Comparative reviews

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 1 December 2004

Keywords

Citation

Yates-Mercer, P. (2004), "Comparative reviews", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 60 No. 6. https://doi.org/10.1108/jd.2004.27860fae.002

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Comparative reviews

Sharing Expertise: Beyond Knowledge ManagementEdited by Mark Ackerman, Volkmar Pipek and Volker WulfMIT PressCambridge, MA2003418 pp.ISBN: 0-262-01195-6

Beyond Knowledge Management: Dialogue, Creativity and the Corporate CurriculumBob Garvey and Bill WilliamsonPearson EducationHarlow2002213 pp.ISBN: 0-273-65517-5

Beyond Knowledge ManagementBrian Lehaney, Steve Clark, Elayne Coakes and Gillian JackIdea Group Inc.Hershey, PA2004267 pp. ISBN: 1-59140-181-X

Keywords Knowledge management, Organizational learning, Information exchange

Review DOI 10.1108/00220410410568223

Beyond knowledge management

Having engaged in discussions about whether or not knowledge management (KM) is a fad, a myth, or just “hype”, I anticipated some answers when three books, all with “beyond knowledge management” in their titles, arrived on my desk for review at about the same time. In fact “beyond knowledge management”, as a phrase, is nearly as old as “knowledge management” itself – there was the “Knowledge Ecology Fair 98: beyond knowledge management” in 1998 (Community Intelligence Labs, 1999), the ECSCW Conference (which led to the Ackerman, Pipek and Wulf book) in 1999 and Hackett’s report in 2000 (Hackett, 2000). These three books were published in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Despite this activity, an agreed prognosis is still missing.

Let’s start with the oldest of the three, Garvey and Williamson’s 2002 book where the underlying premise is the significance of learning to the knowledge processes and knowledge base in an organisation. They aver that new learning is necessary for an organisation to be knowledge productive. They write from the viewpoint of the manager who, looking to the future, needs to create an environment that enables people to learn, release and apply ideas, and be creative. The application of knowledge and new ideas is regarded as essential for an organisation’s success. Their views are derived from social science theory and practical experience.

The book has four parts. The first part sets the scene by discussing the knowledge economy, the theoretical framework and the “learning” context. They adopt the “corporate curriculum” framework which consists of seven “learning functions” (including problem solving, communication, reflection and generation of new knowledge). Using this framework, the second part focuses on individuals and groups, their expertise and learning. The economics, nature and value of expertise is analysed in the first chapter, while problem solving is the focus of the next, concentrating on the social centred approach. The third chapter of this part discusses the generation of new knowledge.

The third part addresses the organisation as a whole, creating the environment for creativity and learning, with three chapters devoted to creativity, environments for learning, and communicating knowledge. The final part is about achieving the anticipated change. At the end of each part a “critique” is provided by a guest expert. A range of short case studies are inserted into each chapter.

The ideas espoused are consonant with much of the mainstream, organisational approach to KM (although that term is rarely used in the book) insofar as they focus on expertise, learning, communication, social interaction, relationships – the people side of organisations. The book is well-structured, reasonably easy to read, with a consistent style, and the inclusion of contributions from other experts provides a broader, stimulating perspective. It is thought-provoking and substantive, but not prescriptive.

Sharing Expertise: Beyond Knowledge Management (Ackerman et al., 2003) addresses some similar ideas, albeit from a different standpoint and in a different format. As one infers from the title, the editors regard “expertise” as the key concept, and “expertise sharing” as a more recent approach to KM. Depending on how you define expertise (they say that, for their purposes, “expertise connotes relative levels of knowledge in people” (p. xv) and this approach has been adopted by the majority of contributors), you might conclude that these two books are grounded in similar parts of the knowledge domain space. Indeed this book also emphasises the cognitive, social, cultural and organisational aspects.

One difference is that the general perspective of this book is centred round facilitating an environment for the individuals carrying out their working activities, rather than that of the managers. Another significant difference is that the book consists of contributed chapters. Personally I find that edited collections of chapters are books to dip into, depending on one’s interests at the moment, and in this respect it is complementary to Garvey and Williamson.

The first part provides literature reviews and background chapters that are useful, informative reviews to set the scene. The second part provides five case studies from organisations that are addressing the sharing of expertise in different ways, for example, communities of practice (CoPs), expertise locator, knowledge mapping. These chapters provide, in varying degrees of detail, in-depth analyses of the impact and evaluation of the approaches taken.

The third part, with seven chapters, examines how technology can assist the sharing of expertise. Again there are differing systems, from varying disciplinary angles, including CSCW, CoPs, expert finding, automated expertise sharing.

The contributors come from the USA, Europe and a few from further afield. The overall tenor is more technological than the previous book, although all the accounts place the technology in a social, organisational setting. The fact that the idea of the book was apparently spawned in the CSCW conference (mentioned above), where the authors ran a workshop on the topic, explains the human and social stance towards the technology. Many readers, both researchers and practitioners, with varying disciplinary affiliations, will find something of interest in these varied chapters encompassing, as they do, a variety of ways in which technology my contribute to the sharing of knowledge and expertise.

