Exploring the Fundamentals of Knowledge Management
KM efforts focus on the management of knowledge as a strategic asset and on encouraging the sharing of knowledge. Interestingly, very little is written about the actual management of knowledge, scholarly debate centres on what constitutes knowledge and there is little in-depth exploration of what it means to “manage”. Yet one conditions the other. Morgan (1997 G. Morgan, Images of Organization, CA, Sage Publications) claimed that modern management has developed a tunnel vision in which the mechanical way of thinking has become so ingrained that it is difficult to see alternatives. Therefore it is assumed that in order to manage any part of an organization, including knowledge assets, it must first be rationalized and controlled. This prevailing management paradigm does not align with KM, which presupposes openness and sharing of knowledge. Polyani’s (1969 Polyani, M., “Knowing and Being”, Chicago, University of Chicago Press) contention that knowledge is ‘a process of knowing’ and ‘we know more than we can tell’ is an early indication that managing knowledge requires a different approach, since what we cannot tell is not amenable to mechanical forms of manipulation such as codification. Managing in the traditional sense is problematic in relation to KM/KT.
In 2002 Hildreth and Kimble (Hildreth, P.M. and Kimble, C., The Duality of Knowledge, Information Research, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2002) argued that knowledge is a duality composed of ‘hard’ dimensions that can be articulated and ‘soft’ dimensions that cannot. Therefore the management of knowledge needs to be a dual activity, moving to a more organic management style whereby the ‘soft’ aspects of knowledge need to be nurtured or cultivated.
Polyani and his contemporary Popper (1978) took the knowledge debate further, taking a socio-cultural perspective, arguing knowledge has an external dimension outside the individual mind - which is found within a shared reality. If knowledge is external to individual consciousness and distributed across members of groups, then it is there because it gets transferred and it is in the transfer process that knowledge can be (and is) managed. Socio-culturalists believe that the method for transferring such knowledge is through narrative, through tales and stories. The goal of logic and science is universal truth, while the goal of narrative thinking, the thought mode of everyday life, is to connect events so that they make sense. Narrative is where people get meaning, and therefore it is not locked within an individual, but transcends individuals.
The work of Cole (2000 Cole, H. P., Narrative Approaches to Health & Safety Training, Paper Presented at the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium, Pittsburgh, Oct, 2000)) supports Polyani and Popper’s views on knowledge. He reported on a research study that found that approximately 15% of the information in any written text is explicit and the rest is implicit or tacit and understandable only within a broader context. For Cole, knowledge is shared knowing, distributed across group members, and that knowledge can be managed by cultivating it, which he claimed, is accomplished through narrative.
The key point in this discussion is knowledge, unlike information and data, it goes beyond the individual. Knowledge is held in the “third dimension” that exists outside of the individual, but also resides within the individual. The"third dimension" means that knowledge is understood within a context of accepted organizational norms. However, knowledge is not static; these shared norms both influence individual thinking and are constantly changed by individual and group learning.
Knowledge management involves the capturing of information and data and converting it into knowledge that becomes a valuable company asset since it can be stored, retrieved, accessed and used for business operations and strategy to gain and/or maintain competitiveness. Knowledge can be used for identifying and exploiting new opportunities and/or for improving current systems, processes, services and products.