Talk:Wikipedia Definition of Knowledge Management

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See the original thread of this E-Discussion on D-Groups

Nancy White, 2008/11/12

Via David Gurteen's newsletter I heard that David Snowden was working on improving the wikipedia page on knowledge management. I took a peek and thought it was a good effort and worth a) discussion and b) anyone with the ability and inclination to continue adding/improving.

What I liked about it was that it offers a variety of perspectives on KM. Nice!

Veneeta Singha, 2008/11/12

Some 'textbook' definitions of Knowledge Management

The capability of an organization to create new knowledge, disseminate it throughout the organization, and embody it in products, services and systems. Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995.

The capabilities by which communities within an organisation capture the knowledge that is critical to them, constantly improve it and make it available in the most efficient manner to those people who need it, so that they can exploit it creatively to add value as a normal part of their work. Royal Dutch/Shell

Knowledge Management is a relatively young corporate discipline and a new approach to the identification, harnessing and exploitation of collective organisational information, talents, expertise and know-how. Office of the e-Envoy, 2002

The attempt to recognize what is essentially a human asset buried in the minds of individuals and leverage it into a organizational asset that can be accessed and used by a broader set of individuals on whose decisions the firm depends. Marshall, Prusak & Shpilburg, 1996.

The collection of processes that govern the creation, dissemination and ulitization of knowledge. Newman, 1991.

Knowledge is a human faculty, not something that can be 'managed', except by the individual him/herself. A better guidance for our thinking is therefore phrases such as "to be knowledge focused" or to "see" the world from a "knowledge perspective". To me Knowledge Management is: The Art of Creating Value from Intangible Assets. Karl-Erik Sveiby, 1996

Knowledge management is the explicit and systematic management of vital knowledge and its associated processes of creating, gathering, organizing, diffusion, use and exploitation. It requires turning personal knowledge into corporate knowledge than can be widely shared throughout an organization and appropriately applied. David J Skyrme, 1997

The creation and subsequent management of an environment which encourages knowledge to be created, shared, learnt, enhanced, organised for the benefit of the organization and its customers. Abell & Oxbrow, Tfpl Ltd, 2001

(Thought this might be useful. It was downloaded from the WWW and a great starting point for KM work.)

Valerie A. Brown, 2008/11/12

Dear Nancy and Vaneeta

Thanks for the overview of the 'orthodoxy' of knowledge management. It gave me a quick fix. I plead guilty to sharing the Sveiby position.

I find myself alarmed at the extent that all through these 'definitions' and in the Wikipedia, management is equated with organisational conduct. Individuals, communities , experts and organisations have their own mechanisms for structuring knolwedge and means of validating that knowledge - it follows that they have different and valid ways of 'managing' their knowledge. Attributing 'knolwedge management' to organisations alone seems to me to be the very danger Orwell was warning about: big brother speak.

Does anyone else share in these misgivings?

Fenner School, Australian National University, Australia.

Sebastiao Ferreira, 2008/11/13

Valerie, I agree with most of your reflection.

If it is true that most of our knowledge is tacit, it is a stuff that mov=s inside our heads as we are doing something or thinking. So this kind of =nowledge management is mostly unplugged. If this is true we should put att=ntion to what does organize and deploy our knowledge inside our heads (men=al models, beliefs, concepts, analogies, demons, etc.).

Let me explain a bit, to see if we are refering to the same objects. It w=s 14 years I was in the highlands of Peru, in a small city named Huanta=2C working with producers of cactus pear helping them to generate strategi=s for reaching the middle class market of a city with 9 million inhabitant=, the capital of Peru, Lima.

The producers had access to almost all the market information they should n=ed for conceiving their strategies, however their informal models and be=iefs about the market in Lima were preventing them of discovering the oppo=tunities they had there and the possibillities they could create.

