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Principles of Knowledge Auditing - Book Review

1 May 2022
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

The book 'Principles of Knowledge Auditing: Foundations for Knowledge Management Implementation' was written by Patrick Lambe, a renowned knowledge management leader in Singapore, and was published in 2021. The development of this book holds an intriguing story, which I will delve into at another time.

 

One notable aspect of this book is its exploration of a significant field that remains largely unexplored in many other works: knowledge audits. Lambe's extensive research on the subject is evident, as he provides a comprehensive overview of the development of knowledge audits, tracing its roots within the field. However, the following summary primarily focuses on the practical aspects of these audits.

 

The book covers the following topics:

  1. Background

  2. What are knowledge audits?

  3. Types of knowledge audits

  4. Practical tools

  5. Knowledge audits for organizational management

  6. Knowledge management standard 30401

  7. Summary

 

In addition to serving as a comprehensive resource on knowledge audits, the book also offers recommendations for conducting specific types of audits in various scenarios. It is an engaging and informative read, providing valuable insights. 

 

What are knowledge audits?

Knowledge audits involve researching information provided by another party to assess its accuracy in representing the state, assumptions, or statements of the subject under review. They serve as accurate assessments of our existing knowledge, helping determine the requirements for future improvement.

 

These audits are conducted from a specific perspective, considering the organizational context and goals. They encompass a comprehensive examination of the entire organization, including its functioning units, to uncover insights and provide practical recommendations for enhancing performance and facilitating change.


Knowledge audits can be complex due to their varied definitions and methodologies. Change-focused audits are particularly prone to personal perspective, influenced by interpretations of what constitutes supporting evidence and the persuasiveness and inclinations of the examiner. As audit performers, we must employ stable and well-founded methods and applications to avoid falling into such traps.

 

Lambe delves into two critical areas within knowledge management to analyze relevant methodologies: organizational communication and information. While knowledge management is a relatively newer field compared to the areas above, there has been a notable increase in interest in audits within this domain, evident from the growing number of studies dedicated to this subject.

 

Various types of knowledge audits encompass a range of different assessments, including:


1. Examining phenomena such as:

  • Personal preferences

  • Knowledge assets

  • Behaviors related to knowledge

  • Knowledge management skills

  • Knowledge management practices


  • Knowledge management programs

 

2. Demonstrating through:

  • Inventory (assessing assets, gaps, flow, tools, and processes)

  • Situation assessment (evaluating against needs, comparing with other organizations, considering climate, compatibility, maturity, progress, and risk, establishing standards)

  • Review for discovery and clarification (taking an internal or external view, individual or group perspective, cooperative self-perception, assessing individual compatibility and alignment with needs)

  • Participatory goal setting (aligning with ideals/goals, cooperative self-perception, evaluating compatibility with individuals and needs)


3. Commonly used examination methods:

  • Content analysis

  • Focus groups

  • Interviews

  • Network maps (collaborative, knowledge flow, knowledge assets)

  • Observations

  • Collecting stories

  • Surveys

  • Workshops

 

It is important to note that there is no need to limit oneself to a single type. A comprehensive knowledge audit incorporates a combination of several components mentioned above. Therefore, a well-rounded knowledge audit should encompass the following:

  1. Examination of existing knowledge, flow, needs, and goals.

  2. Evaluation of knowledge management elements such as enabling factors, processes, capabilities, and outputs.

 

 

Practical Tools: Knowledge Audits for Organizational Knowledge Management

In this section, the book discusses practical tools for conducting knowledge audits in organizational knowledge management. Expanding on Snowden's model, Lambe refines and

defines six types of knowledge:

  1. Data and information: This category includes tangible and visible knowledge artifacts.


  2. Skills and abilities: Refers to knowledge that can be guided, trained, and measured.

  3. Methodical knowledge: Encompasses heuristics, rules of thumb, and implicit ways of working that may need to be documented.

  4. Working relationships: Focuses on the relationships and trust between individuals that enable knowledge transfer and sharing.

