigms, but only in the transference of its knowledge base. Outside the paradigm core, typically, is the language, tools, knowledge base, and pedagogy associated with the paradigm. These properties can and are shared across paradigms. The function of Knowledge Management is then to facilitate that transfer.

In this context, language not only includes the vocabulary and syntax of the discipline but also the associated structure of objects and concepts. Language consists of hierarchies of constructs and interrelationships. This is not simply definitions; but implied knowledge of the importance and dependencies. Many of these implied relationships reflect the core beliefs and assumptions of the paradigm. Other, are empirical and reflect long term findings.

The tools consist of those means of creating, interpreting and using knowledge within the discipline. These tools usually reflect the epistemology of the discipline. However, these tools evolve over time. That evolution is viewed as the natural course of development and the history of the discipline.

The knowledge base is the information, rules and learnings that have been identified, developed, recorded and associated with the paradigm. This knowledge base includes both successful applications of tools as well as failures. It is processed as summaries, data and compiled information. The structure of the knowledge base, of course, reflects the language of the paradigm.

The pedagogy of the paradigm consists of the means of transferring knowledge. There is usually some flexibility in the preferred learning process in most paradigms and disciplines. However, the teaching of the core beliefs of the paradigm may be part of the core beliefs. Credentials establishing the appropriate course of study and trial may be required to establish the legitimacy of the practitioner.

14.3. Processes and Functions in Knowledge Management

As we move towards developing an overall discipline of Knowledge Management, we need to focus on the processes and functions that would be the means of providing value. The objective of knowledge is to provide value to the firm. The processes of Knowledge Management are those that generate knowledge and transmitted it to the user who will eventually take useful action. The functions are the means by which we undertake the processes. It must be noted, however that the functions are not exclusively a part of a single process. They transcend the processes, eventually developing and expanding the tools, which will be a major goal of this new discipline.

14.3.1 Processes

These processes are "what they do." We are using the term "process" in a very general context. We do not specify a particular route, technique, or method. The end result is an activity. These processes are not sequential. They take place simultaneously. They also are not independent. The methods used to accomplish one process affects the choice of methods used in others. Acquisition Acquisition is the process of generating knowledge. It is the wellspring of all Knowledge Management processes. The acquisition process is creative; it is the generation of knowledge from older knowledge, from data and from information sources. It should be noted that the acquisition process is within the mind of the possessor of the knowledge. It is not accessible in this form to any other person in the organization or elsewhere. Documentation Documentation is the process by which mental knowledge becomes tacit. By documentation knowledge is transferred to a form of "information" which is understandable and transferable. Documentation is the first stage in the process of dispersing and institutionalizing knowledge. Internalization Internalization mergers new documented knowledge with the existing knowledgebase. It is the process by which knowledge becomes institutionalized. This is a multiplier effect whereby incremental knowledge grows exponentially. Knowledge gained in one point in time becomes a part of a continuum. Dispersion Dispersion involves both the transmission of knowledge and the acquisition of it. This process has been the primary focus of Information Management. It contains the three key elements of coding and indexing of information, its storage, and providing access to the resulting information. Realization Realization is the action process. All of the value of Knowledge Management is obtained through realization. It represents the use of knowledge to produce new products and services as well as the ability of organizations to maintain their functionality. It is the bottom-line of Knowledge Management.
14.3.2 Knowledge Management Functions The functions within Knowledge Management satisfy the underlying information driven needs of the firm. Once again they are not necessarily independent nor are they sequential. The following partial list represents a first cut at the range of functions that exist in almost all firms and organizations. The goal of Knowledge Management to optimally manage these functions of the overall benefit of the firm. Accessing Accessing is the ability to get knowledge and information. In the Information Age this becomes a more powerful but time consuming function. As the tools for accessing knowledge and information has expanded the needs of that knowledge the recognition of its uncertainty has likewise expanded. Development of efficient methods of access is a key driver of Knowledge Management. Learning (Creative Process) Learning is the active means by which knowledge is created and acquired by individuals. There is no substitution for this learning process. However, there is a multitude of such learning processes. Each individual will have a particular style of learning. Each paradigm will have a traditional approach by which learning is expected. Collaborating Collaborating is the process by which colleagues work together and exchange knowledge on a peer basis. Collaboration and particularly that using groupware have been a focus of information systems development. While is a common belief that collaboration leads to an efficient use of resources, it has never been proven. We are still working under the belief that Collaboration may be panacea Teaching and Mentoring Teaching and mentoring can be thought of as an unequal collaborative process in which one group of individuals transfer knowledge to another. In previous times, mentoring was the major means by which knowledge was transferred from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, true teaching and mentoring within the commercial organization is far less common today than in the past. Reporting and Presenting Reporting and presenting methods by standard procedures by which new finding records and presented to the organization. These methods may be very formal or informal. They may result in a document which can be retrieved or merely in the transferred of information into the present awareness of managers and team members. However, it is critical to understand that this reporting process usually is the knowledge capturing technique in most organizations. Formal Capturing Formal knowledge capturing consists of procedures to extract knowledge from individuals but more meaningfully, from groups of individuals. These psychometric methods are based on the concept of group knowledge. That is, that the group or organization possesses more understanding of things collectively, than individuals do. The methods are designed to capture that knowledge in the form of rules. These methods include "expert systems", neutral nets, and conjoint measurement. Canonization Canonization is the integration of knowledge. Merely to record information and knowledge is insufficient. The knowledge must be linked with other knowledge and the "wisdom" of the paradigm in order to fully utilize it and to facilitate transferring it. While academic disciplines take pains to canonize their knowledgebase, it is unusual for firms to develop the histories, standards, or policies that reflect the internalization of knowledge. Acculturating Acculturating is the corporation of knowledge into the organizational paradigm. This is the major mechanism whereby the paradigm (policies, doctrine, business and growth models) of the organization changes. Often this takes place in the form of recording myths, legends and stories, and parables, which convey fundamental knowledge. Indexing Indexing is the means of accessing information and knowledge. We are using the term very generally to include the formal coding of information and knowledge and also means of extracting characteristics from the documented. Storing and Compiling Storing and Compiling are the function of maintaining and protecting the information and knowledgebase. It should be the primary responsibility of the management information group in the firm or organization. Assuring the integrity of the knowledgebase while facilitating access is the key challenge. Transmitting Transmitting of information and knowledge has become the responsibility of information systems. However, this function goes far beyond the traditional maintenance function to include ease of use and effectiveness. It is insufficient to consider only the transmission without regard to the context and the information being transmitted. Action Taken Action taken is the natural end point of the knowledge management process. Knowledge is worthless unless it is used. This is a critical function of Knowledge Management. We dare not lose focus on the use of knowledge for it is the total value of the activity.