Once some of their beleifs were challenged they start to organize the marke= information differently, to rethink their traditional interpretations=2C and develop new strategies, changing the selling prices of the kilogr=m of cactus pears from $0.20 (twenty cents) to $0.60 and to $0.80. There w=s no training, almost no technical assistance, no accompainement and t=e results were very relevant.

This area of knowledge management can be very useful por helping poor peopl= to get out of poverty. I do not see much about that in most books on KM.

Does it make sense for you?

Espíritu y Oportunidad

Marc Steinlin, 2008/11/13

Steve Song recently "quoted" on this list a great "definition" of KM, =that Euan Semple wrote on his blog. It has become my favourite one and =I use it consistently, because I find it helpful. Here it is again:

"Increasing the frequency and quality of the conversations that get your job done."

In fact he precedes it with the sentence: "It bugs me the way people seem to set out to make things harder than they need to be - no doubt =in an attempt to make themselves seem clever and their software indispensable."

Admittedly in his blog it's his definition of "collaboration", but I like it for KM. In its simplicity it highlights a two things that have =become central to my work in "KM":

a) If knowledge is residing in human brains by definition, then it's conversations, that really lead to sharing it - this "method" that has =become so discredited and undervalued in our mechanistic world view (your boss: "stop talking, start working!"). If KM leads to recognising and acknowledging conversations as the most human and essential way of relating, sharing and acting, then that's great! So: =KM is not about the big machine, about processes and structures and clever strategies to exploit this raw material and parcel and ship around this commodity in most efficient ways. It's very simple: create =opportunities for people to talk to each other in meaningful ways.

b) According to my observation, in many organisations KM has become an =end in itself. They do KM because everybody else is doing it as well and because doing KM is considered as a necessity for an institution that is keeping with the times. But many haven't really understood and even don't bother to - why KM. The definition of Semple emphasises that KM in itself does not need to =achieve anything in own terms - it's only there to get "other" work done, ie. our job.

For me, if KM doesn't serve these two aims, then to hell with it.

One last thing: I realise, that with many institutions, the label "KM" =is very useful. It's a door opener. You can hide many other goals under the label KM and many are willing to buy it... very handy at times. Kind of a Troyan Horse...

Esther Germans, 2008/11/13

Can I add that in line with what Marc sais, Senge's book the Learning Organisation is (still) very inspiring. If you haven't read it, I would very much encourage you to do so!

Sarah Cummings, 2008/11/13

Hi everyone

What an interesting series of posts. I can't resist joining in! I always =ove talking about definitions although when talking about KM I usually =ry to duck definitions because everyone has their own definition and =hen you start talking about this there often looks like no common =round...

Although I agree that 'mainstream' or 'generic' KM (by this I mean KM in =he business sector) is usually defined as the knowledge within =rganisations, I share Valerie's misgivings and think that with KM4Dev =e need to embrace a much broader, tailor-made definition because we are =lso interested in knowledge within the whole development system (if I =an call it that) outside of and between organisations. In fact, for =his reason many people object to the use of the word 'management' =ithin the term KM4Dev because they see management as primarily =oncerned with organisations. In the IKM Emergent working group 3 =Management of knowledge' we had a long discussion about this in July =at which Valerie was also present!) but we didn't really resolve this =ssue.

In fact, following on from Sebastiao's message, I think most of us would =gree with him that any definition of KM4Dev needs to be based on a =efinition of both KM and development and, if you are interested and the =isk of looking like I think I have a solution (which I don't!) in a =coping paper written earlier this year, Julie Ferguson, Kingo Mchombu =nd I resolved our need to define KM4Dev in the following way:

knowledge management should be considered as relating primarily to the =ocial processes and practices of knowledge creation, acquisition, =apture, sharing and use of knowledge, skills and expertise [This =efinition is derived from Quintas et al 1996 and Swan et al 1999 which =e explain earlier in the text], and not to the technological component =f this which needs to support the social process and practices. Based =n this generic definition of knowledge management, knowledge management =or development thus involves processes and practices concerned with the =se of knowledge, skills and expertise within the development field.

