Knowledge management can be equated to making wine. It involves harvesting, distilling, blending (synthesizing), packaging and distribution (sharing) – and it is directed by good market research and needs promotion.
Knowledge management aims to help people organise and share information and expertise. It often uses information technology, but is best when coupled with personal interactions as well. It should never be a ‘one off’, but be built into how organisations do business. The process is very important and requires skill, but the focus must always be on the end-point – sharing knowledge so people can act upon it.
A range of definitions of key terms are available, but I like those of Bellinger, Castro and Mills who describe how:
- Understanding relationships transforms data to information,
- Understanding patterns converts information to knowledge, and
- Understanding principles cultivates knowledge into wisdom.
The knowledge management process I often follow for NRM involves:
- Harvest & Distil – search out and summarise what is known, and record useful sources.
- Market Research – understand what audiences want to know; and how they would like to access it.
- Synthesis and Knowledge Map – pull disparate knowledge together for new insights and map out what is known, in a way which tells a coherent and comprehensive story to meet audience needs.
- Information Products & Packaging – construct the products that meet audience needs (e.g. documents, websites, models, or decision support tools).
- Distribution and Delivery – promote and share the products with audiences directly, or via trained intermediaries.
Knowledge management achieves several things:
- Knowledge. It records, and adds to, what is known in an easily accessed and interpreted manner.
- Knowledge gaps. It highlights where further research or development may be needed.
- Knowledge sources. It maps out where knowledge, information and data are held.
Ideally, knowledge management recognises people, as well as reports and data-sets, as knowledge resources. The best ‘product’ may be a forum for the exchange of ideas and understandings, or a directory of experts willing to engage in a conversation.
Knowledge management should include feedback, along with periodic review and revitalisation (up-dating). As new data, information and understanding come to hand they should be incorporated in the knowledge tree and existing information products updated – rather than creating brand new products from scratch.
Tips & tricks
The bits that really add value or require special aptitude are:
- Distill. Topic experts are often not the best equipped for this task. Some are, but many find it difficult to condense immense knowledge down to simple principles without obscuring them in caveats, or to align their knowledge with that of other disciplines. Try using ‘systems thinkers’ for distillation and synthesis, and engage technical experts for strategic input and to review their work.
- Market Research. Understanding the audiences should focus on their information needs, the form they would like it in (e.g. a document, website or workshop materials) and the preferred delivery (e.g. one-to-one, email, training or a conference). From that a ‘product/delivery matrix’ can be developed. The market research may range from quite simple (e.g. some targeted telephone interviews) to a project by experienced, independent, market researchers.
- Synthesis and Knowledge Map. How information is pulled together is crucial to success. I like to create a dendritic (tree-like) knowledge framework that starts with a few high-level messages and adds layer upon layer of detail to each. The resultant map can also become a ‘dashboard’, helping people to readily find what they are after. It can also record the location of information sources. Information may be presented in layers of similar detail (e.g. key messages, principles or technical guides), or by themes or topics (moving from overview statements to detailed reports or decision support tools).
- Information Products & Packaging. It is easy to get caught up with technical solutions to the challenge of storing and sharing information, as they can work very well (e.g. multi-criteria search capacity). However, if the approach is not part of the main-stream technical environment of the organisations and audiences, it can relatively quickly become lost as staff and internal systems change. For the best legacy, integrate knowledge management within existing frameworks. Traditional approaches (e.g. engaging skilled writers, editors and designers) should also be retained, no matter how high-tech the products are.
- Distribution and Delivery. External experts are often used for the preceding steps, with ‘client’ organisations assuming responsibility for delivery. Senior managers from relevant organisations should be part of the process from the beginning, to improve the likelihood of them committing, and maintaining, the resources required for on-going promotion and delivery of knowledge sharing activities. Even the best bottles of wine need promotion.