Is our knowledge management practice best practice?
What is best practice within Knowledge Management and what is our practice? ITIL (circa 2002) covered Knowledge Management in one of the books no one read (Application Management), so it was quietly ignored until v3 when it appeared as a “new process” within Service Transition (2007).
The ITIL 4 summary (2019) is comprehensive, “Knowledge management aims to ensure that stakeholders get the right information, in the proper format, at the right level, and at the correct time, according to their access level and other relevant policies.” (Emphasis added.)
Of course, within the education sector, knowledge management isn’t just something ITIL (re-)discovered in the early 21st century – we’re in the business of turning data into information into knowledge into understanding. And we at least aspire to Wisdom!
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
A quote perhaps carved on many university buildings worldwide, but often what is our practice?
Let’s step through an imaginary knowledge refresh. We begin with our current website, FAQs, team handbook or even textbook (three of which began this post!).
It’s getting on a bit, and we think the knowledge in it needs to be refreshed, so we spin up a project to bring it up to date. We assemble the team of experts, squeeze them until their knowledge (reluctantly?) squeaks out, condense it and republish that until the next edition.
However let’s ask some critical questions about this common scenario.
- Right information?
I’ve no doubt that the information provided by the experts is (currently) correct, but does it answer the questions the non-experts are asking? Often the experts guess the wrong questions (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone!), completely overlooking the beginner questions they’ve forgotten asking in the past.
- Proper format?
Monolithic process manuals are a joy to read (and write!), in that they carefully step through every possible path, leaving nothing to guesswork. But even I will admit that if I want to quickly find out how to do the next task, they don’t really help…
- Right level?
Assuming we have the right information, does it have the correct level of detail, written to be accessible to the audience? Possibly the subject matter experts are not versed in the necessary form of writing (scientific papers are very different than newspapers!).
- Correct time?
Ideally the information should be presented just at (or even just before!) the point of need. But there’s another issue with timeliness – did we ensure that the information remains correct, in the proper format, at the right level and available at the point of need? The reason we began this project was because the previous version was stale…
Whilst we may have spotted some of these failings, and attempt to address them in our knowledge management practice, experience suggests many will remain.
So, how can we move our current practice closer to best practice?