Knowledge Management: Cultivating Knowledge Professionals

Philip Barker (University of Teesside, Middlesbrough, UK)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 April 2005




Barker, P. (2005), "Knowledge Management: Cultivating Knowledge Professionals", The Electronic Library, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 254-256.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

We now live in an era of rapid change. Associated with this change is the continual need to learn new skills and acquire new knowledge. This is required to “handle” the new and dynamic situations in which we often find ourselves. As individuals, organisations and nations generate and acquire new knowledge, the development of appropriate strategies and techniques for its management become a major imperative. Taken together, the nine chapters that make up this book provide a useful introduction to this important area. The book also addresses the underlying educational issues relating to the types of skill and competencies that “knowledge professionals” need to acquire in order to provide effective solutions to the problems associated with knowledge management.

The book starts off by discussing the reasons why many societies are now moving towards knowledge‐based economies – and the implications that this has for people, organisations and nations. The author suggests that, underlying the paradigm shift (from a manufacturing to a knowledge‐based economy) is the creation of a “national information infrastructure” and its associated support environments. These include a strong research base and an effective educational infrastructure. According to the author education is the key to “creating new knowledge” (p. 9). In the second chapter, the author discusses the complex nature of knowledge, from where it originates and how it is transformed from one form to another. The basic rationale for, and principles of, knowledge management (KM) are then introduced and some of the “key drivers” for its uptake are considered. As knowledge is essentially a “human thing”, Chapter 3 is devoted to various issues relating to “intellectual capital” (IC). The two main topics covered in this chapter each deal with various aspects of assessing organisational performance. Various techniques are described for measuring the worth of an organisation (in terms of the value of its IC). Similar techniques are then also discussed in relation to assessing the effectiveness of an organisation's KM implementations. Naturally, information technologies will play an important supporting role in the realisation of many aspects of KM. Chapter 4 therefore discusses some of the advantages of using technology in this area – such as easier and more effective communication, collaborative working and more effective knowledge capture, creation and sharing. Various KM enabling tools are briefly discussed. One important topic presented in this chapter is the concept of a “knowledge portal” – an integrated set of KM enabling tools and technologies.

Chapters 5 through 8, respectively, cover four fundamental issues, each of which is likely to have a significant impact on the success of any organisational knowledge management initiative: knowledge sharing, organisational culture, communities of practice and organisational learning. The role of knowledge sharing is discussed in some detail in Chapter 5 – where the author also outlines the principles involved and discusses the underlying rationale for encouraging participation in such activity. Various theories and models of knowledge sharing are presented and the relevance of each one is discussed. Because communication plays such a vital role in facilitating the sharing of knowledge, Chapter 6 deals with the important relationships that exist between communication and organisational culture. The main topics covered in this section of the book include cultural enablers and cultural barriers; resistance to change is also discussed. As a potential mechanism for changing the mindsets of people within an organisation, the author gives some details of a three‐phase communication strategy framework that he has developed. Chapter 7 is devoted to a discussion of communities of practice and the very significant part that they can play in relation to knowledge creation and sharing within organisations. Membership of a community of practice (COP) is a valuable activity because it can bring substantial benefits both to individual members and to the organisations to which they belong. In this chapter the author summarises the various characteristics of a COP, outlines three models that describe their lifecycle and describes techniques for fostering their formation and sustaining their growth and continuation. Because we now live in societies and environments that undergo rapid change, it is imperative that organisations can accommodate this change in order to survive. Managing and reacting to change involves various organisational learning processes. These issues are discussed in Chapter 8 – “The learning organisation and organisational learning”. This chapter identifies three different types of learning (single‐loop, double‐loop and deutero‐learning) and discusses the relevance of each one within an organisational context. The author then outlines five important facets of organisational learning that need to be promoted in order to realise a successful “learning organisation” – namely, mental models, shared vision, systems thinking, team learning and personal mastery.

The final part of the book (Chapter 9 and the appendix) is devoted to a consideration of the “training” and skill development that “knowledge professionals” need to undergo in order to become proficient in the techniques of KM. The chapter starts off with a discussion of the need to recognise KM as a formal discipline. It also considers the necessity of identifying appropriate skill sets and competencies that a “qualified” KM professional should possess. In order to map skills and competencies onto courses, the author introduces a four‐tier “utilisation pyramid”. Allocation of different disciplines to each of the tiers in this pyramid then provides a basis for the identification of the courses needed for training and education in KM. Undoubtedly, KM is both a multidisciplinary and an interdisciplinary endeavour. The author therefore suggests that KM professionals should be exposed to courses in information technology, information and library science, communication and cognitive science, and business and management. The chapter concludes with a discussion of graduate programmes in KM – with references to the book's appendix (which gives summaries of over 25 graduate courses in KM).

Overall, this book provides a concise, but comprehensive, description and discussion of the major issues involved in the theory and practice of KM. The style is very readable and the material is up‐to‐date – with numerous citations to current relevant literature sources. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to find out more about this important and rapidly developing area.

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