Development is understood to be a process involving a broad palette of =uman factors, concerned with individual people living in very different =onditions across the world (Unwin 2007; see also Laszlo and Laszlo =003). As such, development efforts are aimed at strengthening people's =bilities to respond to the challenges they encounter in their =nvironment at individual, family, community and wider societal levels =Britton 2005). These conceptions of development are very much =nfluenced by Amartya Sen (1999) who has conceptualized development as =reedom of opportunities and capacity to act by the poor.

Although I too like Steve Song's definition "Increasing the frequency =nd quality of the conversations that get your job done" for explaining =hat we are trying to do to people outside the field, it doesn't pretend =o encompass the aspects of system-wide knowledge. But you may think, =re we really looking at such a broad approach? Well, not everyone and =ot all the time but, for example, the people who are working on the new =groups 2.0 will be taking the broader view rather than just looking =ithin organisations. Looking at this definition above again, we maybe =hould have paid more attention to organisations because they are =bviously very important within this broader context.

Sorry that this is such a long e-mail but there are two more things I =ould like to mention. Firstly, at a KM4Dev meeting in the Hague some =ears ago we put together the following definition of KM in response to =he question KM a fact a fad or a fashion" which I still quite like and secondly, =lthough I agree with Marc that "KM" can open doors (and I like the =etaphor of the Trojan horse), it often closes others because some =eople really have an knee-jerk dislike of the term for many different =easons.

Perhaps we should consider making a wikipedia page of definitions of =M4dev just to emphasise the difference with KM?

Regards to all, and thanks for starting this, Nancy

Context, international cooperation, The Netherlands.

Johannes Schunter, 2008/11/13

Hello Marc!

Nice definition, and very much to the point. However, I also think that KM =s more than just conversation. I can actually share references to where/ho= knowledge can be retrieved/applied (events, initiatives, links, image, vi=eo, document) without being in real offline or online "conversation" with =omeone. Facebook and Delicious are good examples. Maybe if we replace conv=rsation by interaction, it might be more encompassing.

When I have to bring KM down to one sentence e.g. in trainings, then I like=to adapt the HR phrase of "getting the right people into the right place a= the right time". So I would say KM is the task of making sure that the ri=ht knowledge is available to the right people in the right time (and then =pplied in the right situation).

Laxmi Pant, 2008/11/13

Dear all,

I agree that knowledge management for development should move beyond the silos of organizations and embrace the culture of collaboration beyond their traditional territories. In corporate sector this has been done through supply chain management but in development sector this is not enough. Knowledge networks matter. Sideward linkages in knowledge networks is also important for managing knowledge networks for development.

We have written a paper on this subject matter featuring a high value commodity mango in India. I suggest you to scan through diagrams, tables and boxes, specifically Table 1 and Figure 2 for an executive reading. Specifically note the sources of knowledge and the concept of sideward linkages as they apply to knowledge management for development.

I welcome your comments/suggestions on this paper 'off the list' at

Marc Steinlin, 2008/11/13

Dear Johannes,

Thanks for "challenging" me on that. So allow me to be a bit provocative. Allow me to stick to the definition that I quoted - I do believe that =in fact it is "exhaustive".

I could imagine that if the ultimate and only goal is to increase the =frequency and quality of conversations in order to get the job done, then everything else can be deducted from that. Let's look at the example that you quote: Facebook: nice toy, entertaining, keeping us in contact so we can CONVERSE WITH PEOPLE THAT MATTER to us - admittedly in many forms. If =it's only about seeing who is where, then it's more voyeurism and as such entertainment, but not KS ... (allow me to be a bit radical here). Delicious: allows us to locate information - information (ie. documents, web resources, text, pictures, movies, ...)! As such a Web2.0 tool for info management, not knowledge management neither (if =we accept that knowledge always resides in head of people) ...

Knowledge available to the right people at the right time? How do we make it available? By facilitating and brokering that the right people =can get in touch with each other at the right time in order to CONVERSE. What else would it mean? If your understanding is about data and info bases, websites and so on =--> info management.

