This is the first in a series of 3 articles which briefly looks at topics related to Knowledge Management.
Most enterprises, including education and training organisations are recognising the value of knowledge as a strategic lever in their business operations. Many have seen the development of so-called ‘expert systems’, as the ‘silver bullet’ that will allow them to harness their intellectual capital for organisational benefit.
In order the understand why these ‘expert systems’ have not provided the solution envisaged, it is perhaps best to look at some of the definitions or explanations of what knowledge is or might be.
All schools of thought agree that knowledge is something different from information and data. Zack (1999) in Shin at al (2001) defines data as observation or facts, with information as raw material in a meaningful context, and knowledge as meaningfully organised accumulation of information. Wisdom, as the apex of the hierarchy, (see attached diagram), is defined as the best use of the accumulated knowledge.
Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) distinguish between two principle forms of knowledge:
- Explicit knowledge:
”can be expressed in words and numbers and can be easily communicated and shared in the form of hard data, scientific formulae, codified procedures or principles”
- Tacit knowledge:
”highly personal and hard to formalise. Subjective insights, intuitions and hunches fall into this category”
Nonaka and Takeuchi describe the transfer of knowledge as a conversion process involving four steps:
- Tacit - to - tacit (socialisation) – where individuals acquire new knowledge directly from others;
- Tacit – to –explicit (externalisation) – the articulation of knowledge into tangible form through dialogue;
- Explicit – to – explicit (combination) – combining different forms of explicit knowledge such as that in documents or on databases;
- Explicit – to – tacit (internalisation) – such as learning by doing, where individuals internalise knowledge from documents into their body of experience.
Explicit knowledge can be stored and reused in the form of documents, processes and procedures. The use of databases and electronic data repositories allows greater access and reuse of these knowledge objects.
Of greater difficulty to capture, store and have available for reuse to others, is tacit knowledge, that mixture of insights, experiences, values, judgements and ideals that often is unique to the holder of that knowledge. Transfer of this knowledge is usually through social interaction, through collaboration and sharing, in team work, and in open communication within and across an organisation.
As organisations become larger and more diverse, the tacit knowledge within the organisation becomes more difficult to access, often resulting in replication and redundancy. The development of a Knowledge Management System to harness and manage an organisation’s knowledge assets is the way forward.
Nonaka I & Takeuchi H, (1995) “The Knowledge Creating Company”OxfordUniversityPress
Shin M, Holden T, Schmidt R A, (2000),“From Knowledge Theory to Management Practice: Towards an Integrated Approach”
Skyrme D J, (1997)“From Information to Knowledge Management: Are You Prepared?”at http://www.skyrme.com/pubs/on97full.htm Accessed1/5/02.
Other articles in this series:
Part 2: Knowledge Management - The Way Forward
Part 3: Knowledge Management and e-Learning