  5. Experience: Represents valuable hidden knowledge from repeated experiences, allowing organizations to handle routine and unexpected challenges.

  6. Natural talent: Describes unique abilities specific to individuals and may not be transferable or learnable, although they can be developed.

 

Lambe utilizes the wheel of knowledge model to map these types of knowledge. Skills, experience, and talent fall under tacit knowledge, while contexts, working methods, data, and information represent explicit knowledge. According to Lambe's analysis, this typology satisfies the criteria of a sound knowledge audit by being observable, aligned with reality, actionable, inclusive and comprehensive, and appropriately detailed.

 

Recommendations for applying these knowledge audits include:

  1. Define the target audience and work with sponsors to clarify the needs that prompted the audit and the expected insights.

  2. Employ 3-5 independent examination methods as outlined earlier.

  3. Communicate the selected models to sponsors and stakeholders, explaining what will be audited and the expected contributions of each component. It is advisable to avoid audits focused solely on cost-effectiveness and general summaries.

  4. Pay attention to the language used in the audit to avoid conflicts and inconsistencies. Lambe strongly opposes the term "knowledge assets," which he considers harmful and inaccurate.

 

It is recommended to perform audits primarily at the organization's functional and team levels rather than at an overall or personal level. Three levels of knowledge should be considered:

  1. Core knowledge: The minimum knowledge required for the organization to operate effectively in its specific domain.

  2. Advanced knowledge: Knowledge that helps the organization remain competitive.

  3. Innovative knowledge: Knowledge that allows the organization to innovate and differentiate itself significantly from competitors.

 

Assessing the complexity and requirements of the audits is essential. If the primary goal is research-oriented, it is advisable to maintain flexibility so that the audit can be directed based on initial findings. Documenting, describing, and comparing the results and methods with fellow knowledge managers is valuable for sharing insights.

 

Furthermore, ensuring that appropriate follow-up actions accompany investments in the audit and integrating the learning into the organization's work plan is crucial.

 

Knowledge Management Standard 30401

In addition to reviewing the development of Knowledge Management Standard 30401 and the ensuing debates among international thought leaders regarding its appropriateness and adequacy, Lambe analyzes the standard itself. The bar has proven successful starting from the conclusion of Lambe's investigation. Key insights from the study include:

  1. The standard adopts a perspective-based approach.

  2. It is based on the overarching ISO9000 family of standards and its management framework.

  3. The standard only addresses some of the diverse needs of knowledge audits for various purposes, as organizations and their knowledge are too complex for a single examination. Knowledge management itself is a complex discipline.

  4. The standard provides a comprehensive list of requirements for a summary audit. However, it acknowledges that its primary purpose is to evaluate hygienic conditions in knowledge management aspects within an organization.

  5. The standard's requirements are sometimes unambiguous and specific enough, as their interpretation and judgment depend on the examiner.

  6. It needs more focus on actionable improvement, an essential expectation from a knowledge audit, as per the initial definition.

  7. There is a concern about the potential disconnection between certain aspects (e.g., culture) and a possible disconnection between the measurements prescribed by the standard and the reality being assessed.

 

Apart from its role in examining hygiene conditions, Lambe suggests additional applications for the standard, including:

  1. Guiding the planning and implementation of effective knowledge management, preventing failures, and avoiding known pitfalls.

  2. Establishing a common language for knowledge management practices.

  3. Facilitating transition, comparison, and learning between organizations and contexts.

  4. Enabling comparison between suppliers.

  5. Serving as a measure of quality and safety when working with certified suppliers.

  6. Enhancing the value added by professionals in the field.


Summary

Effective communication presents significant challenges in the field of knowledge management, both internally and externally, within organizations. Knowledge audits are vital in promoting effective communication by aligning expectations, facilitating a common language, monitoring performance, enabling learning, and allowing comparisons with other entities. Therefore, organizations that aim to improve their knowledge management practices will benefit from investing in well-designed knowledge audits.

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