Knowledge Management - It's Complicated
by Peter Frankl - 2 October 2012
There are a lot of definitions out there for the term “Knowledge Management”. Some of these definitions have been helpful to me but most have exacerbated my already confused state of understanding of the discipline of Knowledge Management.
What makes for a good definition of anything? My preference is for definitions that can be easily remembered. That means they should be succinct. A good definition should also provide a framework that facilitates further exploration.
When I recently heard the following construct for the term “knowledge” it made so much sense to me that it was revelatory. Adding the word “management” to it seemed to result in a succinctly-stated framework from which further investigation was possible.
Here it is, presented as equations(1):
Data + Context = Information
Information + Experience = Knowledge
That’s the definition of Knowledge. Managing knowledge in the context of a law firm could be described as the process of facilitating the transfer of knowledge from one lawyer to another.
I’m willing to stick my neck out and speculate that knowledge management was occurring in law firms before the establishment of the discipline of Knowledge Management.
For example, it is the natural state of affairs in a law firm that by working together, a graduate gains knowledge from an associate and an associate gains knowledge from a partner. I'm sure that partners gain lots of knowledge from graduates too.
Even if you are a sole practitioner who works alone, you still need to obtain knowledge somehow in order to get things done.
A simple example is a precedent document.
The best precedent in the world in the hands of an inexperienced lawyer can still result in a disaster. The inexperienced lawyer will usually benefit from talking to someone who regularly uses that precedent. This highlights that experience is a necessary component of knowledge.
Can knowledge be taken from an individual, stored by the organisation and used by someone who needs it in the future? From a practical rather than a theoretical point of view, I’m inclined to think that only information can be stored, not experience and therefore not knowledge.
Experience that is captured and stored becomes data with context, i.e. information. The process of storing experience transforms it into information. For example, a document precedent (which is information) has resulted from a set of experiences but those experiences are stored as information, i.e. the precedent document.
A key method for acquiring information is through collaboration. Collaboration in the broadest sense encompasses everything from a quick chat to a training session.
Information Technology plays no small part in making knowledge acquisition both possible and feasible.
It follows from the above that knowledge managers are involved in activities that include:
1. Converting experience and knowledge into information
2. Making information accessible and
3. Facilitating collaboration
Knowledge Management - it's complicated - but with a good framework as a starting point it can be made a lot less confusing.
Notes: (1) Thank you to Sally Gonzales who shared these two equations with viewers of a video which can be seen at http://livestre.am/46zBd Her statement is at 55 min 40 sec. The conjecture and commentary that make up the remainder of this article is attributable solely to the author.
Addendum: Some time after writing this article I read the following which I liked: "We help to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and experience from those who have it to those who need it using a variety of technologies, processes and techniques." This was a response to the question, as a knowledge manager, how do you describe what you do?
© 2012 Legal Practice Intelligence
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