Our third book is different again. But, like the other two, an underlying premise is that KM has become (wrongly) associated with technology and so the balance to a broader outlook needs to be redressed. The approach of these four authors is to adopt a systems theory view of organisations and indeed of KM – it is the systems approach that apparently takes us beyond KM.

This emphasis comes across very strongly, from the first chapter which “outlines the nature of KM” and sets the scene by offering a diagram of the interacting components of KM. “To engage in successful KM, all these areas and relationships between them should be considered holistically”. The second chapter addresses aspects of KM and its related concepts (e.g. learning organisations, intellectual capital) in more detail. In chapter three, socio-technical systems and KM are discussed, and in the next chapter, systems thinking and KM. This fourth chapter does a detour into philosophy (“The philosophy and theory of social systems”) and then into critical social theory and critical systems theory, which leads to a critical action framework.

Chapter 5 could be regarded as the kernel of the book. It sets out to evaluate some 35 frameworks for assessing an organisation’s readiness for KM which have been located in the literature as appropriate and suitable for evaluation. They use a grid developed as a basis for this review, which did not seem to be a direct and logical outcome from the analysis of the previous chapter. All 35 frameworks are included which makes this the longest chapter of the book (116 pages, some 43 per cent of the total). This chapter can be used for reference, but the 35 cases are arranged in apparently random order, which does not make it easy for the reader who might which to refer to a particular example. There is a summary and discussion at the end, but the chapter seems to have been culled, without as much editing as there should have been, from another source, perhaps a research report. There is reference to the “author … is” (p. 236) (rather than the “authors … are” as one would expect with four of them), there is reference to Appendix 6.1 (there are no appendices in this book) and the introduction to the chapter on p. 120 refers back to chapter contents that do not relate to this book. These may be regarded as details, but it does leave the reader a little puzzled.

The sixth chapter is also a somewhat confusing. In contrast it is only seven pages long and introduces another framework, although the origins of the proposition are not obvious. The final, seventh chapter is even shorter (1.5 pages) and mysteriously does not refer back to all the work that has gone before, but rather is general repetition of some of the premises given in the opening chapter.

Altogether it is difficult to know exactly who this book is written for. Some aspects suggest that it would make a good student text, with some literature-based underpinning principles for KM. Other aspects suggest that it is based on a research project and so of interest to researchers in organisational implementation of KM. Although it is about aspects of KM implementation, managers themselves are unlikely to derive too much practical guidance, although the final sentence would indicate that the authors anticipate that their readers will be involved in KM initiatives.

So, can we learn anything about what is “beyond KM” from these three volumes? They all agree that technology should not be the key driver of KM, that so-called “KM systems” which failed to deliver the anticipated benefits have given “KM” a bad name, and that social, organisational, cultural and cognitive aspects provide the main impacts on effective use of knowledge. They differ in the extent to which they use the term “knowledge” and the near-synonym they use for it, such as “learning” or “expertise”. They all implicitly acknowledge that technology is likely to feature as an enabler of knowledge sharing, although it is evident that there are many ways in which this enablement may be manifested.

There are, however, other ideas of what is “beyond KM”; for example, Smolier (2003) proposes that it is “interaction management”. Information exchange or communication is not as challenging as leveraging social interaction (a broader term than “communication” in that it includes ideas of sanction and power) for the benefit of the organisation. A Delphi study finds the future of KM lies in better integration into business processes, a focus on the human-organisation interface and a better match of IT with human factors (Scholl et al., 2004).

The more holistic ideas found in the three books being reviewed and in the papers mentioned above are also found in, for example, the latest TFPL report, The Knowledge Proposition,(TFPL, 2003). A total of leading knowledge professionals developed a framework that indicates that the ideas, expertise and information of employees, customers and partners should all be used interactively to foster continuous business improvement. The underlying principles are to connect people to people and people to content. This confluence of closely similar ideas, propounded by writers from a variety of disciplines, suggests that there is some measure of agreement about how KM is developing, even though there is rather less harmony about the methods of moving through, or even beyond, KM.

Penny Yates-MercerCity University, London, UK

References

Community Intelligence Labs (1999), “Knowledge Ecology Fair 98: beyond knowledge management”, available at: www.co-i-l.com/kefair/ (accessed 9 August 2004)

Hackett, B. (2000), Beyond Knowledge Management: New Ways to Work and Learn, Research Report R-1262-00-RR, The Conference Board, New York, NY

Scholl, W., Konig, C., Meyer, B. and Heisig, P. (2004), “The future of knowledge management: an international Delphi study”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 19–35

Smolier, S.W. (2003), “Interaction management: the next (and necessary) step beyond knowledge management”, Business Process Management Journal, Vol. <9 No. 3, pp. 337–53

TFPL (2003), The Knowledge Proposition, (report by participants of the 6th CKO Summit for the Private Sector, Luttrellstown Castle, Dublin, 5-7 October), TFPL, London