It may sound a bit simplistic and radical, but I truly wonder, whether =in the end, we can not put down all KM activities (not IM activities!) =to the ultimate end of permitting in some way conversations that matter.

James J. Tarrant, 2008/11/13

With respect to KM in the corporate sector, while it has been extremely important in supply chain management, it also has been increasingly important for internal operations. One of the classic cases, is BP with Lord John Browne coming in as CEO and instituting teams that collaborated with peers all over the world solving problems, sharing knowledge and so forth through the use of teleconferencing, email lists and later the Net as well as meeting in person. He called them "peer assists". Had a remarkable impact on productivity and morale.

This is described in Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, The Knowing-Doing Gap, Harvard Business School Press: Cambridge, Mass, 2000 along with a number of other corporate cases.

International Resources Group (IRG), Washington.

Caitlin Bentley, 2008/11/13

Hi Marc,

I could imagine that if the ultimate and only goal is to increase the frequency and quality of conversations in order to get the job done, then everything else can be deducted from that. Let's look at the example that you quote: Facebook: nice toy, entertaining, keeping us in contact so we can CONVERS= WITH PEOPLE THAT MATTER to us - admittedly in many forms. If it's only ab=ut seeing who is where, then it's more voyeurism and as such entertainment, =ut not KS ... (allow me to be a bit radical here). Delicious: allows us to locate information - information (ie. documents, web resources, text, pictures, movies, ...)! As such a Web2.0 tool for in=o management, not knowledge management neither (if we accept that knowledge always resides in head of people) ...

I think that accepting that knowledge resides in the heads of people is perhaps a little narrow. I think that knowledge is sometimes situated, sometimes individual, and sometimes belonging to a group of people. I have = ton of references about these different viewpoints that I could share if yo= really want.

I also understand your distinction between info management and knowledge management, but I tend to disagree that Delicious is purely an information management tool. For example, entire vocabularies can emerge from members o= a community tagging items, they can agree on terms, and even develop new terms to describe and form new concepts -- concepts constitutes knowledge and not simply information sharing.

Another example is Twitter memes, you can follow twemes, and participate in topic discussions, but it doesn't necessarily imply having a conversation with anyone who is also following that tweme, it's more about community 'speak' than conversation, and as an aggregated whole, the community 'speak= can produce viable knowledge.

So, I guess, what I'm saying is that I agree with Johannes' preference for the term 'interaction' rather than 'conversation'. Ahh semantics. :)

Valerie Brown, 2008/11/13

Following Sarah and Caitlin, it still bothers me that this exchange, rich as it is, is still about helping/generaing/respecting other people's knowledge - what about the case of expanding one's own???? What about reflection, thinking about your own knowledge, or reflectivity - thinking about thinking about knowledge, as we are doing now? Also a correction - I don't thinkl I said knowledge only resides in the heads of people, I would only claim that all knowledge is generated in the heads of people - and that can be as an individuals, in a group, as a specalist etc - I am now working on the human capacity for generating collective knolwedge, knowledge generated by diverse minds, that goes beyond any of the contributors.

Marc Steinlin, 2008/11/13

Nice, I like that - now we are talking!

Point taken, Caitlin, I agree knowledge can take different forms: it can reside in the brain of people, it can also circulate in and emerge =from social systems. The famous complex adaptive systems, where understanding its elements is not sufficient to understand (let alone =predict) the behaviour of the whole (and where the system as such can =prove to be intelligent over and above the intelligence of the individual members) - the famous termite colony.

And, yes, I have been looking into environmental intelligence, ie. intelligence that is embedded into "intelligently (= knowledge based?) =20 arranged" or "intelligently constructed" things (ie. objects). There are trillions of examples, I am fascinated by roundabouts in road traffic: they do work intelligently, and there have been intelligent, =knowledgeable beings designing, testing and constructing them, and they continue working in "intelligent" ways even if there is no "expert" close to it - so that's a form of environmental intelligence, =where knowledge is "embedded" in physical objects or arrangements.

