Difference between IM and KM

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Original Message

From: Eiko Ikegaya, posted on 2005/11/21

Hello. I'm with the Peacekeeping Best Practices Section of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) at the UN I have a question regarding Knowledge Management and Information Management. DPKO is working on an information management strategy. At the same time, we have a number of KM initiatives (e.g. developing COPs, rolling out a KM toolbox including how-to guides on AARs, etc.) and we're coming up with a KM policy that would tie these projects together. As we were working on the KM policy, our team became a bit lost in terms of how KM relates to IM. Is KM a component of IM, or is it the other way around? How does knowledge sharing (KS) fit in? Do other organizations have any experience developing both an IM and KM strategy? If so, how do the two relate? Does one come before the other?


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Related Discussions

Detailed Description

To discuss the difference between information management (IM) and knowledge management (KM) first asks us to define them.

Information management (IM) is an interdisciplinary field which focuses on information as a resource with an emphasis on collection. The material form in which this information occurs includes book, journals, and databases. Practitioners select, describe, classify, index, and abstract this information to make it more accessible to a target audience, either within or outside their organization. In a development context, IM is concerned to provide transparent and standardized access to information both within and outside the organization. IM has been often framed in terms of tools and technologies to store and organize information.

Knowledge management makes sense of information in the context of it's users. Practioners summarize, contextualize, value-judge, rank, synthesize, edit and facilitate to make information and knowledge accessible between people, either within or outside their organization. It concerns itself with the social interactions around the sharing and use of knowledge. KM is largely based on tacit interpretation and less on rules. Some question if knowledge can be "managed" at all. KM has often been framed in terms of knowledge in action for an end purpose. KM implies that the most important drivers relate to human behavior and interchange.

Some see IM as a subset of KM. Ironically, KM is often positioned underneath IM (and more often IT) departments, rather than the other way around.

KM4Dev Discussions

The KM4Dev community has a range of ideas about the difference between IM and KM. Here are some from the 2004 and 2005 discussion archives.

  • I have always like Steve Denning's description of KM as being "a different way of doing the organisation's business". For me KM is a different order of magnitude of problem as compared with IM. Embracing KM means recognizing that the vast majority of critical knowledge in your organisation is locked up in people's heads and while it may find its way into other people's heads in the organisation, most of it is either too complex to write down or too hard to find in written format. Steve Song
  • To use the old metaphor of the iceberg where explicit or written knowledge is the tip of the iceberg, IM is management of the tip whereas KM is thinking about the whole berg and how to get more of it above water :-) KM is about facilitating head-to-head(s) knowledge flow as well as head-to-paper knowledge flow. (I use paper as a metaphor for anything. KM is a paradigm shift in thinking. IM is a better filing system. -Steve
  • Knowledge management and sharing should be considered separate from, and before IM issues are brought to bear. Tony Pryor
  • Knowledge only exists inside peoples' heads - as soon as you write it down the resource produced is information. I know that's simplistic but, for all practical purposes, it works. The aim therefore is to get knowledge from head to head as and when the organisation needs it to deliver their key activities. This requires things like clear mission and values, clear targets, knowledge of what the key activities are, defined processes at which people exchange knowledge through facilitated question and answer dialogue and effective IM. I can vouch for the fact that it works. In recent months I have been consulting for a large multinational company. KM has been coming in and they love it. Already it's saving time, money and adding huge value. It's gone so well they have offered me a full time job! Paul
  • I guess what I find interesting in this thread is how there are so many definitions of what knowledge management is, while the definition of information management largely seems to be understood without the need for much discussion. In so many lists about KM, the main subtext always seems to boil down to "What is KM?." I have long since come to the conclusion that the term knowledge management is inappropriate and that knowledge can not be managed. That's not to say that the work most KM practitioners are doing is wrong. But all the work eventually comes down to how people get the information they need (in other words some sort of information management.) It could be improved access to information (search, RSS feeds, blogs), connecting people who seek information to those who have it (expertise directories, mapping, CoPs), creating environments (both physically and virtually) that facilitate the exhange and sharing of information (CoPs, meetings, collaborative workspaces, discussion lists, coffee breaks, Wikis), ensuring the information in available for policy or decision making (mapping, translation), etc. The knowledge is what happens when people get the information in their head. When they pass it on, in whatever form, it becomes more information. I think it belittles information management a bit to say it is at the beck and call of KM. KM may help direct the appropriate use of IM tools in particular situations. I would venture to say that techologies like Wikis, RSS feeds, blogs, collaborate workspaces, let alone email and web pages were not products of nor created by KM practitioners, though they have been taken up by them. There certainly needs to be more synergy and respect between the IT professionals and the KM practitioners. That is hard work. It's harder if you automatically have the mind set that information management is a subset of KM.Marc Lippman
  • In my understanding, KM is more comprehensive than IM.If we are talking only about explicit knowledge KM and IM are very similar. Because for storing, searching and sharing knowledge it takes the form of information. And information can be managed by computers and software.However if we consider tacit knowledge, as well; Information Management is not enough for transforming tacit knowledge into explcit, neither for sharing tacit knowledge. Most of those processes occur internally to human brain or in human direct interaction. For managing learning processes, that also occurs internally in human brains, Information Management is not enough.
  • Information management...Not to be confused with knowledge management. IM is a subcomponent of knowledge management that focuses on establishing hardware and software systems to create, store, organize and share digital data, information and explicit knowledge resources.

