KM – managing container, or managing content

KM can be addressed in two ways – managing the container in which knowledge is carried (the people or the documents) or managing the contents held in that container.

Image from wikimedia

I blogged last week about “fuzzy statements” and how these need to be avoided if knowledge is to be transferred effectively from one person to another. One of the replies I received on LinkedIn was the question whether Taxonomy could help with fuzzy statements. 

My answer was No – that the fuzzy statement was an issue with the content of the knowledge, whether this was a piece of advice in a lesson database, a message on a forum, or a lesson in a database. The Taxonomy did not affect the content, but categorised the container – the post, document or article.
I would like to explore that idea of content and container a little more.

Undocumented Knowledge

If we look at the knowledge held in people’s heads, then managing the container equates to managing the heads; hiring the people, moving the people to tasks where they are needed, and categorising the people based on what they know.  Managing the content equates to setting up and facilitating the conversations through which people learn, and through which their knowledge – the content of their head – evolves.

Managing this content is the province of Knowledge Management, or at least that part of KM that covers Conversation.

Managing the heads themselves, and assuming these heads carry useful knowledge, comes more under the province of HR. This is old-style prehistoric KM – the idea that if you move knowledgeable people about you are managing knowledge.  This is true, but only to a very limited extent.

Managing the container Managing the knowledge content
Hiring
Manpower allocation
Succession planning
Expertise directory
Competence mapping
Mentoring
Coaching
Community of practice discussions
Knowledge transfer conversations (Peer assist, knowledge exchange)
Training

Documented Knowledge

If we look at the knowledge held in documents, then managing the container equates to managing the documents themselves, and managing the content equates to process you put in place to ensure the content of these documents is useful, valuable and correct knowledge, written in such a way that it will be understandable to the reader.

Managing this content comes is the province of Knowledge Management, focusing on effective capture and update of documented knowledge, ensuring the contents of the document are valid and useful.


Managing the documents themselves, ensuring they are categorised and findable while assuming these documents carry useful knowledge, comes more under the province of Information Management.

Managing the container Managing the knowledge content
Taxonomy
Metadata
Search
Portals
Intranets
Collaborative authoring (wikis, team knowledge capture, community knowledge bases)
Facilitated capture (interviews, lessons)
Validation
Correlation and comparison
Feedback

Of course both the knowledge content and the knowledge containers need to be addressed in any complete and holistic KM endeavour, and KM needs to work with both IM and HR to this effect, but KM alone is responsible for ensuring the quality of content. If all we do in KM is worry about taxonomy and portals, then we are concentrating only on the containers and neglecting our primary role of looking after the content.
If we take shipping container traffic as an example, managing the containers is the job of the docks, the shipping authorities and the hauliers. Managing the content is the job of the exporters and importers. Together both parties ensure that quality goods reach the right market.  
Similarly, KM, IM and HR combine to ensure that quality knowledge reach the people who need it, and for that to happen, KM’s primary role is looking after the quality of the content in the heads and in the documents.

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Shared by: Nick Milton