Seven guiding principles for knowledge management in your organization

As my organization is currently in the process of formulating a new Knowledge Management Strategy (replacing its past Knowledge Strategy 2009-2011), I recently found myself discussing a lot with colleagues within and outside the organization on what should be key principles or guiding points for knowledge management. I was particularly inspired by colleagues from IFAD which is currently also writing a KM framework, and I found lot of elements that seem to be quite universal across organizations. It seems that regardless of the strategic direction a specific organization might take, and regardless of how KM might relate to their organizational goals, there are a number of principles that ring true to KM practitioners all around. I am listing them here, looking forward to hear whether others can relate:
  1. Most of an organization's knowledge is tacit, stored in the minds of its employees and consultants. Only a part of this tacit knowledge can be documented and made available in information systems. Therefore, KM always needs to be people-centered rather than document-centered, with processes and technology being supportive functions.
  2. Knowledge is most effectively assimilated when shared within a specific context, where the situational variables that were present when a lesson was learned are known, and the context in which certain knowledge might be valuable is clear.
  3. In organizations that don’t offer standardized products, but rather customized and innovative services, knowledge is most effectively shared when an experience can be attributed to the person who made the experience, and where opportunities are available for follow-up discourse and adaptation of the experience to a given problem. This is known as the personalization approach to KM, versus a codification approach.
  4. Knowledge is most effectively shared when there is an audience that is listening, that gives the sharer an idea how the shared knowledge can have a positive impact, and that gives the sharer tangible recognition for his/her act of sharing.
  5. The Cynefin framework provides a typology of four different contexts in which different knowledge solutions might apply: Simple, in which the relationship between cause and effect is obvious to all; Complicated, in which the relationship between cause and effect requires analysis or expert knowledge; Complex, in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect; and Chaotic, in which there is no discernible relationship between cause and effect. When developing KM solutions it is crucial to understand the context we are in, as different KM tools only work in specific domains above.
  6. For an organization that must drive complex transformative changes in developing contexts, KM cannot be seen as an additional activity carried out on top of managing development projects, but rather as an activity that is the core value proposition for the organization, and thus as a key contribution to programme delivery, not a stand-alone activity.
  7. While there are valid management rationales for top-down KM initiatives, there will be no value of KM for management (e.g. for results management or donor reporting) if there is not first a value of KM for practitioners, who make experiences and hold tacit knowledge, and who need a rationale to share this knowledge that answers their question “What is in it for me?”.

What do you think about these principles above? Do they resonate with your own experience? Are there additional ones missing? Looking forward to hearing from others on this!


Anonymous said…
I'd like to add that the culture of sharing (not being shy about making mistakes while being modestly open when a good job is done) must also be a key principle consideration for driving a KM structure in your organisation. This includes daring to speak (of course in a respectful manner) against poor practices or wanting to share new found knowledge.
Unknown said…
Johannes, these principles certainly do resonate with my experience. But as I read them, I realize that my own preoccupation now is not with developing good principles; instead it is with persuading others about the value of these or similar principles.The principles as you describe them are probably appropriate for an organization that has some maturity in KM; for organizations lacking such maturity, a different set would be required, probably emphasizing much more the creation of 'knowledge products' and omitting valid but challenging concepts such as Cynefin.
Unknown said…
Looks like the contemporary top 7 list though #context and #Cynefin should precede personal #KM etc and imply #bottom-up (#emerging from the context!!). The context is always a mix of discourse - conversations and activities. In I made a picture of the circular processes to aim KM interventions at...
Cheers, Jaap
Hi Eric, you are right in that different organizations will require talking about KM (and implementing it) somewhat differently. A one-size-fits-all approach definitely doesn't work here (maybe an 8th principle to add?).

However, I feel it is particularly important for organizations to be aware of the difference between simple, complicated and complex scenarios. Otherwise it's very easy for KM-friendly managers to fall into the trap of pushing for simple solutions for situations where they don't apply (good practices anyone?), and our KM efforts might do more harm than good.
I like that picture Jaap, mind if I reference that in the future? Is it yours?
Unknown said…
Hi Johannes,
Yes, the picture is mine; please use and acknowledge :-)
Cheers, Jaap

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