A source of confusion in the field of KM stems from the use of the very common word “knowledge.” Let us discern how KM gurus use this word, starting with the guru of all management gurus, Peter Drucker:
- “Knowledge is information that changes something or somebody — either by becoming grounds for action, or by making an individual (or an institution) capable of different or more effective action” – Drucker
“Justified belief that increases an entity’s capacity for effective action” – Nonaka
“Knowledge… should be evaluated by the decisions or actions to which it leads.” – Davenport and Prusak
“Knowledge is the understanding of relations and causalities, and is therefore essential in making operations effective, building business process, or predicting the outcomes of business models.” – McKinsey & Company
“I define knowledge as a capacity to act” – Sveiby
“Knowledge is information in action” – O’Dell and Grayson
In KM, “knowledge” is capacity for effective action, which includes belief, understanding of cause-and-effect and information useful for effective action. It encompasses whatever helps you do your job well. Thus, information that is not actionable is not knowledge. “Effective action” is the operational, empirical or behavioral indicator of the result of applying knowledge well in a particular context.
The model we showed earlier (where, following the previous post, I expanded “knowledge assets” to “intangible including knowledge assets”) provides a simple KM framework. Because this framework links knowledge assets to results of KM, it also provides the foundation for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of KM, or better, M&E in the management of intangible assets.
This cause-and-effect model simply aims to highlight the fundamental link between knowledge and action, and between action and value creation. In actual practice and in specific work contexts, there are many factors that are in play: (a) effectiveness of an action is very dependent on context including relationships (discussed in blogpost entitled “F7- Interactivity and Context”), (b) value creation is dependent on users’ definition of what is valuable to them (discussed in blogpost entitled “F13- KM is for value creation: WHOSE value?”. Check also the ugly and messy “flies in the ointment” I pointed out in “F3- KM is for value creation”), (c) knowledge workers’ behavior depends on their personal values and inner motivation, support from peers or boss, incentive system, etc. (discussed in blogpost “F1- KM is Not Enough!”), and (d) learning and knowledge transfer depend much on power relations among many actors involved (discussed in blogpost “F14- M&E of KM for development”). I thank Charlie Dibsdale for reminding me to point these out.
M&E tools in use to track and assess Box 1 include: various intellectual capital accounting methods, knowledge mapping/inventory, social network analysis (SNA), blogs, completely unstructured story telling/listening, lessons-learned session (LLS), corporate knowledge taxonomies, number of uploads to a portal, World Bank’s KAM, etc. These are tools of “supply-driven KM”.
M&E tools in use that pertains to Box 2 include: key performance indicators (KPI), various productivity measures, activity checklists, number of hits of a webpage, action indicators in a project logframe, indicators in a Balanced Scorecard, Malcolm Baldridge measures of performance, etc. At the activity level, it is easy to attribute the action to whichever specific knowledge assets were used, but attribution gets more difficult at the project and especially at the program or organizational levels.
M&E tools in use to monitor and evaluate Box 3 include: number of problems solved, satisfaction scores by internal/external customers, value adding (vs. non-value adding), impact of training on workplace performance, post-project success stories by project beneficiaries, gross sales of a product/service, statistical correlations between knowledge assets and organizational performance measures, key result areas (KRAs), market value of a corporation, satisfaction survey among project stakeholders, etc.
Disaggregation and attribution of organizational results to specific factors is often difficult here. However, if the choice and design of a KM initiative is demand-driven (e.g. to solve a specific problem, to enhance a particular capability, to assist in making a particular type of decision or policy, to increase efficiency of a work process, etc.) then it is easy to devise a measure or indicator to check if indeed that demand or objective was met.
Please note that this framework is suited for M&E of KM. It focuses on the outputs or results of KM. Building upon my previous blog post F1, I also proposed an expanded KM framework that focuses on the inputs, the most important of which are motivated, loyal, curious and innovative knowledge workers (thanks to Daan Boom for pointing this out). See the blog “Practical exercise #15: ingredients of effective group action” I posted last February 28, 2009).