Knowledge Management

Systematic approaches to help information and knowledge emerge and flow to the right people, at the right time, in the right context, in the right amount and at the right cost so they can act more efficiently and effectively (after APQC).


Practically speaking, knowledge is "information in action" or "information transformed into the capability for effective action." Taking action and building experience turns information into knowledge.

Dictionaries define knowledge in a number of ways. For example, "understanding of or information about a subject which has been obtained by experience or study, and which is either in a person's mind or possessed by people generally" (Cambridge Dictionaries Online). Try to see the variety.


Practically speaking, information is "interpreted data" or "data in context."

Some dictionaries define information as facts (as in "facts about a situation, person, event, etc." – Cambridge Dictionary), while others define information as knowledge (as in "knowledge derived from study, experience, or instruction" – American Heritage Dictionary). Try to see the variety.


Facts, measurements or observations (

Data Management, Content Management, Information Management

The terms "Data Management", "Information Management" and "Content Management" are all used to encompass the policies, strategies, processes and technologies used to manage an organization's information throughout the stages of its life cycle.

When distinctions are made among these terms, they are often based on whether the information to be managed is structured or unstructured.

  • Structured: Information that can be organized in the rows and columns of spreadsheets or relational databases (e.g., a series of data samples).
  • Unstructured: Information that is not as easy to organize in the rows and columns of spreadsheets or relational databases. Examples include audio or video files, images, e-mail messages, text documents, slide presentations and Web pages. Unstructured information is typically more difficult to find, analyze or interpret than structured information.

When distinctions are made, Data Management usually means "management of structured information", Content Management means "management of unstructured information" (a distinction made by AIIM) and Information Management means "management of both structured and unstructured information."

NB: These distinctions are not clear-cut in common usage. In addition, even information that is unstructured can often be described by structured metadata (e.g., author, creation date, business process). A major issue for Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and knowledge management programs today is how to create and manage domain-specific metadata to improve the ability of people to find the up-to-date and relevant unstructured information they need to do their jobs.

Explicit vs. Tacit Knowledge

Explicit knowledge can be written down and captured in books, reports and databases. It is relatively easy to transfer from one person to another and does not necessarily require a face-to-face conversation. Examples of explicit knowledge include: checklists, model documents, legal precedents, legislation and case law (including commentary and interpretation).

Tacit knowledge is essentially impossible to write down. It resides mostly in people's heads. It is hard to transfer from one person to another. It must be gained by dialog and personal experience ... and it encompasses most of what people need to implement best practice.

Much has been written on the importance of tacit knowledge. See If Only We Knew What We Know (O'Dell & Grayson), The Knowledge-Creating Company (Nonaka & Takeuchi) and Tacit Dimension (Polanyi).

Community of Practice (CoP)

A group of people who share a common area of expertise and/or who search for solutions to common problems. The fundamental organizational unit in knowledge management. Communities of practice are known by many names: communities of interest, knowledge communities, technical communities, knowledge ecologies, professional networks, best-practice networks, and so on.

An early, often cited article is: The People Are the Company, by John Seely Brown and Estee Solomon Gray. (Fast Company, November 1995).

Best Practice

A recipe that details the best known way to accomplish a task or solve a problem. A validated procedure for performing a task, including the environment in which the procedure applies. The ready-to-hand knowledge of a community of practice.

Lesson Learned

A narrative account of an actual experience, including:

  • Context: What was expected to happen?
  • Facts: What actually happened?
  • Root Cause Analysis: Why were there differences?
  • Recommendations: What can be learned?

A lesson can highlight positive or negative experiences, reinforce standard procedures, or demonstrate the use of best practices. Lessons learned are often the output of an After Action Review (AAR). Lessons learned may be included in an overall case history.

NB: A lesson is not "learned" until it has been validated, it results in a change in behavior, and that change produces the predicted results.


Hierarchical information classification structure. Terms are organized in the hierarchy according to a relationship like "more-specific-than" or "part-of" or "a-kind-of." An object is classified by selecting the term from the hierarchy that most specifically characterizes the object. For example, with a "location" taxonomy that includes the hierarchy (city more-specific-than state more specific-than country), "Houston" would be classified as "city."

A taxonomy is commonly constructed as an aid for organizing and finding information. It is most useful when there is a single, well-established way of classifying the information at hand.

Faceted Classification

Information classification structure consisting of a series of "facets" or dimensions according to which objects can be categorized (e.g., color, price, location, subject). Each facet is typically defined by a taxonomy. An item is classified by selecting the appropriate term from each relevant facet taxonomy.

A faceted classification is commonly constructed as an aid for organizing and finding information. It can be used as a guide to Web-site navigation and search. It has more power than a single taxonomy because it supports different ways of classifying information.

For additional information, see A Primer on Faceted Navigation and Guided Navigation. Faceted classification navigation examples may be seen at FacetMap and

Knowledge Asset

A discrete knowledge package. May be a best practice, lesson learned, process, procedure, guide, tip, patent, or any other form of explicit, reusable knowledge. An element of intellectual capital—what an organization knows or needs to know to enable its business processes to generate profits. More generally, people and technology may be described as knowledge assets.

Thomas A. Stewart defined the terms "intellectual capital" and "knowledge asset" in his 1997 book Intellectual Capital. Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations (Collison and Parcell) includes practical ideas for building knowledge assets.

Knowledge Map

A visual representation of the knowledge of an organization or the knowledge underlying a business process.

It identifies business-critical knowledge assets – the processes, gaps, sources, flows, barriers, dependencies and knowledge at risk if key employees leave. A knowledge map is often displayed as a tree or graph, where the nodes are the names of knowledge assets or a classes of assets.

A knowledge map typically includes a faceted classification. A more complete knowledge map is sometimes called an "ontology", a term borrowed from philosophy and artificial intelligence.

Knowledge Mapping

The identification and categorization of an organization's knowledge assets. The process enables an organization to:

  • Understand the value of its existing knowledge;
  • Locate knowledge stewards;
  • Identify gaps, cross-functional dependencies and barriers; and,
  • Identify knowledge-sharing opportunities.

Key questions include:

  • What knowledge is needed in a business process?
  • What is the gap between what is needed and what we have?
  • Who has the knowledge?
  • Who uses it?
  • In what form is it produced?
  • What systems produce it?
  • Where is it?

Knowledge mapping is commonly used to focus a KM program, support mergers and acquisitions, reduce time-to-competence for new recruits, and ensure knowledge retention and knowledge continuity in times of personnel flux.

Whereas process mapping concentrates on workflow, inputs and outputs, knowledge mapping goes somewhat beyond to capture data on the knowledge needed to execute business processes.

Last Updated: 1-Jan-2019