Knowledge management

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Knowledge Management ('KM') comprises a range of practices used by organisations to identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge. It has been an established discipline since 1995 [1] with a body of university courses and both professional and academic journals dedicated to it. Many large companies have resources dedicated to Knowledge Management, often as a part of 'Information Technology' or 'Human Resource Management' departments. Knowledge Management is a multi-billion dollar world-wide market. The concept has been hyped to a great extent, resulting in many initiatives being left again.

There is not one single standardized definition of Knowledge Management around, definitions depend on the disciplines involved and the background. Knowledge Management programs are typically tied to organisational objectives such as improved performance, competitive advantage, innovation, developmental processes, lessons learned transfer (for example between projects) and the general development of collaborative practices.

Knowledge Management is frequently linked and related to what has become known as the learning organisation, lifelong learning and continuous improvement.

Perspectives on Knowledge Management

"Schools" of Knowledge Management

The schools of knowledge management are based on article of Michael Earl, in which he defines three approaches rooted in different disciplines. The approaches are technocratic, economic and behavioral. These schools of knowledge management stem from various disciplines, ranging from Philosophy, Computer Science, Sociology, Epistemology, Management to Economics. The subsets of schools resulted from a research using case studies, interviews and litertature. The schools are not mutually exclusive, quite on the contrary. Overlap does exist between schools. The schools can be used for education, analysis, formulating strategies and research. [2]

Technocratic Schools

The technocratic schools are labeled so because they rely heavily on technology, both information and management technology. These technologies can be used "to support and, to different degrees, condition employees (or knowledge workers) in their everyday tasks."

  • Systems: The systems approach focuses on specific domains. For such a domain knowledge is codified and stored in knowledge bases, this relies heavily on technology. Typical examples are "Conventional" Databases, Decision support Systems and Reference websites. Important Critical Success Factors of this approach are, among others, Content Validation, Incentives to provide content and showing the importance to the organization.
  • Engineering: The scope of the engineering school is on bringing knowledge to activities where the knowledge is required. In short it comes down on centralized knowledge and decentralized application of knowledge.
  • Cartographic The Cartographic approach focuses more on an organization/enterprise level, spanning multiple domains. The Cartographic approach does not attempt to codify the knowledge itself, but rather provides "maps" to knowledge. This can be both to explicit as well as tacit knowledge. It works well in decentralized organizations and requires means for connectivity; i.e. self-service profiles/facebases, knowledge directories, instant-messaging, on-line collaboration etc. Some critical success factors are a set of knowledge networks combined with a culture or incentive-system motivating it to share knowledge. Adding to this an organization should trust in personalized knowledge.

Economic School

  • Commercial: The commercial school focuses on the value of knowledge "explicitly creating revenue streams from the exploitation of knowledge and intellectual capital". Besides exploiting an organizations knowledge, the commercial school is also focussed on protecting an organizations knowledge. This can be brought into practice by maintaining a portfolio of knowledge in the organization and assessing the costs and benefits of these knowledge assets. This can result on the one hand in maintaining and protecting or, on the other hand in selling or donating knowledge assets. Examples mentioned in the article of Earl are intellectual assets like patents, trademarks, copyrights, and know-how. These can be used to create an extra revenue stream from licensing, Dow Chemical is mentioned as an example of this school.

Behavioral Schools

One aspect of the behavioral schools is coaching, knowledge is personalized and transferred to other persons through intensive sessions. As Leonard and Swap described, coaching can be done in various ways by people with various degrees of knowledge. [3]. They discern various levels of knowledge; from experts to apprentices to novices. It is explained how people with all kinds of knowledge can coach others, transferring what they know so far.

  • Strategic:
  • Spatial:
  • Organizational:


  1. Stankosky, M. (2004); Creating the Discipline of Knowledge Management: The Latest in University Research. Butterworth-Heinemann, ISBN 0-7506-7878-X
  2. Michael Earl. Knowledge Management Strategies: Toward a Taxonomy. Journal of Management Information Systems / Summer 2001, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 215–233.
  3. Leonard, D. , Swap, W. (2005): Deep Smarts; How to cultivate and transfer enduring business wisdom. Harvard Business School Press. ISBN 1-59139-528-3