Ask GovLoop on Knowledge – Core Concepts of Knowledge Management

The core concepts of Knowledge Management are:

Organizational Knowledge
Knowledge Management

Knowledge is the whole set of insights, experiences and procedures that are considered correct and true and that therefore guide the thoughts, behaviors and communications of people (van der Spk and Spijkevert, 1997)

Organizational Knowledge is the collective sum of human-centered assets, intellectual property assets, infrastructure assets and market assets (Brooking, 1996)

Knowledge Management has two useful working definitions:

The explicit control and management of knowledge within an organization aimed at achieving the company’s objectives (van der Spek and Spijkevert, 1997)

Formalization and access to experience, knowledge and expertise that create capabilities, enable superior performance, encourage innovation and enhance customer value (Beckman, 1997)

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Mark Oehlert

So in light of social media and its intersection with KM, this phrase “The explicit control and management of knowledge” – really troubles me. It seems to harken back to a time when we thought of knowledge in very much a factory model – hence the phrasings like “management” and “assets” to describe something as messy as human knowledge. I very much like the Beckman phrase better as it seems to step away from the control paradigm and move more toward cooperative verbs like creating, enabling and encouraging.

Lisa Coates

Because Knowledge Management definitions vary so greatly, I’m dedicating many of my first set of Knowledge Management posts to several definitions, thoughts, ideas, and comments. Hopefully a variety of GovLoop folks will contribute a Knowledge Managment definition of their own. Thanks!


Good definitions. To me KM is really about tapping the knowledge bank of the organization and providing access to it for current and future employees.

Claudia Boyles

Working in Knowledge Adoption, I am finding the following definitions and explanations to be helpful.

“Explicit” knowledge is distinguished from “tacit” knowledge. The first refers to knowledge
that “can be expressed in facts and numbers and can be easily communicated and shared in
the form of hard data, scientific formulae, codified procedures, or universal principles.”
(Luijendijk and Mejia-Velez, 2005).

Tacit knowledge, however, is “highly personalized and hard to formalize. Subjective insights,
intuitions and hunches fall into this category of knowledge.” Boom refers to tacit knowledge
as undocumented knowledge. (Boom, 2007) “It is embodied in people (human capital), or
embedded in informal work processes (structural capital), or earned through working
relationships outside (stakeholder capital).” Boom further suggests that tacit knowledge is
more important than explicit knowledge for three reasons: 1) it accounts for an estimated 75-
95% of total organizational knowledge; 2) expertise and mastery, the highest forms of
knowledge, are mostly tacit; and 3) innovation processes depend for the most part on tacit
knowledge to get started.

Practitioners of knowledge management now refer to knowledge as the capacity for effective

Steve Richardson

Claudia’s contributions are critical to understanding that knowledge must have purpose. Otherwise, it’s just information. Lisa’s post started with a definition (“correct and true,” per van der Spk and Spijkevert) that may have been taken out of context, since her quote from the same authors on knowledge management did acknowledge the subjective element. I offer the following definition: a subjective technology of which means are most profitably employed for unique ends.

This definition has profound implications. Since each individual has slightly different objectives, a unique “correct and true” solution does not exist; in fact, conflict is unavoidable. Also, knowledge is incomplete and perishable. No one is capable of possessing all relevant knowledge at once, and today’s best technology will (with any luck) become obsolete tomorrow (see Hayek, Shackle, Drucker, March and Simon).

David Barker

Thank you Lisa for starting this discussion. I agree that it is “actionable knowledge” that moves the business discussion forward. Within DoD it is the command and control that we equate with KM. One challange we face across the board is, getting the “correct and true” knowledge to the field for commanders to make an informed decission. The best knowledge only adds value if it can be shared throughout the clemancy.

One question to the group. Looking for ideas on certificates or professional training within the world of KM. Any ideas are appreciated.

Lisa Coates

Both Steve’s and Claudia, you provide excellent break downs of Knowledge Management. Please keep it up. Thank you. I’m also learning a lot!

Jack Lapke

From my experience KM is about knowldge sharing, having an organizational culture where members are empowered to share what they have learned.

I got KM certification through KM Professional Society:

Lots of gems in How to Talk About KM: . I esp. like this part: “Another useful concept was described by
Luke Naismith in 2005. He said, “You can’t do knowledge management until you accept that you can’t manage knowledge”.

Joshua joseph

“No one is capable of possessing all relevant knowledge at once, and today’s best technology will (with any luck) become obsolete tomorrow”

I think this is a great point, with some subtleties that are worth drawing out. Was actually thinking about this just yesterday while reading a study on how innovations spread/are adopted in the medical community. It was from 1988 – before Twitter, before Internet and many other cool networking technologies. Holy smoke! But it was a very thoughtful paper. Yes, social networking technologies have changed pretty radically since then, which means the knowledge conveyed in the paper surely wasn’t on point in some areas. But some basic things about the way people behave hasn’t changed, making other insights in the paper still relevant and meaningful.

I think the kind of situation described above is a real challenge. As many comments have suggested, knowledge is messy. It gets messier still because, in many cases, we can’t just toss the old and focus on the new. Where’s the convenience in that?! Instead we’ve usually got a lot of still-relevant knowledge mixed in with knowledge that is no longer serving our needs. In my areas of sociology and social psychology (and I think in many others too) there is a tendency to throw out entire blocks of knowledge that have been built on shaky theories. But when we do, we also lose some incredible gems of knowledge whose only misfortune is to be linked with an out-of-date theory. Any thoughts about what steps to take in KM to help minimize this kind off thing?

Steve Richardson

Ambition must be tempered by humility. The new theory could be just as shaky (or worse) than the one it would replace! Initiative proponents often declare that their new strategy calls for a whole new set of measures. How convenient. We should demonstrate improvement by using performance data to compare alternative methods. Otherwise, we’re changing for it’s own sake and destroying the evidence required to determine whether we’re making progress or just fooling around.

Joshua joseph

Agree. Double whammy when it’s not just an academic theory but is playing out in the policy arena, with changes made for questionable reasons that can affect a lot of people.