Firestone and McElroy published Doing Knowledge Management (pdf) in The Learning Organization, Volume 12, Number 2, 2005. This issue of TLO is full of KM-focused articles, such as the biological knowledge article I reviewed earlier.
In this piece the authors' goal is to answer the question, "Has true knowledge management been done?" The short answer is "yes." The long answer is "but mostly no."
In the past, I have had difficulty appreciating the intentions of the authors' discussions of knowledge management. Most of this has been in discussion groups, where the level of conversation does not typically lend itself to detailed discussions. (Or I tend to inhabit discussion groups that prefer to talk about practical implications of knowledge management.) Firestone and McElroy have a goal of improving the accuracy of discussion around knowledge management in order to get away from things like Wilson's The nonsense of 'knowledge management'.
In this article, they are setting out their ideas in new ways (or in ways that I am reading anew). Specifically, they suggest that knowledge management is not about improving the bottom line. Rather, KM is about enhancing knowledge processing (from their The New Knowledge Management, which is still waiting for me), which leads to better solutions to business problems, which in turn should lead to improvements in the business. Reading today, this idea certainly connects for me. Improved knowledge processing will only help the business if it can accurately identify its problems in order to apply the right knowledge. In a catch-22, the ability to accurately describe problems is an application of knowledge processing as well.
The first part of the article describes the knowledge life cycle that ties the business and knowledge environments together. This is similar to other discussions of knowledge creation (Nonaka's knowledge spiral or Boisot's Social Learning Cycle), except that Firestone and McElroy explicitly differentiate the knowledge processes from the business processes. This makes a nice connection between developing and integrating new knowledge (knowledge processing) and applying that knowledge (business processing) to solve problems and grow the business.
Firestone & McElroy provide their rigorous definitions of information and knowledge that have nothing to do with the common data-information-knowledge hierarchy or the tacit/implicit/explicit range of knowledge types. Their version of knowledge has three types: biological knowledge (built-in), mental knowledge (beliefs), and cultural knowledge. The terminology doesn't work for me, but the graphic they use to illustrate their idea begins to make their point clearer. These types of knowledge interact with one another via influence (from cultural knowledge) and internal feedback mechanisms people use to make and test their beliefs about the world around them.
To the question of "has KM been done" the authors answer is, "mostly, no." Their perspective is that projects which do not take into account something akin to their knowledge life cycle are not truly KM projects because they miss the big picture integration into the business environment. They list a series of questions criteria to evaluate interventions within their framework, and then they explore a few common "KM" approaches with respect to these criteria (Best Practices Systems, Portals, Communities of Practice, Storytelling, and Social Network Analysis). I found this a useful exercise, particularly as they included some thoughts about how such approaches could be enhanced to fit into their framework.
The article concludes with an analysis of a project at Partners Healthcare, a case published by Davenport and Glaser in July 2002 as Just-in-Time Delivery Comes to Knowledge Management. They describe the medicine order-entry system which is heavily integrated with patient records and expert advice to improve patient care and reduce ordering errors. Firestone & McElroy step through their framework to show where this case is an example of knowledge management as they see it. [Also: Lilia wrote about the Davenport & Glaser article back in November 2002.]