Knowledge Management: The Organizational Context

This will be the first of a two-part set on knowledge management; the second will focus on the use of social media and other new technological tools within knowledge management. For now, we’ll discuss some of the broader issues and ideas of knowledge management.

It is argued in the knowledge management literature that information is of flexible utility and value; the context in which a piece of information will be used, both organizationally and in terms of other pieces of information which will be used alongside it can drastically affect either. A large part of that context, it is held, is the organizational knowledge framework which is used to parse the information (Kimble 2013)(Alavi & Leidner 2001).

If you’ve read the last entry in this blog, you’ll likely have spotted something already. Indeed, this bears a close resemblance to the role of organizational culture and shared tacit knowledge in information transfer. From a certain perspective, it is the same argument approached from a different angle, emphasizing the importance of organizational knowledge in the efficient utilization of information in a way that an external actor or institution could not easily replicate, as opposed to the same being described primarily in terms of the process of knowledge and information transfer (a subset of the processes of knowledge management) rather than the effects on the knowledge/information that is being transferred. As Alavi & Leidner note, with the effect of producing a substantial advantage, provided that the information has some utility to the organization to begin with (2001).

Additionally, it is noted that a large portion of work on knowledge management is specifically due to organizations which have concluded that they possess the necessary knowledge for various tasks, but remain unable to effectively leverage it (Alavi & Leidner 2001). This emphasis is mirrored by the more recent perspective on tacit knowledge which Kimble describes as the norm (2013), Nonaka’s, which specifically describes tacit knowledge as being personal and difficult to transmit (1994). While roughly accurate, when this is paired with his definition of explicit knowledge, it is quite clearly focused on the organizational perspective of knowledge, dealing primarily with the ability to codify and formalize knowledge above other aspects of it.

Kimble delves into Cowan et al.‘s three-pronged model of knowledge, primarily concerned with codification and utility (2000)–again, issues relating primarily to the application of knowledge within organizations, particularly capitalistic ones (2013)–departing to some degree from Nonaka’s work. Interestingly, the latter develops a concept of what he calls the “Spiral of Organizational Knowledge Creation” (1994). Although the specifics and context are different, the idea of a cyclical pattern in which different types of knowledge lead to the development of further knowledge bears more than a little resemblance to Cook & Brown’s “generative dance” (1999).

In truth, this bears little resemblance to what I intended to write; indeed, I only used two of the four articles I read in preparation last week. It took on a life of its own, I suppose, and led me by the nose to something else entirely. These connections which emerged from the woodwork as I wrote are quite remarkable; it has been a rare experience for me to write on a subject in which so much of the literature is so closely interrelated–not just in terms of explicit citation, but also, appropriately, in a shared (one might even call it tacit) awareness of others’ ideas that they begin to emerge in similar-but-different forms in relatively separate contexts.

Additionally, Nonaka’s actual operational models will be folded in to a later post on practical applications in knowledge management, possibly the next one as a dual focus on the changes wrought by social media and more traditional approaches to KM. Likewise, although Cowan et al. were mentioned here in passing, they certainly deserve more than a single line.

References

Alavi, M., & Leidner, D. E. (2001). Knowledge management and knowledge management systems: Conceptual foundations and research issues. MIS Quarterly, 25(1), 107-136.

Cowan, R., David, P. A., & Foray, D. (2000). The explicit economics of knowledge codification and tacitness. Industrial & Corporate Change, 9(2), 211-253.

Kimble, C. (2013). Knowledge management, codification and tacit knowledge. Information Research, 18(2).

Nonaka, I. (1994). A dynamic theory of organizational knowledge creation. Organization Science, 5(1), 14-37.

Knowledge Management: The Organizational Context

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