Knowledge Management: past, present and future – notes on a NetIKX seminar (#NetIKX60)

By Elisabeth Goodman

Knowledge Management past and present

It’s NetIKX’s 21st year since it’s original formation in 1992 as the IRM (Information Resource Management) group under Aslib.  This seminar (in March 2013) was an opportunity for Stuart Ward (Forward Consulting) to reflect on the past and present of Knowledge Management, and for Alison (Lissi) Corfield (Independent KM Specialist) to help us reflect on its future.

As we know, there are many different definitions of Knowledge Management, Stuart suggested that it’s essentially about helping people to share the knowledge that they have in their heads: their ‘tacit’ knowledge to enable the creation of new ideas.   His view is that once that tacit knowledge is made ‘explicit’, or written down, then it is essentially information.

Stuart suggested that an organisation needs the following for an effective Knowledge Management strategy:

  • Clarity of understanding and purpose: what the organization means by Knowledge Management
  • Engagement of everyone in the organization (he cited Lewis Platt, past CEO of Hewlard Packard, as a role mode in creating a knowledge sharing culture)
  • To be delivering value to the organisation from the Knowledge Management strategy (e.g. establishing and facilitating what an organisation needs to know to succeed)

NetIKX in its present and previous forms has had the benefit of many well-known speakers, amongst them Elizabeth Orna, David Snowden, Nick Willard, David Skyrme, Chris Collison and Nick Milton.

As we know, stories can be a powerful way of sharing knowledge, and past speakers have encouraged delegates to bring objects to a seminar as a starting point for such stories.  Stuart diverted us with a story based on locking his car keys in his boot to illustrate the value of organisations (in this case the AA) having effective Knowledge Management strategies for sharing solutions and accessing them!

Common themes that Stuart pulled out from these and other speakers included:

  • Knowledge Management is about people more than technology
  • Top management engagement is essential
  • You should identify what you know, what you need to know, and then bridge the gap
  • It’s important to link your Knowledge Management strategy to your organisational goals and objectives
  • Put processes in place to enable the translation of tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge
  • Measure when you can

Knowledge Management future

Lissi Corfield brought goodie bags and questionnaires for us to complete in real time to involve us in constructing what the future of Knowledge Management might be.

She asked us to consider several things such as:

  1. To what extent the organisations we were involved in had Knowledge Management strategies backed by a CEO at one extreme, or were just a collection of related activities
  2. What kind of activities were taking place in our organisations e.g. Communities of Practice, Learning Interventions, cultural initiatives, storytelling, technical projects, ‘yellow pages’, knowledge audits
  3. Which related organisations we were drawing on e.g. NetIKX, LIKE, CILIP, Aslib, ISKO, Gurteen knowledge cafés; or commercial ones such as TFPL Connect, the Sue Hill breakfast club etc.
  4. Which specialists we were aware of (e.g. as per Stuart’s list) and did we know how to get in touch with them

Lissi also asked us to consider what might happen next with Knowledge Management.  Would it for example:

  • Become very specialized (for example by being adopted / applied in different disciplines)?
  • Disappear into another discipline (such as ‘Big Data’ or Social Media)?
  • Merge into the mainstream (become just what people do)?
  • Get a better name (such as ‘common knowledge’ or even ‘common sense’!)?

Lissi believes and hopes that Knowledge Management will both become very specialized, and merge into the mainstream.

What the delegates thought: knowledge management is here to stay

As is traditional with NetIKX meetings, we split into syndicate or discussion groups to explore some of the seminar’s themes, and all opted to discuss the future of Knowledge Management.

The consensus was that it would continue to be around, although it might not necessarily be called Knowledge Management.  In fact it seems like organisations are reinventing it all the time!

We also thought that although knowledge is continuously being encoded or ‘outsourced’ (for instance through Microsoft style sheets, SatNavs, online customer reviews of products, surgical techniques, flight simulators etc..), new knowledge will keep developing.

One delegate suggested that it’s the sheer complexity surrounding the various roots and sources of knowledge that is the reason why Knowledge Management will continue to be a separate discipline…


Delegates were asked to complete a short survey before the seminar, which included identifying the four most important knowledge assets in our organisations.  We’re waiting to see the results of this survey, but for RiverRhee Consulting I suggest that these are:

  1. Our people – their expertise and experience
  2. The capabilities that we teach our clients
  3. Our approach to training
  4. What we learn from working with our clients

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).


5 thoughts on “Knowledge Management: past, present and future – notes on a NetIKX seminar (#NetIKX60)”

  1. Pingback: Knowledge Management: past, present and future – notes on a NetIKX seminar (#NetIKX60) | The Ischool library learningland |

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  4. Elisabeth, I’m sure this is a great seminar to participate in. One point you listed really caught my attention. In quoting Stuart Ward, you mentioned “Knowledge Management is about people more than technology.” I couldn’t agree with you more. Many people are quick to jump to a technological solution in KM than they are to a people or process solution. At least, this has been my experience so far. Thanks for sharing your notes!

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