Managing knowledge / managing information: what's the difference?

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What are the differences between Knowledge Management (KM) and Information Management (IM)?

What I’m really asking is how you distinguish information from knowledge for working purposes. And whether that disctinction is important, and how.

To me knowledge is about experience and context. So for example within a project, whilst many sets of information are relatively easy to capture, store and share, a lot of the related knowledge falls between the cracks of (e.g.) a standard PID, a risk log and a project closure report. 

What's the story behind the bare facts and figures? How do I get to hear it, share it, learn from it... ? Why does x keep happening? I know I'm supposed to do y, but what's the best way to do it?

Whilst many initiatives and systems aim to connect people with information, isn’t there as much or often more value in connecting people with people? Once in touch with each other, people (or 'knowledge workers' as I like to think of us) can share personal, first-hand knowledge - including knowledge about the information that they will inevitably share too. 

It's what we do naturally, being social creatures. We instinctively know this is the most effective and valuable way to share and learn. Yet the systems we create often don't do so well at emulating or enabling this personal contact. At best they'll link me with a piece of information, but too often it lacks context, rounded  explanation, the anecdotal example or know-how associated with it.

Limitations of this working culture of 'controlled environments' was highlighted excellently for me recently in this blog post from John Wenger in his ‘Quantum Shifting’ blog.

Liam Fahey and Laurence Prusak's 1998 (California Management Review) article ‘The Eleven Deadliest Sins of Knowledge Management' numbers amongst these errors (#1) ‘Not developing a working definition of knowledge’ and (#2) ‘Emphasizing knowledge stock to the detriment of knowledge flow’. ‘IM’ is important, essential – I should say that; it’s my job! – but these two errors are examples of just the areas where I’ve seen a focus on ‘IM’ getting in the way of what’s ultimately a ‘KM’ goal – particularly stockpiling information in the hope that knowledge will flow as a result (anyone else lost their way recently in a labyrinth of shared folder drives?).

A fellow Knowledge SIG member Elisabeth Goodman and I are running an APM evening event in Birmingham on 14th May where we’ll be exploring distinctions between IM and KM, recognising where we think these distinctions matter – and where perhaps they don’t, exploring where one ends and the other begins…  ultimately coming back to the question of what it is that any of us is trying to achieve by either type of activity or ‘mindset’.

Do come along on 14th May if you can, and in any case please let us know what you think here. What do you think are the differences and why do they matter?

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Posted by Martin Fisher on 26th Mar 2013

About the Author

I've been working in Knowledge Management for 10 years+ and most recently worked with HS2 (High Speed Two), finalising a new KM strategy, planning and managing the work leading from it. So, included in my many interests are Learning Legacies.

I've worked in government sector roles, in private training and consulting, a not-for-profit, health and social care improvement services and education. I'm passionate about democratising knowledge, de-mystifying KM and humanising technology and the world of work in general. I firmly believe that knowledge sharing = greater efficacy, efficiency and satisfaction for all - that's within and between projects and across programmes as well as anywhere else.

For several years I have been working to bring together Project Management and Knowledge Management, which has included helping to establish and run the Knowledge SIG within the APM: See: http://www.apm.org.uk/group/apm-knowledge-specific-interest-group

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