Heralding the next wave in KM?


Yesterday I was exploring the ways in which knowledge management as a discipline has evolved, for an IKM paper which Kingo and I are working on. Many authors have written on this, both in the field of KM4D and ‘mainstream’ KM(Huysman et al. 2007, Ferguson and Cummings 2007, Koenig 2005, Snowden 2002, Laszlo and Laszlo 2002, to name but a few). They all have slightly different views on this, identifying two, three or even four generations of knowledge management. There are of course certain similarities among them:

  • ‘First generation’ generally means that the approach was very ICT-driven, harnessed a rather ‘objectivist’ view on knowledge, and aimed to use knowledge as a way to optimize efficiency and competitive advantage. Examples of implementations are KM systems (brrrrr…) such as ‘knowledge databases’, portals, etc.
  • ‘Second generation’ demonstrates more awareness of the contextual relevance of knowledge, and ICTs were gradually recognized as a means to support KM rather than its main driver. Tacit knowledge was recognized as an important source of knowledge, and ‘organizational learning’ became an important focus for KM-initiatives. ‘Best practices’ and case studies were popular KM-outputs.
  • ‘Third generation’ KM harnesses a strong people-centric approach to knowledge, recognizing not just the contextual embeddedness of knowledge, but also the difficulty involved in transferring knowledge between people in different contexts. This might be described as a practice-based view on knowledge: communities of practice are the main focus for knowledge generation and exchange, and innovative facilitation methods are introduced in organizations to strengthen their knowledge sharing capacities.
  • ‘Fourth generation’ KM (Koenig 2005, see also Sarah’s earlier posting), involves a smarter ‘content management’ and organization of knowledge. In this context, taxonomies and CMS are quoted as being important KM-tools.

As mentioned above, these are views with which one may or may not agree. But – and here I finally get to the main point! – thinking about Simon’s posting earlier this week in combination with the views expressed above triggered me to think that we may in fact be approaching the next generation of KM (which I would argue as being the 4th generation).

In this new phase, a practice-based view on knowledge, expressed through (inter-organizational) communities of practice remain central. However, KM implementation focuses on more than organizational processes and methods – because now technologies are (re)introduced as an important KM component – albeit new, highly collaborative forms. The technologies are developed to support communities (rather than to ‘capture’ knowledge), and communities are supported to develop and share knowledge.

Tools are selected and integrated according to a community’s needs, demonstrating a much stronger connection between technology, knowledge needs and community building than f.i. the 1st generation. In the current issue of KM4D Journal, Nancy White et al. have called this ‘technology stewardship‘ and it demonstrates full awareness of both the knowledge needs of a community and the technologies available to support these. A real integration of ‘web 2.0’ into the core organizational processes…

5 Responses

  1. Hi Julie

    I really liked this as it has brought together many of the tings we talked about last week and the giraffe debates of the past few days.

    Best wishes

  2. Hey all – I am enjoying your new blog.

    Today on my twitter (http://www.twitter.com) feed, one of my network pals asked the question if new collaborative technologies were obliviating the need for communities of practice. My first response was “technology is not removing the need, but changing the practice.” But then I started examining my assumptions and I can see cases where technology might shift us to a place where we move to a new form that has less connection to a set of people for learning, and letting that learning range free across relationship boundaries. And I suspect there are gains and losses in such a transition.

    Now CoPs do not equal knowledge sharing, but the question goes right to the heart of your observations about the impact of technology on KM and KS.

    Are we integrating tech into our practices?

    Is tech fundamentally changing (for better or worse) our practices?

    Just when I think I start to understand, something asks me to shift my perspective on the questions and everything changes again.

  3. Hi nancy,

    Thanks for your post, I was hoping you would maybe respond to this because it’s something you are waaaay further on that I am! That’s a very interesting thought you share.

    I am running out the door but felt obliged to just share one thought: I don’t think CoPs will be replaced, because you still need a core group of people to engage with a specific ‘knowledge topic’ (excuse the phrases, like I said I am in a big hurry). CoPs will just become different, and their forums will become more dynamic, too, comprising a whole bunch of different technologies to support their knowledge needs.

    Like you say, organizational boundaries are becoming much more fluid in terms of knoweldge sharing; so formal intra-organizational CoPs will increasingly be replaced by inter-organizational CoPs – also in the private sector where the latter are a lot less prevalent. I also think the CoP itself (as in: the forum on which it ‘congregates’) will become less the source of knowledge than a place for referring people to other sources, or mashing the knowledge together as needs determine. Anyway I don’t know if this makes sense. Very interesting thoughts you present though, will definitely pursue this further.

  4. Julie, my first instinct and response was just like yours.

    Then I reflected on a meeting I was in for the last two days where the impact of feeling overwhelmed by TOO MANY opportunities to engage with others is creating a rejection of the offer that communities make to us to engage with a knowledge topic.

    This causes me to think about what skill/aptitude/attitude allows some of us to find this cross linking/mashup world so incredibly accessible and opening to KS, while others find it a crippling, undifferentiated mass. There is a significant experience disconnect that I think we need to examine.

    So as the form of CoPs evolves, my question is how do we make sure we evolve with it! 😉

    I too, am typing fast, so I’m not sure I’m making sense. I tend to need to “speak out loud” to make sense, thus I am HIGHLY dependent on my communities to learn. I’d be lost without them.

  5. […] end of CoPs? Posted on October 13, 2007 by juulferg Nancy White posted such an interesting comment in response to our thoughts on the ‘next generation of KM’, that I thought I would promote it […]

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