Systems & complexity

The nexus between knowledge management and innovation

A paper1 presented at the Strategica International Academic Conference in October reviews the literature to look at how the relationship between knowledge management (KM) and innovation management has developed over the last 10 years. From the review, the authors identify typical innovation topics addressed in KM papers, typical KM topics addressed in innovation papers, and topics that can facilitate a shared focus of study and application.

Knowledge is seen as being essential to innovation, for example:

Feldman2 argues that innovations are nothing more than the creation and diffusion of new and economically valuable knowledge in the form of novel products, processes, and organizations while Cowan and Jonard3 label innovation as the discovery of knowledge not known by others.

However, despite this, KM and innovation have established themselves as separate fields and distinct areas of research. So although KM has a strong relationship to innovation, it is unclear if the research literature in the two fields converges, or if they are different contexts of research and application.

To gain an understanding of this, a literature review of KM and innovation articles published between 2006 and 2016 was conducted using selected keywords. A total of 894 articles across 20 journals were analysed, comprising 461 articles from 11 KM journals and 433 articles from 9 innovation journals.

The analysis shows that the interest in each field for topics related to the other field has remained substantially constant over the ten years 2006-2016, with journals in both fields publishing around 40 papers per year analysing topics and themes from the other field.

Recurring themes and topics

Typical innovation topics addressed in KM papers:

  • Project management. This subject is commonly addressed in innovation management, but in recent years a growing number of KM papers have directly focused on project management topics such as knowledge sharing and project documentation, project team organization, project-based companies, and the use of KM technologies for managing projects.
  • Implications of KM programs on innovation performance and the innovative capabilities of companies. To innovate, companies must identify their main sources of knowledge and be capable of exploiting them. Companies can use innovation as a strategic weapon be designing KM programs that align with their innovation strategies.
  • Product development. Designing new products implies innovative capability but also the explicit capability of creating new knowledge, managing existing knowledge, and connecting with external sources.
  • R&D management. R&D is an area where knowledge workers and cognitive assets represent the core resource.

Typical KM topics addressed in innovation papers:

  • KM processes. Innovation implies the generation, acquisition, and transfer of knowledge, so an important KM area from where models, concepts, and simple terms have been drawn is that of KM processes.
  • Communities where different people collaborate and share knowledge for a common goal. Communities of practice are a popular topic in KM, and they have also attracted the interest of innovation scholars. This is apparently because innovation typically involves sharing knowledge in structures that are similar to communities of practice. Many companies also use virtual communities to gain access to a larger and wider range of knowledge with lower time and financial costs.
  • Small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Innovation scholars often adopt KM models or concepts to explain innovation in SMEs, with the management of tacit knowledge in particular being a critical issue for the management of innovation in SMEs.

Topics that can facilitate a shared focus of study and application:

  • Knowledge-based view of the firm; learning organization. From a KM perspective, a knowledge-based view of the company is the implicit theoretical framework, and another reference theory is that of the learning organization. These conceptual approaches are also gaining popularity in innovation studies, with an innovative company increasingly being seen as an organisation that learns and where knowledge resources are considered and exploited intensively.
  • Knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS). KIBS exploit knowledge resources to provide services to other companies, so KM studies can investigate how this can be done more effectively.
  • Knowledge protection, intellectual property. The management of intellectual property is a key topic in innovation management, and there is recognition that knowledge is the main ingredient of intellectual property. There is also growing interest in the KM literature in the relationship that a company has with external entities. Knowledge has economic value in relation to the knowledge exchanges that occur, which also raises the issue of protection.
  • Networks and networking. The analysis of networks is increasingly important in innovation management, with recognition that a company must extend its reach to external sources of valuable knowledge. The processes by which knowledge is captured, assimilated, and integrated are essential for managing innovation, so the analysis of collaboration networks becomes important for innovation management. Knowledge exchanges in networks and their functioning in the case of joint R&D and product development provides a fresh area of study and application for KM scholars and practitioners.


  1. Ramona-Diana, L.E.O.N., & Bolisani, E. (2016). The nexus between knowledge management and innovation. A literature review. Opportunities and Risks in the Contemporary Business Environment, 662.
  2. Feldman, M.P. (2000). Location and innovation: the new economic geography of innovation, spillovers, and agglomeration. In G.L. Clark, M.P. Feldman, & M.S. Gertler (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Economic Geography (pp.372-394). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. Cowan, R., & Jonard, N. (2009). Knowledge portfolios and the organization of innovation networks. Academy of Management Review, 34(2), 320-342.
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Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and education professional with over 30 years of experience in Australia and China. His work has received high-level acclaim and been recognised through a number of significant awards. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University and Research, and holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction. He is also the editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (, and teaches in the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) Certified High-school Program (CHP).

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