top of page

Knowledge Management in Theory and Practice - Book Review

1 March 2009
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

The book "Knowledge Management in Theory and Practice," by Kimiz Dalkir in 2005, undeniably stands out as one of the most comprehensive works in knowledge management, if not the most comprehensive overall. As implied by its name, the book covers the theoretical aspects of the field's history, the knowledge management cycle, and theoretical models. In addition, it provides practical references to processes of knowledge development and collection, knowledge sharing, application, organizational culture, and the knowledge management team, among others. Although there is a slight inclination towards theory even in practical discussions, this does not disqualify the book; reading is recommended even for those who favor practical insights. The book addresses organizational knowledge and personal knowledge, dealing with both tacit and explicit knowledge.


The book encompasses various aspects, including:
  • Theoretical background

    • Purpose of Knowledge Management

  • Life cycles

  • Knowledge management models

  • Capture and creation of knowledge

  • Sharing and disseminating knowledge

  • Acquiring knowledge and applying it

  • Organizational culture

  • Knowledge Management Technologies

  • Knowledge Management Strategy

  • Measurement

  • Knowledge Management Team


If I were to define the book in one sentence, distinguishing it from other works in the field, I would describe it as the ultimate university textbook (at the time of writing). Given the field's rapid development, there is an acknowledgment that updates are necessary, especially regarding emerging areas like WEB2.0 (though the book references Wiki and Blog, it is noted as very preliminary).

The review suggests that knowledge management will persist in aiding the handling of information and knowledge overflow in the near term. In the long term, its success lies in assimilating into organizations and ceasing to exist as an independent field. Knowledge workers are anticipated to reap the benefits as part of their ongoing work.


This review touches on sections and details that stood out but cannot fully encapsulate the original work's richness of content. A significant takeaway is the recognition of the organizational advantages of the knowledge community, surpassing its business advantages. This insight is highlighted without diminishing the central role of business as a motivator for activity.

Happy reading!


Theoretical background

Purpose of Knowledge Management

To conceptualize the complexity of the knowledge management field, the book was developed through a survey that uncovered more than 100 definitions published in the field. An analysis of these definitions reveals that at least 72 can be considered very good. It is indeed a complex field, and this approach is an exciting way to illustrate its intricacies.


The benefits of knowledge management extend to the individual, the community, and the organization, as outlined below:

For the Individual:

  • Facilitates task completion and time-saving, contributing to improved decision-making and problem-solving.

  • Fosters a sense of community within the organization.

  • Ensures individuals have up-to-date knowledge.

  • Provides challenges and opportunities for contribution.


For the Community:

  • Develop professional skills.

  • Promotes mentoring and counseling processes.

  • Facilitates better communication and knowledge sharing.

  • Establishes a professional code of ethics for members.

  • Develop a common language.


For the Organization:

  • Assists in developing organizational strategy.

  • Speeds up troubleshooting processes.

  • Disseminate experience (best practices) within the organization.

  • Enhances knowledge embedded in products and services.

  • Propagates ideas across the organization, increasing opportunities for innovation.

  • Enables organizations to stay competitive in the business landscape.

  • Acts as an enterprise memory builder.


Life cycles

Numerous life cycles elucidate the dynamics of knowledge conduct. Dalkir selects four primary models, each underscored by its distinctive features. Subsequently, he scrutinizes and integrates them to present a unified model depicted in the book's map with three stages, forming the foundation for the continuation of this review. The models in focus are Meyer and Zack (1996), Bukovitz and Williams (2000), McElroy (2003), and Wiig (1993). Let's delve into each model:

Meyer & Zack:

Engages in knowledge management concerning products or services. On a practical level, it outlines a portal's framework. The life cycle, at its pinnacle, encompasses:



Bukovitz Williams:

Describes two circles of actions – those primarily centered on knowledge development and those centered on knowledge relinquishment:



McElroy:

Addresses the relationship between Argris' knowledge and learning circles (first and second order):



Wiig:

It focuses on three vital conditions for organizational business success: products/services and customers, resources (people/equipment), and the ability to act. Knowledge underpins the ability to act. At its highest level, Wiig's concept can be presented as:



Summary:

Drawing from all life cycles, Dalkir puts forth a straightforward model comprising three components:

  1. Capture/acquisition of knowledge -> (evaluation) ->

  2. Knowledge sharing and dissemination -> (context) ->

  3. Acquisition and use of knowledge -> (update) ->


Knowledge management models

Among the various models available for knowledge management, Dalkir deliberately focuses on several representative models, all of which possess the following characteristics:

  1. Represent a holistic (complete) model for knowledge management, encompassing aspects related to people, processes, and technology.

