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KM principles and practices

A 'rough guide' to some of the main general approaches to knowledge management. Right knowledge, right place, right time Types of knowledge: explicit and tacit Types of knowledge: old and new Ways with knowledge: collecting and connecting Ways with knowledge: people, processes and technology Right knowledge, right place, right time Some people mistakenly assume that knowledge management is a out capturing all the est practices and knowledge that people possess and storing it in a computer system in the hope that one day it will e useful. !n fact this is a good example of what knowledge management is not a out" #onsider this: how often has information or knowledge een pushed at you when you don't need it $ paper, emails, training, another irrele%ant meeting& Then later, when you do need it, you %aguely remem er seeing something rele%ant ut can't find it. Some sur%eys suggest that professional workers spend ten per cent of their time looking for information they know is somewhere. And if what you want is in people's heads, and they're not always around, how can you access it when you need it& What if you don't e%en know whose head it's in& 'r if they'd e willing to share it with you& !n a nutshell, good knowledge management is all a out getting the right knowledge, in the right place, at the right time. The right knowledge is the knowledge that you need in order to e a le to do your (o to the est of your a ility, whether that means diagnosing a patient, making a decision, ooking a referral, answering a patient's )uestion, administering a treatment, training a new colleague, interpreting a piece of research, using a computer system, managing a pro(ect, dealing with suppliers etc. !nformation and knowledge can usually e found in a whole %ariety of places $ research papers, reports and manuals, data ases etc. 'ften it will e in people's heads $ yours and other people's. The right place, howe%er, is the point of action or decision $ the meeting, the patient helpline, the hospital edside, ehind the reception desk and so on. The right time is when you *the person or the team doing the work+ need it.

Types of knowledge: explicit and tacit ,nowledge in organisations is often classified into two types: explicit and tacit. Explicit knowledge is knowledge that can e captured and written down in documents or data ases. -xamples of explicit knowledge include instruction manuals, written procedures, est practices, lessons learned and research findings. -xplicit knowledge can e categorised as either structured or unstructured. .ocuments, data ases, and

spreadsheets are examples of structured knowledge, ecause the data or information in them is organised in a particular way for future retrie%al. !n contrast, e$mails, images, training courses, and audio and %ideo selections are examples of unstructured knowledge ecause the information they contain is not referenced for retrie%al. Tacit knowledge is the knowledge that people carry in their heads. !t is much less concrete than explicit knowledge. !t is more of an 'unspoken understanding' a out something, knowledge that is more difficult to write down in a document or a data ase. An example might e knowing how to ride a icycle $ you know how to do it, you can do it again and again, ut could you write down instructions for someone to learn to ride a icycle& Tacit knowledge can e difficult to access as it is often not known to others. !n fact, most people are not aware of the knowledge they themsel%es possess or of its %alue to others. Tacit knowledge is considered more %alua le ecause it pro%ides context for people, places, ideas and experiences. !t generally re)uires extensi%e personal contact and trust to share effecti%ely.

Types of knowledge: old and new /ost knowledge management strategies generally ha%e one *or sometimes oth+ of two thrusts. The first is to make etter use of the knowledge that already exists within the organisation, and the second is to create new knowledge. /aking etter use of the knowledge that already exists within an organisation ('old' knowledge) often egins with 'knowing what you know'. 0ery often leading managers comment: 1if only we knew what we knew1. Too fre)uently people in one part of the organisation rein%ent the wheel or fail to sol%e a pro lem ecause the knowledge they need is elsewhere in the organisation ut not known or accessi le to them. 2ence the first knowledge management initiati%e of many companies is that of finding out what they know, and taking steps to make that knowledge accessi le throughout the organisation. Specific approaches might include conducting a knowledge audit, mapping the organisation's knowledge resources and flows, making tacit knowledge more explicit and putting in place mechanisms to mo%e it more rapidly to where it is needed. #reating new knowledge can e)ually e approached in a num er of ways such as through training, hiring external resources, ringing different people and their knowledge together to create fresh knowledge and insights, etc. !t is also a out inno%ation $ making the transition from ideas to action more effecti%e. /any managers mistakenly elie%e this is a out R3. and creati%ity. !n fact there is no shortage of creati%ity in organisations $ not (ust in R3. ut e%erywhere. The real challenge is not to lose these creati%e ideas and to allow them to flow where they can e used. !n reality, the distinction etween 'old' and 'new' knowledge is not always that clear. !nno%ation will often draw on lessons from the past, particularly those that ha%e een forgotten, or those that can e put together in new com inations to achie%e new results. Similarly, the application of *old+ knowledge almost always in%ol%es some adaptation, and so in the process of adaptation, new knowledge is created. At the end of the day, the

