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Tackling a unified KM framework

This article appears in the issue January 2004 [Volume 13, Issue 1]


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By Michael Stankosky

Nothing like it had been tried before. More than 40 people (a who's who in KM) gathered recently to discuss the daunting goal of trying to establish a global, unified framework for KM. Why daunting? Because of the proliferation of books, articles, conferences, courses, research and practices that treat KM ... and because of the many divergent views, definitions and formulas for making it happen. Such diversity is healthy, but it also undermines an understanding and successful implementation of KM.

The gathering, held at the George Washington University (gwu.edu), was the first in an anticipated series of five global workshops attempting to create a dynamic framework for KM. The framework would help with the design, implementation and sustainability of KM initiatives; provide a means to appraise progress; compare one initiative with another; and measure value. It would serve as a solid basis for KM research, education, training and certification.

The first journey of the group was a challenge. Participants spent some time just identifying a common set of terms and definitions to use in their deliberations. They also tried to temporarily suspend KM labels to ensure inclusion of non-traditional specialties and disciplines. Steven Wieneke and Karla Phlypo-Price, knowledge asset managers from General Motors Corporation, provided a KM framework for dialogue and deliberation, having analyzed numerous KM models that exist today. Areas of deliberation include:

  • postulating a KM value proposition;

  • understanding the differences between the various KM models (learning, enterprise, context and framework models);

  • looking at the various core competencies impacting KM models, such as computer science, innovation management, enterprise management, organizational engineering, systems thinking and appreciative inquiry;

  • defining the possible circumstances or situations of knowledge transactions, such as engineering, finance, purchasing, marketing, sales and human resources; and

  • postulating a framework model rationale around eight topics: knowledge context, knowledge sources, learning engine, enablers, intelligence (benchmarking), knowledge (content), culture and orientation. Several framework models were discussed, including APQC, Navy, GM, and Xerox.

After two days of deliberation, the group concluded that the framework needed to be contextually driven, but the basic content structure worked for all contexts (government, commercial, non-governmental organizations and academia). Participants also agreed that a framework does have value and that the journey should continue.

The next steps will be expanding the list of participants, especially from Asia, Europe, Pacific Rim and South America, and attracting financial resources and sponsors to sustain the group.

KM is at a crossroads, and whether it should become its own academic discipline and global professional society, dedicated to its advancement—similar to program management and systems engineering—is still doubted by many. This is a journey, probably coupled with a lot of frustration, that must be taken. People still question the viability of KM (is KM dead?), and yet knowledge assets are the major competitive advantage for the global economy. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, said it correctly: "Intellectual capital is what it's all about. Releasing the ideas of your people is what we're trying to do, what we've got to do if we're going to win."

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Michael Stankosky is an associate professor and lead professor of knowledge management at the George Washington University , e-mail mstanko@gwu.edu.


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