  2. Undergo scrutiny, criticisms, and discussions in the research literature.

  3. Have been implemented in the field, demonstrating reliability and applicability.


The models under review include the Von Kroch and Rowe models, the Nonka and Takeuchi models, the Cho model, the Wiig model, and the Boisot I-SPACE model:


Von Kroch and Rowe Model – Organizational Epistemological Model:

Distinguishes between personal and organizational knowledge, emphasizing their connection to foster organizational learning. This model is grounded in connections, where knowledge resides in individuals and at the social level, emphasizing factors like thought patterns, communication, organizational structure, relationships between employees, and human resource management.


Nonka and Takeuchi Model – The Spiral Knowledge Model:

Explores knowledge development resulting from transitions between tacit and covert knowledge, expanding the circle of partners from individuals to inter-organizations, fostering knowledge development.


Cho Model – The Consciousness Creation Model:

Like life cycles, this model deals with shared meanings that construct new knowledge, contributing to organizational awareness and experience. Consciousness, rooted in common meanings, breaks down and creates new organizational knowledge.


Wiig Model – Knowledge Organization:

Advocates knowledge organization based on its use, suggesting a semantic network for effective organization. Examines knowledge based on parameters such as perfection, level of connections, consistency, and serving a common purpose.


Boisot I-SPACE Model:

Addresses the tension between easy-to-use and qualitative knowledge, utilizing a cube to represent three dimensions: codified-uncodified, abstract-concrete, and diffused-undiffused.


Dalkir delves into the specifics of each model and provides a detailed exploration of other, more complex models for knowledge management.


Capture and creation of knowledge

The process of knowledge capture involves the acquisition of both tacit and visible knowledge:


Capture of Tacit Knowledge (Individual and Group Level):

Various methods can be employed for capturing tacit knowledge, including:

  1. Interviews – encompassing structured interviews and storytelling processes.

  2. Initiation – providing one-on-one instruction.

  3. Observations – instrumental in cases where knowledge is challenging to articulate verbally.


Additionally, less conventional methods include ad hoc meetings, road maps, learning history, learning by doing, e-learning, learning from external experts (lectures), and benchmarks.


At the organizational level, capturing tacit knowledge is recommended to be executed at the macro level through:

  1. Guided meetings (using a suggested template).

  2. Comparisons with other organizations (benchmarking).

  3. Experiential learning (first/second level loop – Argyris) – resulting in a procedural outcome.

  4. Implementation of challenging actual actions.


Capture of Visible Knowledge:

Primarily centered on communication and interaction, with construction being a necessary component, several tools are proposed for this purpose:

  1. Cognitive maps.

  2. Decision trees.

  3. Taxonomies are hierarchical trees organizing visible knowledge, whether manual or automatic, through software products.


Sharing and disseminating knowledge

In any interaction with knowledge, it is crucial to acknowledge its dynamic nature, actively constructed when individuals come together. Dalkir recommends various tools for sharing and disseminating knowledge:

  1. Identifying formal and covert knowledge networks and utilizing them as dissemination tools.

  2. Developing corporate yellow pages/expert maps to facilitate sharing.

  3. Cultivating face-to-face human knowledge communities.

  4. Cultivating virtual communities (with the possibility of a combination of 3 and 4).


Factors hindering knowledge sharing can include:

  • Dependence on other networks (under-nets).

  • Fear is associated with the adage "knowledge is power."

  • Concerns about potential misinterpretation by the reader.

  • An unsupportive organizational culture.


The benefits derived from social capital within knowledge communities extend beyond mere sharing and encompass:

  1. Building loyalty and fostering more significant commitment to the organization.

  2. Stimulating innovation through the exchange of best practices.

  3. Enhancing workflow efficiency.

  4. Increasing company profitability and promoting growth.

  5. Reducing the level/rate of employee turnover.

  6. Streamlining the onboarding process for new employees (practically and mentally, thanks to the support group within the community).


Acquiring knowledge and applying it

The starting point of this chapter emphasizes that merely capturing, sharing, and disseminating knowledge is insufficient; instead, there is a need for means to reuse the acquired knowledge effectively.


