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Part 2: Knowledge management practices

We introduced three perspectives on knowledge and knowledge management and explained the importance of alignment between an organisation’s understanding of ‘knowledge’, its approach to knowledge management and what it actually does to manage knowledge:

We found a mismatch between some organisations’ understanding of ‘knowledge’ and their stated approach to knowledge management. What is going on?

Knowledge management in practice

To explore this question further, we looked at organisations' knowledge management practices.

We would expect knowledge management practices – what people actually do to manage knowledge – to match their view of knowledge. Organisations with a process perspective, for example, should encourage people to build relationships, networks and trust. Organisations with a practice perspective should focus their knowledge management activities on creating groups of people doing similar work, with overlaps between the groups.

The more sophisticated an organisation’s understanding of knowledge, however, the less obvious it is what it should actually do. What exactly does process- or practice-based knowledge management look like? How can they be measured? How do organisations know whether they are working?

Knowledge is intangible and can’t be managed directly. Adrian Malone, a Knowledge SIG committee member, illustrates this with the wheelbarrow test. If knowledge was a tangible thing that could be managed directly, you could put it in a wheelbarrow. Even people with an extreme structural perspective would struggle with the idea that you can put knowledge in a wheelbarrow!  

In practice, good knowledge management is mostly about creating an environment where people want to share what they know. It includes HR interventions, networking and simply giving people time to talk to each other. These practices are difficult to translate into the systematic processes that project managers are used to. There is no template for creating a knowledge-sharing environment.

Specific knowledge management methods do exist, but they are variations on two themes: connecting people to information and connecting people to other people. They only work if the environment is conducive to knowledge-sharing.

There is no universal ideal mix of knowledge management practices. The mix depends on the context and needs of individual organisations.

Discover what we asked and how we analysed the survey results

So what is going on?

The picture is far from clear. Some organisations have a strong, shared understanding of knowledge that is reflected in their approach to knowledge management and in what they actually do. Other organisations seem to have set out to manage knowledge (using the process and practice perspectives) and ended up managing information (the structural perspective) instead. And at least one organisation has used information management to build a business case for knowledge management because the former is more tangible and easy to explain.

Some of the organisations in our study seem to be confused about knowledge management.

What does your organisation actually do to manage knowledge?

Use the ideas and information here and in Part 1 to think about what your organisation does in practice. Is it managing knowledge, or is it managing information? Is it actually doing what it set out to do?

Additional resources: