I had an interesting conversation about knowledge management with a new acquaintance (ZQ) over coffee yesterday. We were doing the usual networking-connection around how we might work together.
ZQ's take on KM comes from the expertise side of knowledge management: extracting information from domain experts into a system of some sort. Said this way, you see where the problem lies: Why would an expert want to write or otherwise disgorge what they know - what makes them an expert? What makes us think this could work in the first place? The expert systems world has a long history of believing that this can be done accurately enough to re-create reasoning systems that reflect how domain experts reason. While this does work at a limited level, one of the biggest problems is the whole nature of knowledge and expertise - that it cannot be conscripted and that it can't be easily written or spoken (David Snowden - pdf).
In this scenario, what motivates an expert to do any of this? What is in it for the expert? The organization may believe their KM approach is going to amplify the value of the expert knowledge, but it needs to be done incredibly well to create this value. And this may be the wrong direction altogether.
To be accepted and helpful, knowledge management has to create benefit at many levels: individual, group and organization. I like to think of this a making the wheels of the business turn faster or with less friction. For the organization, KM needs to tie to the vision and direction. If it is an R&D organization, KM needs to help support innovation and speed product development activities. In marketing, KM needs to help support data collection and speed analysis. In manufacturing, KM needs to improve operational efficiency and speed troubleshooting. Of course, knowledge management is not the only approach for these issues, but KM needs to tie to the core issues of the business in order to bring the most value.
For the individual in any type of organization, KM needs to help make their work more effective. For experts and gurus, can the KM approach capitalize on the pride that their acknowledged expertise yields? For not-so-experts (what are they called?), can the KM approach assist them at the appropriate times and connect them with the experts without overwhelming either the expert or the new person? How does the KM approach support continued education and personal growth? People throughout the organization have different needs - is the approach flexible enough to deal with these differences?