Individual Level:

Dalkir scrutinizes the qualities of knowledge workers at the individual level, analyzing the Bloom model (cognitive model with six levels of taxonomy). It is highlighted that remembering knowledge is merely the initial stage, and elevated levels of understanding, application, analysis, integration, and evaluation lead to improved knowledge utilization. Additional aspects of Bloom's models are also examined, although not all are listed here. To facilitate the workers, it is crucial to enable them to access knowledge from their perspective and needs (user-centric) rather than requiring a general orientation on various sites (web-centric). Another approach is to consider tasks individually. Dalkir elucidates how task analysis should be conducted and establishes a connection to EPSS – an online assistance tool for executing processes and functions.


Group and Organization Level:

At the group and organization level, Dalkir discusses knowledge management systems, encompassing communication and sharing tools (help systems, expert maps, best practice systems, partner locator systems, and active search systems like RSS). Alongside dedicated systems, Knowledge Repositories include knowledge sites, defined as platforms sharing various formats of knowledge and information related to a specific topic.


Organizational culture

Dalkir delves into the essence of organizational culture, drawing from various explanations presented in the book, particularly Morgan's perspective, which encompasses:

  • Declared and undeclared values.

  • Expectations from members of the group/organization.

  • Customs and ceremonies.

  • Stories and myths related to the group's history.

  • The language and discourse are customary among and about the group members.

  • The climate is created by communication between members and their environment.

  • Metaphors and symbols, some embedded in the elements above.


Regardless of the method chosen to characterize and define organizational culture, one clear requirement is trust to foster a culture encouraging knowledge management. When group members feel respected, treated professionally, and trusted by their peers, the extent of knowledge sharing significantly increases. Trust also mitigates common obstacles hindering knowledge sharing in an organization.


A culture of knowledge sharing within an organization is fundamentally a culture of trust. It signifies an environment where the norm is to share knowledge in an expected and customary manner, not randomly. It's a culture that encourages collaboration and sharing and rewards those who contribute. In such a culture, the organization places value on its knowledge assets.


Gruber and Duxbury identify environmental conditions supportive of knowledge sharing, including:

  1. A reward system for knowledge sharing among colleagues (not necessarily material).

  2. Transparency and openness – no hidden agendas.

  3. Support for sharing, communicating, and connecting between groups.

  4. Trust – common goals.

  5. Management support – two-way communication (up-down and down-up).


To transform an existing culture, channels suggested by Kilman, Sexton, and Serfa are required:

  1. A personal example of managers as leaders of change.

  2. Support through organizational stories and myths.

  3. Using new values as a crisis management tool.

  4. Implementing a supportive reward system.

  5. Ensuring compatibility (non-contradiction) between significant decisions and renewed values.

  6. Communicating values through current statements by leaders.

  7. Selecting new personnel in compliance with the organization's values.


Specifically, to encourage a knowledge management culture, the following tools can be employed:

  • Guided interviews to document existing knowledge.

  • Knowledge Management Pilots.

  • Learning and knowledge sessions; Learning places.

  • Changing and adjusting the organizational assessment system.

  • Newsletters

  • Rewarding knowledge sharers; Imposing fines for those hindering collaboration.

Knowledge Management Technologies

Dalkir provides a comprehensive overview and detailed analysis of knowledge management technologies that support various stages and levels from the foundational level upwards. The distinct emphasis on different types of products is noteworthy. Here is the list of technologies without the detailed breakdown:


Content Creation and Capture:

Content creation:

  • Editing tools

  • Templates

  • Annotation

  • Data Mining

  • Definition of specializations

  • Blogs


Content Management:

  • Meta Data Tagging

  • Classification

  • Archiving

  • Personal knowledge management


Knowledge Sharing and Dissemination:

Communication and sharing:

  • Phone

  • Fax

  • Videoconference

  • Chat rooms

  • Instant messaging

  • Phone over the Internet

  • Email

  • Forums

  • Groupware

  • WIKI

  • Workflow Management


Network Technologies:

  • Intra-net

  • Extra-net

  • WEB Tools, browser

  • Knowledge Databases

  • Portals


Acquiring Knowledge and Applying It:

E-Learning:

  • CBT

  • WBT

  • EPSS


Artificial Intelligence:

  • Expert Systems

  • Decision Support System

  • Group/Personalization

  • Pull/push systems

  • Recommendation systems

  • Visualization

  • Knowledge maps

  • Smart Money

  • Automatic taxonomy systems

  • Analysis and summarization of texts



Knowledge Management Strategy

The strategy for knowledge management involves defining goals, practical strategies, principles, and approaches for implementing knowledge management within an organization. Essential questions to consider are:

  1. Which approach or combination of approaches will generate the highest value for the organization?

  2. How can an organization prioritize alternatives when resources are limited and all options seem appropriate?


Once the strategy is established, it serves as a roadmap for identifying and prioritizing knowledge management activities, tools, and approaches aligned with business objectives.