NOTE: There was a fresh string of conversation on this in May of 2007. I'll copy the text and link it back here. nw More on KM and IM 2007

Example in Application

I am currently on leave from ADB and working on knowledge management (KM) at UNESCAP for the past few months...At ADB I was directly involved in the preparation of both the IT Strategy and the KM Strategy. Back then it was clear to the organization that KM is much more encompassing than information management (IM) and that KM covered more components in addition to IM....hence all supporting elements or components had to be put in place.. How was it done in ADB? It was just the proper timing...during the past 3-4 years the following initiatives were ongoing in ADB: IT Strategy, KM Strategy, Human Resources Strategy and Performance Management System, Public Communications Plan, Results-Based Management (RBM)..then prior to all these interrelated strategic initiatives, I was also already managing the development of what we called a Knowledge Management Application and a map-based/GIS application...both are geared for the use of Communities of Practice or CoP (the formal Sector and Thematic Committees and the less formal Sector and Thematic Networks). Of course the CoP came about as a support to the need of the reorganization of ADB and ensure a cross-pollination and trans-departmental sharing of information.

There was concerted effort to coordinate with all the staff involved in these parallel ongoing strategic initiatives...eg. KM group organized a workshop and invited all the lead persons of these initiatives; HR group worked with the KM group to identify key staff behavioral changes or competencies relative to knowledge-sharing and which was linked to staff performance assessment; the IT Strategy document included the already ongoing KM Applications and GIS-based applications as support to the CoP- an important component too of the KM Strategy, the Public Communications Plan ensured that member countries and clients are getting the information and knowledge from ADB on time; RBM and KM reinforce each other as what is shared should have national or regional impacts....The KM Strategy itself ensured that its coverage are consistent with the other initiatives....daunting? Yes...very daunting... but the need to anchor the KM strategy to the overall- strategic direction and vision of ADB was needed to ensure coherence and that programmes and projects are not to be implemented in silos but rather in parallel mode to support and reinforce all other initiatives..Efforts on change management to address the mind shift of staff are part of both the training programme of the IT group and the HR group.

Note however that even with these key strategies in place in any organization, KM may remain to be a slow process as it is really human-based, a personal decision to share (e.g. "why should share what I know?") ...when the human to human sharing becomes the norm in an organization...then it becomes easier to implement the human to machine translation of knowledge (e.g." I want my other colleagues to learn from my experience so I will submit a lessons learned entry into the database")...the World Bank (WB) took 7-8 years to become a consistent Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise/s (MAKE) winner...but WB had the money and the political will to move KM-as its President was the lead change catalyst and prime-mover of KM. ADB also had budget and a VP for KM and Sustainable Development and it is still struggling but moving forward....also both organizations have a KM Unit....

The above method done by ADB is not just daunting but may sound lofty to smaller organizations...so what is realistic...plan ahead on paper (to future proof your KM programme) and then design and start small but flexible IT-based projects (include in your IT Strategy) that you can expand or build upon later....not to forget too some form of monitoring and evaluation for any initiative to assess success or failure.....I hope the above helped clarify that KM is much- bigger than IT...just keep in mind that IT is an enabler of KM and not the other way around.... Connie

Debates and Related Questions

If an organization doesn't understand the flow and management of information, can it be successful at managing the flow of knowledge?

How does knowledge sharing (KS) fit in?

Do other organizations have any experience developing both an IM and KM strategy? If so, how do the two relate? Does one come before the other?

  • At any of this level, you have information to collect, store and share with other people. IM is then present for you as tool. The best thing may be then that while design your strategy you first select a key concept you want to focus on and what are the benefits for you. According to that concept(s) and to your environment, you have then a variety of IM tools available. In my office, we are working on "Content Management". And we are now in the process of rethinking the way we share information in the office and in the meantime evaluating different software for implementation. As conclusion, IM is a tool for KM.

Further Information

Some key contacts on IM and KM

  • Steve Song
  • Tony Pryor
  • Dave Snowden
  • Connie
  • Paul

Links & Web Based Articles

  • Wikipedia definitions http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_management, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KM_concepts
  • KM concepts http://www.fis.utoronto.ca/resources/inforum/kmrg/concept.htm
  • Dietvorst, Cor,Making Knowledge Networks Work for the Poor workshop - the World Summit on the Information Society [1] (This document that collects and categorises major issues and recommendations related to information and knowledge management (IM/KM) that have appeared in recent international conferences and meetings both in the water sector)
  • Forss, Kim et al, "Organisational Learning in Development Co-operation: How Knowledge is Generated and Used", by Kim Forss, Basil Cracknell and Nelly Stromquist; EGDI Working Paper 1998:3 (The EGDI Working Papers can be ordered via egdi.secretariatforeign.ministry.se)
  • Grey, Denham, 1998, Knowledge Management and Information Management:The Differences, [2]
  • Joining, 2005, From Data to Knowledge and Beyond..., [Dots http://www.joiningdots.net/blog/2005/10/from-data-to-knowledge-and-beyond.html]
  • King, Kenneth, 'Knowledge sharing in development agencies: lessons from four cases', presented at the KM4DEV workshop in The Hague [3] There you find the workshop outputs. Just click on Kenneth King's name and you find his study.
  • Strassmann, P., 2005, How Much is KM Worth? [4]
  • Terra, Jose Claudio, Angeloni, Terezinha, Understanding the difference between Information Management and Knowledge Management, [5]
  • Wheatley, Margaret, "The Real Work of Knowledge Management",

[6] or [7]


  • Brown, J.S., Dugid, P.,"The Social Life of Information" (book)
  • Cohen, D.,Prusak, L., 2001, In Good Company: How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work -- light reading on the power of social capital
  • De Soto, H., 2003, The Mystery of Capital -- on the power of property (ideas) when duly recorded (codified) in creating wealth (knowledge).
  • Milton, Nick, 2005, Knowledge Management for Teams and Projects, Chandos Publishing (book)
  • Raymond, E, 2001, The Cathedral & the Bazaar-- on the power of open source in creating productive communities, an analogy for KM activities