Lastly, having worked for many years in the indigenous peoples' rights =movement, I have learned much about another collective form of knowledge and experience, "traditional knowledge" - which is neither owned by any individuals (often even not aware by them), nor functional nor attributable to any individual, but only to the system =that has created it and that holds it. And there are more comparable cases.

I would expect your case of Delicious taxonomies to be a case of emerging systemic knowledge - I can see that totally. And thus I tend =to buy into your suggestion of replacing "conversation" with "interaction". However I do so with much mistrust, because a) I do believe that conversation is THE essential form of interaction, not only but particularly in KS (which has been terribly discredited and undermined in modern management) and b) I feel that "interaction" risks to be highjacked by the technocrats, who will come up with all sorts of mechanistic models of how to control and command that in a machine paradigm of thinking. And there I feel we're certainly barking =up the wrong tree.

Twitter? I must admit I hear for the first time about twemes and: thanks for pointing me to that, I need to investigate in this, looks interesting (for those who have been ignorant like me) . However, in my limited experience of a few months on Twitter, I personally find it rather boring and empty - I have hardly ever got equally much irrelevant info on my screen that I neither care about nor does it help me in any significant way to share knowledge (and looking at twemes persuades me of the same...) - maybe I'm not doing justice to Twitter, but for me that has definitely not much to do with =significant knowledge sharing, but rather with the "hype" - unless it =leads to one thing: conversations...

Suguna Sri, 2008/11/13

Dear Ferreira,

Your `cactus pear' example is a very tangible outcome of knowledge sharing =nd the results are of course very relevant. It would be very helpful to co=pile information on all such success stories. Should we start another thre=d for `Knowledge management in Action'?

Here, many people don't know that cactus pears are edible! Sharing this nug=et of information (knowledge?), I think would create a whole new market an= income generation avenue for people in drought stricken areas.

Stephen Katz, 2008/11/14

I've come to the conclusion that trying to define Knowledge Management is somewhat of a lost cause. If a narrow definition is offered, it trivializes the concept as it is impossible to capture the complex essence in a few words. However, when it is described more elaborately, there are usually too many abstract concepts to grasp, which makes things confusing and hard to comprehend.

This is clearly illustrated in the very thread of discussion we are having, where we have seen a very rich exchange of different ideas and points of view on this subject from people who are thinking about this issue a great deal.

My current thinking is rather than to define knowledge management, it is much better to describe it through examples of knowledge management in practice and how it can be applied to achieve results and impact.

This not to say that there should not be an entry in the Wikipedia. The challenge is how to make it something comprehensive, practical, and applicable. If I did not know anything about Knowledge Management, and I read the current definition in the Wikipedia, I think I would come out scratching my head a bit.

Paul Whiffen, 2008/11/14

I have some sympathy with Steve's view I have to say. I've spent 11 years thinking about, talking about, describing and implementing KM in various places.

The magic, and I use that term advisedly, is in giving people the space and time to see the power from the KM activities and concepts themselves and the wonder in their faces when they talk to you about it is something special to see!

For some it's intellectual, for others it's emotional, and for others it borders on the spiritual when they see and sense what's happening with their organisation and themselves learning from trying out practical activities and the deeper implications they bring.

To try and frame this in mere words is something I do less these days, not least because it reduces it to something relatively dry / academic and which then can be de-energising for people. It depends on the audience and individuals of course, but my preference these days is to give people a few clues, let them see things for themselves and be ready to invest time to listen and debrief people when they come back excited and looking for someone to talk to!

Valerie A. Brown, 2008/11/14


The light in people's eyes when they 'get it' is a real buzz for me as well - and the feeling that when something special and new happens you have to find someone to share it with has to be hard-wired its so strong - and yet none of these these are part of any evaluation of Managing Knowledge (reversed letters on purpose).