Where to nestle knowledge management in the work place?
Is it a field or discipline that deserves a unit in its own right – with its own breed of specialists (the knowledge manager) – or is it a mainstream support function that shoulders every other process? The answer differs in every organisation. In many cases, knowledge management (KM), or knowledge sharing (KS), is hosted within communication (for instance my own function title at ILRI is ‘knowledge sharing and communication specialist’). What are the relations between communication and KM?
How does KM/KS really support communication or even power it?
The graph here depicts some of the basic outbound or primary functions of communication (on the top half), that is, the front-end activities where communication serves its own purpose and some of the key inbound or secondary support functions of communication, i.e. the activities that make primary communication possible).
Primary communication functions might typically include:
- Announcing and raising (public) awareness – the typical PR gig,
- Disseminating information (in various ways and for various audiences, from sending freebies, publications or newsletters to partners and clients to sending press releases to the media),
- Sharing it both physically (at events) and online or virtually through engaging sporadically with other people around a specific information,
- Engaging with audiences as a longer term structured process to develop trust and share information more effectively – either as part of an action research programme, a multi-stakeholder process or something else,
- And ultimately collaborating (assuming that a clear protocol of cooperation and coordination is in place to allow that collaboration to flourish).
Secondary communication functions include:
- Writing outputs (of all kinds),
- Documenting (either processes, conversations, work, protocols etc.) which prepares the way for the writing,
- Publishing and design, which is about getting the written outputs to the next level (design, peer review etc.) and out,
- Training on a number of communication channels and processes,
- And finally supporting in any other way (coaching, informing, guaranteeing a helpdesk function etc.).
At the centre of it all, I deliberately put ‘internal communication’ because it is the ‘glue and grease’ that allows all these primary and secondary functions to work in an integrated manner and to create a team spirit and dynamics. It is also what allows information to flow and be used for all these purposes. It is perhaps where KM might operate from.
So how does KM power these functions?
KM is basically a strong enabler of communication for a number of these functions.
First off, though, we need to agree on a working definition of what KM is and does. Without going into very lengthy and cumbersome discussions, let us say that KM encompasses knowledge sharing (interactions between people to use information and making sense together), information management (processes geared at managing, storing, rendering information findable and usable) and critical thinking (where learning helps to keep sharpening knowledge sharing and information management and the wider purpose of achieving one’s set agenda).
Working with this definition, KM supports communication in the following ways:
- The knowledge sharing element stimulates all interactions in a more effective way – ensuring frequency and good “quality of conversations that get your job done” (borrowed from the definition of knowledge management that Euan Semple and others have provided in the past), which leads to more effective sharing, engagement and collaboration – the top right tier of the graph.
- The information management element ensures that information a) is there in the first place (generated through writing) but particularly that it b) can be traced and found at all times c) is easily and accessibly organised to raise awareness, be disseminated and/or shared, and d) is systematically channelled back from knowledge sharing, engagement and collaboration activities. It supports directly the left hand side of the graph and indirectly the knowledge sharing processes (offering information that can be used for knowledge sharing, engagement and coordination).
- The critical thinking / learning element particularly strengthens the documentation (of processes) but also enables all other functions by ensuring stronger questions, stronger ideas, stronger ownership (thinking makes people more involved), stronger content altogether, stronger engagement by grappling together with ideas, chances for survival of the work and stronger embedding in a given context (because the very process of embedding is supposedly questioned then). Subsequently it supports the full spectrum of communication.
Communication, without knowledge management, might fall back to a series of messages that do not inform learning and adaptation, may end up as a series of sporadic and disconnected activities and does not link information with personal interactions and learning strongly enough, leaving a ‘back office’ messy and useless, like a ghost ship adrift.
Does that resonate with your experience?
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