Beyond Knowledge Management

David Mason (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 December 2004




Mason, D. (2004), "Beyond Knowledge Management", The Electronic Library, Vol. 22 No. 6, pp. 534-534.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Beyond Knowledge Management aims to offer a fresh look at the theory and practice underlying knowledge management (KM). Throughout the book the authors take the systems view of organisations as their theme and use systems theory to analyse and describe KM.

The book is organised into seven chapters. Chapter one is a short overview of KM. Chapter two expands on KM and looks at some of the main themes and issues affecting KM in organisations today. Chapter three gives a detailed explanation of the socio‐technical view of organisational management using two case studies to illustrate the principles. Chapter four compares the main schools of thought within systems thinking and considers how these can influence ways of thinking about and understanding KM. Chapter five is a review of academic journal articles that contain frameworks for knowledge management. Chapter six gives the authors’ own framework and chapter seven is the conclusion.

The book's organisation does not reflect the weight given the topics: chapter five comprises almost half the book. The crux of the book, the authors’ proposed superior framework in chapter six, gets only seven pages and the final chapter has only two pages.

The writing itself follows the same uneven pattern. The introduction to KM is pitched at an overly simplistic level for most of the chapter but also introduces a 74‐word root definition to define knowledge management. Chapter two draws on the standard works of Sveiby, Nonaka and Senge without adding anything new. The chapter on socio‐technical systems is overlong and largely irrelevant, unnecessarily justifying the socio‐technical approach to KM, including an extended history of the socio‐technical movement. The use of socio‐technical thinking is perfectly justified in relations to KM, but it applies only to the implementation of KM., since it is an approach to computer system design methodologies. It therefore applies to the process of introduction of KM into organisations, but says nothing about KM per se. The chapter on systems thinking suffers from the same criticism. The chapter covers various philosophical approaches, notably from Kant, and Critical Social Theory based on Habermas and Jackson. The treatment is eclectic rather than rigorous and the chapter outcome is the somewhat obvious observation that knowledge is not absolute but constructed by each individual, for themselves. The review of KM frameworks, chapter five, is a disappointment. It constitutes almost half the book, and despite its title does not actually describe in detail any of the 40 frameworks reviewed. This work if published would have been extremely valuable as a research source, but the reviews actually consist of a qualitative interpretative approach, reporting on the presentation, clarity, rigour, etc., of the articles, not their content. The authors then assign a subjective numerical score to each article, and some 100 unnecessary pages later provide summary tables of averages and totals. The value of this exercise is not entirely clear.

The authors’ own framework for knowledge management (chapter six) is actually a methodology for implementation based on socio‐technical principles. Looked at objectively, their methodology is little more than a standard systems life cycle model, with “computer system” replaced with the term “knowledge management”. The whole book is about the socio‐technical approach to systems design, and while it purports to be about knowledge management it is really a book length justification for a people‐centred view of computer implementation.

Overall, the framework analysis section of this book should have produced a valuable reference resource and the underlying theme an interesting alternative viewpoint on the philosophy of knowledge management, but the reality is that the book does not deliver on its promises.

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