This paper aims to evaluate a range of best practice knowledge management (KM) ideas used to manage knowledge flows and enablers. In total, four KM toolkits and 23 KM tools were tested over a five-year period (2008-2013), as part of a large-scale longitudinal change project. Each tool was assessed against an evaluative framework designed to test criticisms of KM: strategy, implementation and performance. The results provide empirical evidence about what KM tools work and which do not and why, and outcomes for practitioners, researchers and consultants.
This paper presents a summary of the findings of a large Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project grant in the period of 2008-2013. The case study organisation (CSO) was a large public sector department, which faced the threat of lost capability caused by its ageing workforce and knowledge loss. The project aimed to solve this problem by minimising its impact via achieving learning organisation capacity. The CSO participating in the study was selected because it was a knowledge-intensive organisation, with an ageing workforce. All 150 engineering and technical staff at the CSO were invited to participate, including management and staff. An action research methodology was used.
The results provide empirical evidence that KM can be used to manage knowledge flows and enablers. The highest rating toolkit was knowledge preservation, followed by knowledge usage. The most value was created by using KM to provide “why context” to structural capital (e.g. reports, databases, policies) (meta-data) and to create opportunities to reflect on experience and share the learning outcomes (peer assists and after action reviews). The results tended to support criticism that KM is difficult to implement and identified the main barriers as participation located at the tactical action research level, i.e. why is this useful? Evidence that KM works was found in progress towards learning organisation capacity and in practical outcomes.
The action research cycle and learning flows provide opportunities to examine barriers to KM implementation. The research also presents opportunities for further research to examine the findings in other organisational and industry settings, for example, the relationship between the KM toolkits and organisational change and performance, presents an important area for further research. Researchers might also consider some of the toolkits which rated poorly, e.g. knowledge sharing, and challenge these findings, perhaps selecting different KS tools for testing. The paper has limitations. It is based on a single case study organisation, offset, to some degree, by the longitudinal nature of the empirical evidence. It is ambitious and the findings may be controversial. However, the depth of the study and its findings provide rare longitudinal empirical evidence about KM and the results should be useful for practitioners, researchers and consultants.
For practitioners, the research findings provide management with an evaluative framework to use when making decisions regarding KM. The findings provide discussion of KM toolkits and tools that may be used to manage knowledge flows and enablers. In addition to the discussion of each tool, there is analysis of what works and what does not and why, barriers to implementation as well as explanation of their impact on organisational change and performance, and a scorecard to guide toolkit choices. This method should allow managers to make sensible decisions about KM.
The paper addresses criticisms of KM by examining the KM toolkits within the context of whether knowledge can be managed, implementation barriers may be addressed and improved organisational performance can be demonstrated. This approach allows generalisability of the findings to enable others to apply the research findings in their organisational contexts. The outcome is three sets of guidelines: strategy: which KM tools work; implementation: addressing barriers; and organisational performance: how to measure value. In doing so, the paper provides a systematic framework for evaluating KM tools. It also provides a rare opportunity to present empirical evidence gathered over a five-year longitudinal study.
The author acknowledges the assistance of Ms Melinda Gripton in managing some workshops and adjusting the design in response to feedback and observation in the research project associated with this article.
Massingham, P. (2014), "An evaluation of knowledge management tools: Part 2 – managing knowledge flows and enablers", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 18 No. 6, pp. 1101-1126. https://doi.org/10.1108/JKM-03-2014-0084
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