Broadly defined, knowledge management (KM) refers to a deliberate and consistent effort to improve the utilization, transfer and creation of knowledge in organizations. As a field of academic inquiry, it is the combination of a wide range of theories and constructs appropriated from various disciplines with some original models and concepts developed specifically to address such a problem.
Knowledge management is well known to be a multidisciplinary field1. Contributing disciplinary areas include:
- management science
- computer science
- organizational science
- library and information science
- social sciences
- planning and development
Key themes in knowledge management have been grouped in various ways, with one prominent study identifying eight domains of KM research:2
- Knowledge as a Firm Capability
Focus: business strategy and the role of knowledge as ‘firm capability’ delivering competitive advantage.
Sample topics: core competences of firms, combinative capabilities of firms, the resource-based view, social capital, knowledge articulation within firms, dynamic capabilities
- Organizational Information Processing and IT support for KM
Focus: how organizations process information and how information and communications technologies support that process.
Sample topics: organizational information processing, organizational memory, organizations as interpretive systems, managers’ information processing behaviors, the structuring of organizations, information systems.
- Knowledge Communication, Transfer and Replication
Focus: knowledge transfer processes in organizations, which involve a complex dynamics of reconstruction and recombination of knowledge.
Sample topics: stickiness of knowledge, the role of social networks.
- Situated Learning and Communities of Practice
Focus: learning and knowledge sharing processes as situated and context-dependent social phenomena.
Sample topics: situated learning communities of practice.
- Practice of Knowledge Management
Focus: informing managerial practice.
Sample topics: anecdotal accounts of KM initiatives that provide insights for practitioners, from authors like Thomas Davenport, Thomas Stewart, Peter Drucker, and James Brian Quinn.
- Innovation and Change
Focus: the innovation process.
Sample topics: economic aspects of innovation, evolutionary perspective of economic change, absorptive capacity of organizations, the role of users in innovation.
- Philosophy of Knowledge
Focus: the origin and nature of knowledge.
Sample topics: tacit knowledge, organizational knowledge, typologies of knowledge, organizational epistemology.
- Organizational Learning and Learning Organizations
Focus: organizations as learning entities.
Sample topics: organizational learning, learning organization
In addition to these areas of research, each discipline brings its own perspective on where KM should be delivering value:
- Strategic focus
- leveraging knowledge as a strategic resource for sustainable competitive advantage
- recognising knowledge as a central factor in innovation and evolution in organisational routines
- applying the knowledge-based theory of the firm to explain their existence, as well as other factors determining scale and scope
- Accounting focus
- applying a tangible value to an organisation’s intellectual capital
- treating human capital, structural capital and relational capital as distinct, manageable things
- Organisational science focus
- maximising organisational potential through knowledge transfer and protection
- institutionalising individual and group learning to create organizational knowledge embedded in non-human repositories such as routines, systems, structures, culture, and strategy
- working out common sense in communities of practice through mutual engagement
- analysing social network relations between actors (ie individuals, groups of individuals, and firms), including weak and strong ties
- creating emergent knowledge and meaning through organisational sense-making 3
Next edition: How human resources factors influence choices in KM, and its likelihood of success.
- Ponzi, L. J. (2002). The evolution & intellectual development of knowledge management. Doctoral dissertation, Long Island University, NY. Retrieved March 22, 2005, from Proquest. ↩
- Subramani, M., Nerur, S. P., & Mahapatra, R. (2003). Examining the intellectual structure of knowledge management, 1990-2002 – An author co-citation analysis. Working paper no. 03-03, University of Minnesota. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from http://misrc.umn.edu/workingpapers/fullpapers/2003/0323_061503.pdf. ↩
- Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ↩