Knowledge management - past, present and future

By revisiting past events organised by the networking group NetIKX, it is possible to map the development of KM thinking.

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In 1999 the UK's Prime Minister (Tony Blair) spoke at the Confederation of British Industry's (CBI) conference.  He outlined a vision of the UK as a 'dynamic knowledge economy'.  Around this time many of us in information roles were grappling with the definition of knowledge management and the application of information skills in mobilising knowledge.  We had conversations about human, structural and relationship capital and explicit and implicit knowledge.  New roles and skills frameworks began to emerge.  We attended - or even ran - seminars, conferences and training courses. 

At the latest NetIKX seminar (held in London) Stuart Ward provided a fascinating insight into the development of KM thinking by reviewing some highlights from 20 years of NetIKX seminars.

Knowledge management at NetIKX events

In 1995 Martin Browne spoke about exploiting organisational information resources and about a change of approach away from knowledge holders 'pushing' information out to enabling potential users to find and 'pull' exactly what they needed. 

In the same year, the Hawley Committee produced a document for chief executives and directors outlining the importance and benefits of information governance.  The following year, Nigel Horne drew out relevant lessons and messages from Hawley for information professionals at a NetIKX event, including the importance of identifying organisational information assets.

In 1998 Liz Orna spoke about knowledge auditing and information policy and strategy.  In 2000 Dave Snowden introduced the concept of storytelling and social and emotional spaces within organisations, a message that was taken up by Victoria Ward in 2001, who spoke about the value of compelling organisational stories.

In 2000, the NetIKX audience heard about KNet (a 'yellow pages' initiative) developed in DERA to help identify expertise within the organisation.  In the years that followed, NetIKX audiences heard from Nick Willard (the cornerstones of KM), David Skyrme on collaborative technologies and from Chris Collison on river diagram approaches to knowledge mobilisation.

The present day

Many things have changed in knowledge management - not least the tools that are available to us.  But the history of KM's development showed that some things, at least, remain constant.  Alison Corfield picked up the story from Stuart Ward, summarising the findings of her research into the current state of KM in organisations. She found that many of the techniques and approaches we had heard about at NetIKX over the years were still of value and still being used in organisations.  Initiatives focusing on culture and behavioural change, technological implementations (SharePoint or social tools) and expertise databases are all still popular approaches - although many projects may not have a KM label.  Some lessons learned remain constant:

  • Be clear about what you mean by 'knowledge management' in the context of your organisation
  • The importance of champions or sponsors to the success of 'big' KM initiatives
  • Align your initiatives to organisational strategies
  • Tell compelling stories
  • Understand what knowledge is critical to your organisation
  • Identify knowledge 'holders' and knowledge 'at risk' through personnel loss or organisational restructures
  • Be prepared to measure impact
  • Engage people
  • Common sense goes a long way!

NetIKX has plans to make more of its historical KM content available on its website.  You can read more about the organisation here.


Image courtesy of C!'s Flickr stream.