A robust knowledge management strategy comprises the following components:

  1. A clear business strategy with objectives for tools and services, target audiences, preferred distribution channels, and the definition of a vision.

  2. A business description of the need for sharing, improving efficiency, fostering innovation, and managing the influx of knowledge.

  3. An inventory of available knowledge resources, including knowledge assets, social assets, and infrastructural assets.

  4. Analysis and recommendations on how knowledge management can empower the organization are outlined at the project list level and emphasize fundamental principles.


Dalkir emphasizes the importance of analyzing gaps, starting from the difference between desired and available states. Examples of strategy failures, particularly in retaining organizational knowledge (organizational memory), are highlighted due to an overemphasis on culture and a lack of sufficient connection to process and technology. This is a reminder that official documents alone are insufficient for maintaining connections and knowledge, prompting the need for a broader perspective in developing an effective organizational strategy.


Measurement

In many organizations, incorporating measurement activities into the strategy and day-to-day operations is imperative to substantiate the business case and justification for knowledge management. According to Dalkir, measuring knowledge management is a relatively nascent field, and this aspect should be acknowledged. Dalkir outlines various approaches to measurement, including:


Benchmarking Method:

This method involves comparing performance with other standards and statistics, such as other organizations in the same sector, industry standards, other units within the organization, the same unit over time, and even competitors (a non-trivial comparison).


Balanced Scorecard Method:

A measurement and management approach that enables organizations to clarify and quantify their vision and strategy, translating it into actionable steps. Several tools exist in the field of knowledge management, with the Skandia Intellectual Capital Model being one of the most renowned. This model, developed by a Swedish insurance company, encompasses:

  1. Financial focus.

  2. Customer focus – assessing business and non-business value in the "customer assets" component.

  3. Process focus – evaluating the effective use of technologies within the organization.

  4. Focus on development and renewal – emphasizing the innovation capabilities acquired by the company.


Quality House Method:

This method centers on the relationships between customer needs, marketing, engineering, production, and services, specifically focusing on quality. Objectives in each area are linked to performance indicators. The method is named the "Quality House" due to a diagram illustrating the relationships between the various components.


Knowledge Management Team

Knowledge management is a complex undertaking that necessitates the involvement of senior and non-senior officials to lead, promote, and support organizational activities effectively. Ideally, the knowledge management team should possess skills in communication, leadership, expertise in knowledge management methodologies, tools, and processes, negotiation capabilities, and strategic planning. These skills should be complemented by understanding the organization, continuous linkage to management, systemic observation, and a team that intuitively knows how to take risks. Team members are required to have business awareness, managerial skills, and a propensity for learning.


Dalkir acknowledges that most organizations lack all the necessary roles, and the position of a knowledge management leader is not necessarily a senior management role. In many organizations, these roles are still evolving, with some being developed as needed.


Dalkir provides a list of potential positions within the organization:

  1. Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) or Chief Learning Officer (CLO) - Senior Knowledge Manager/Senior Learning Manager.

  2. Knowledge leaders who advocate for knowledge management in the organization.

  3. Knowledge managers are responsible for overseeing knowledge initiatives.

  4. Knowledge nodes/knowledge intermediaries - individuals who know where to find answers to knowledge questions.

  5. Knowledge economists - individuals responsible for documenting significant organizational knowledge.

  6. Content editors.

  7. Application developers and website managers.

  8. Instructors, coaches, and other professionals who assist in developing learning skills.

  9. Human resources personnel, particularly those involved in organizational development and training.

  10. Coaches and mentors are responsible for supporting individuals in developing activities and understanding knowledge management.

  11. Support personnel within the knowledge management team.


Dalkir emphasizes the importance of business understanding among senior executives, considering it a key factor for success in their roles.

bottom of page