The existence of knowledge within an organisation doesn’t guarantee its use; on many occasions there’s a large amount of scattered and untapped knowledge to which no one has access. In addition, the information on any given issue may be the property of only one person. These situations can lead to failures in an organisation’s operability, resulting in slowness, the duplication of efforts and a lack of focus on strategic and operational objectives. Why does this happen? Because knowledge has to be managed. What is knowledge management? What’s the purpose of knowledge management within an organisation? What can we do about it? We’ll see below.
Capitalising on knowledge
Knowledge management involves the efforts geared towards capturing and capitalising on the collective experience of the organisation, making it accessible to any of its members. It’s defined as a set of techniques and processes designed to enable an organisation to extract value from the knowledge it possesses. And it’s dynamic; in other words, it isn’t limited to the existing stock of knowledge, as it also promotes the generation of new ones capable of meeting emerging needs. Over time, this accumulation of experiences and learnings serves to build a shared knowledge base with the potential to facilitate the execution of the work, thus speeding up innovation.
When we implement a system allowing us to identify, generate, capture, disseminate and preserve the knowledge of our organisation we reinforce the management, improving the services we offer and facilitating process that lead to innovation.
What is knowledge?
Knowledge is an understanding of information that an organisation or individual acquires through education and experience. This information comes from data, in other words, raw facts and figures that have been contextualised and developed. Knowledge and information are therefore two different, albeit inter-related, things.
Having established this difference, it’s important to understand that the knowledge that exists within an organisation can be divided into two fundamental kinds (The Knowledge-Creating Company, Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995):
Explicit knowledge. This kind of knowledge is codified, in other words, it can be found in books, files, folders, documents, databases and explanatory videos and it’s easier for a knowledge management system to extract and manage it. It can be easily processed by a computer, distributed electronically and stored in a database.
Tacit knowledge. In this case we refer to knowledge that forms part of our mental model as the result of our personal experience. It’s highly important knowledge within any organisation because it’s what distinguishes us, it’s what can make us into a distinctive organisation. However, this form of knowledge is more difficult to structure, store and distribute because it’s “intuitive” in nature. For it to be processed and distributed it has to be transformed into concepts that everyone can understand, it has to be “explained”.
What do we need to know?
Before developing any knowledge management strategy, it’s essential to identify what knowledge exists within the organisation and where its decisions and actions need to be supported within it. To identify the knowledge that is and will be necessary for the achievement of the organisation’s objectives. What do we want/need to know and why do we want to know it?
More specifically, with the social and educational agents focused on by this Observatory in mind: which objectives should the generation and management of knowledge within public and private non-profit institutions such as corporate foundations seek to achieve? The knowledge generated by them should:
- Promote the improvement, adaptation and development of the organisation and its programmes in accordance with the new realities and changes that occur in the environments it carries out its work in.
- Improve the practices and knowledge of the global education community (education authorities, education institutions, schools, management teams and teachers, parent communities).
- To give greater visibility to the value that the institution brings to innovation in learning through education (with digital education in this particular case).
There are two ways of generating knowledge within an organisation:
Obtaining knowledge: the knowledge must be obtained when it’s tacit, when the organisation carries out activities that are liable to generate knowledge, but this knowledge has to be identified and systematised. For example, the monitoring and evaluation of a development organisation’s projects in the field generates highly valuable information that needs to be systematised.
Creating knowledge: the second way of generating knowledge is to create it through research projects, studies, reports in partnership with other organisations, compiling good practices, etc.
Once the knowledge becomes available, it has to be “translated” and transformed into different products so that it can be conveyed in different ways: reports, articles, databases, videos, web resources, presentations, training sessions and so on.
Benefits of knowledge management
- Easy access. All the knowledge that’s useful for and relevant to our organisation can be made available to everyone, quickly and easily.
- Knowledge generates knowledge. Facilitating the processes and the replicability of what works makes it easier for new ideas and new knowledge to emerge.
- Avoidance of mistakes. As the users share information, they resolve problems in different processes, preventing the same mistake from being made twice.
- Preservation of the information. Keeping a record of the processes and procedures that are accessible to everyone prevents knowledge from being lost and dispersed over time and facilitates employee on-boarding and training.
- Increased collaboration. Once the users share knowledge in a common space, it becomes more comfortable to work together to improve the organisation’s processes.
To sum up, an organisation of the kind indicated in this post has to work with clearly defined and structured approaches, resources and actions and the theoretical-practical intelligence offered by the constant analysis of everything that’s done and how it’s done. Being “sapiens sapiens” grants us the privilege, a unique one among hominids, of being able to reflect on our performance to ensure that it continuously improves.