)uality of knowledge does not depend on whether it is 'old' or 'new' ut rather whether it is rele%ant. Whether it is old or new hardly matters. The )uestion is: does it work in practice&

Ways with knowledge: collecting and connecting ,nowledge management programmes tend to ha%e oth a 'collecting' and a 'connecting' dimension. The collecting dimension in%ol%es linking people with information. !t relates to the capturing and disseminating of explicit knowledge through information and communication technologies aimed at codifying, storing and retrie%ing content, which in principle is continuously updated through computer networks. Through such collections of content, what is learned is made readily accessi le to future users. #urrent examples in the 42S include %arious intranets, the 4ational electronic 5i rary for 2ealth, the #5!6 data ase, The #ochrane 5i rary, and many more. This collecting dimension is often the main emphasis of many -uropean and 7S knowledge programmes. 2owe%er it has its limitations. -%en where comprehensi%e collections of materials exist, effecti%e use may still need knowledgea le and skilled interpretation and su se)uent alignment with the local context to get effecti%e results, (ust as reading a newspaper article on rain surgery does not )ualify or ena le a reader to conduct rain surgery. An organisation that focuses completely on collecting and makes little or no effort at connecting *see elow+ tends to end up with a repository of static documents. The connecting dimension in%ol%es linking people with people $ specifically people who need to know with those who do know, and so enhancing tacit knowledge flow through etter human interaction, so that knowledge is diffused around the organisation and not (ust held in the heads of a few. #onnecting is necessary ecause knowledge is em odied in people, and in the relationships within and etween organisations. !nformation ecomes knowledge as it is interpreted in the light of the indi%idual's understandings of the particular context. -xamples of connecting initiati%es include skills directories and expert directories $ searcha le online staff directories that gi%e much more detail a out who does what and who knows what, colla orati%e working, communities of practice $ networks of people with a common interest, and %arious 'socialisation' acti%ities designed to support knowledge flows. This connecting dimension tends to e the main emphasis in 8apanese knowledge programmes. 2owe%er an organisation that focuses entirely on connecting, with little or no attempt at collecting, can e %ery inefficient. Such organisations may waste time in 'rein%enting wheels'. /ost knowledge management programmes aim at an integrated approach to managing knowledge, y com ining the enefits of oth approaches and achie%ing a alance etween connecting indi%iduals who need to know with those who do know, and collecting what is learned as a result of these connections and making that easily accessi le to others. 9or example, if collected documents are linked to their authors and

contain other interacti%e possi ilities, they can ecome dynamic and hence much more useful.

Ways with knowledge: people, processes and technology 'ne popular and widely$used approach is to think of knowledge management in terms of three components, namely people, processes and technology: People: :etting an organisation's culture *including %alues and eha%iours+ 'right' for knowledge management is typically the most important and yet often the most difficult challenge. ,nowledge management is first and foremost a people issue. .oes the culture of your organisation support ongoing learning and knowledge sharing& Are people moti%ated and rewarded for creating, sharing and using knowledge& !s there a culture of openness and mutual respect and support& 'r is your organisation %ery hierarchical where 'knowledge is power' and so people are reluctant to share& Are people under constant pressure to act with no time for knowledge$seeking or reflection& .o they feel inspired to inno%ate and learn from mistakes, or is there a strong ' lame and shame' culture& Processes: !n order to impro%e knowledge sharing, organisations often need to make changes to the way their internal processes are structured, and sometimes e%en the organisational structure itself. 9or example, if an organisation is structured in such a way that different parts of it are competing for resources, then this will most likely e a arrier to knowledge sharing. 5ooking at the many aspects of 'how things are done around here' in your organisation, which processes constitute either arriers to, or ena lers of, knowledge management& 2ow can these processes e adapted, or what new processes can e introduced, to support people in creating, sharing and using knowledge& Technology: A common misconception is that knowledge management is mainly a out technology $ getting an intranet, linking people y e$mail, compiling information data ases etc. Technology is often a crucial ena ler of knowledge management $ it can help connect people with information, and people with each other, ut it is not the solution. And it is %ital that any technology used 'fits' the organisation's people and processes $ otherwise it will simply not e used. These three components are often compared to the legs of a three$legged stool $ if one is missing, then the stool will collapse. 2owe%er, one leg is %iewed as eing more important than the others $ people. An organisation's primary focus should e on de%eloping a knowledge$friendly culture and knowledge$friendly eha%iours among its people, which should e supported y the appropriate processes, and which may e ena led through technology.