Analysis & counterpointsOpen access perspectives

Many knowledge management researchers aren’t practicing what the profession preaches

The sharing of knowledge is seen as a fundamental aspect of knowledge management.

For example, Girard & Girard1 reviewed more than 100 knowledge management definitions to propose that “Knowledge Management is the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organization.” This definition is the one given on the Wikipedia knowledge management page.

However, unfortunately, in true “do what we say, not do what we do” form, many knowledge management researchers are sharing their research findings with only very limited audiences because they are locking their papers away behind journal paywalls.

Girard & Girard highlight this apparent hypocrisy, and demonstrate their laudable opposition to it, when giving their reason for considering only knowledge management definitions that are widely available on the internet:

Some might question the exclusion of some oft-cited definitions that are locked in the academic vaults we call journals; however, given the field is about sharing, it seemed rather oxymoronic to discuss definitions that many people cannot access.

Recent examples of potentially (I can’t access them to know for sure) very important knowledge management research review and policy articles that are locked away behind journal paywalls include:

The findings of these papers have potentially very significant implications across a number of key sectors: business organizations, organizations implementing ISO 9001, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and the construction industry. However, very few of these key stakeholders would be able to access the papers meaning that they are being denied valuable evidence for their decision-making and practice.

And they’re not the only ones being deprived of this important information. It might surprise you to know that an increasing number of universities are unable to access paywalled journals because of spiraling costs. This means that other researchers even have difficulty accessing important research findings, which is an absurd situation.

I had previously assumed that all universities would be like the ones I attended in Australia, where all staff and students are provided with library access to paywalled journals. However, universities in Australia are comparatively very well resourced. Here in China, a developing country, significant resources are currently being invested into the university sector, but the focus for now is understandably on the modernization of facilities. This means that most universities are unable to afford paywalled journal access for most staff and students, which negatively affects both research and learning. It is the same story in other developing countries.

But increasingly, universities in developed countries are also unable to afford paywalled journal access. For example, an increasing number of universities in Canada are cancelling journal subscriptions because they can’t afford the rising costs, and universities in Germany have also cancelled journal subscriptions as part of demands for better open access. Even high-profile universities like Harvard have been forced to cancel journal subscriptions due to prohibitive costs, and the issue is now being described as the “serials crisis.”

While journals arguably have a responsibility to address the situation, so do researchers. If you are a knowledge management researcher, I implore you to publish your research findings only in open access journals. Or, if you are intent on publishing in paywalled journals, please consider pressuring the journals to at least look at initiatives like SharedIt.

Examples of open access knowledge management journals include the Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management (EJKM) and the Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management (OJAKM) (where Girard & Girard published their knowledge management definitions article). When choosing open access journals, take care to avoid predatory journals and publishers.


  1. Girard, J.P., & Girard, J.L. (2015). Defining knowledge management: Toward an applied compendium, Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management. 3(1), 1-20.
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Also published on Medium.

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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