This article is part of a series on knowledge management (KM) standards.
Risks in the implementation of ISO 30401
The new knowledge management (KM) standard ISO 30401:2018 Knowledge management systems – Requirements was published in November 2018. Some organisations have since moved forward to implement the requirements of the standard, including seeking certification against the standard (for example MBRF).
In the previous RealKM Magazine article “Implementing KM standard ISO 30401: risks and opportunities,” published in April 2018 ahead of the standard, I identified six potential risks in the implementation of the standard. Two of these risks are the risk of low-quality certification and the risk that organisations implement the KM standard symbolically rather than meaningfully.
The significant risk posed by low-quality certification can be clearly seen with other ISO standards. There is also clear evidence1 of organisations claiming to have adopted ISO standards but not actually genuinely implementing the standards to improve organisational performance.
These risks point to the need for the KM community to ensure that the training and certification processes for ISO 30401 auditors are rigorous. Two more of the six risks that I identified in my previous risks and opportunities article further reinforce this need. These are the risk that the standard exacerbates divisions in the KM community and the risk of low uptake.
In a recent poll carried out by Santhosh Shekar, 51 of the 191 respondents expressed the view that ISO 30401 is a complete waste of time. Of the 191 respondents, 64% were KM professionals, and the remaining 36% were business leaders and business managers. If cases of low-quality ISO 30401 certification were to emerge, then in addition to the direct risks, these ISO 30401 critics would very likely use such examples as further ammunition against the standard. Business and industry confidence in ISO 30401 and KM generally would also potentially be undermined, reducing uptake of the standard.
New ISO 30401 auditor training and certification initiative
With certification risks in mind, Dr Ron McKinley and Patricia Eng have launched a new ISO 30401 auditor training and certification course. Dr Ron McKinley was previously the chair of the ISO Technical Committee that helped to develop ISO 30401, and Patricia Eng is a respected KM practitioner and co-author of the KM Cookbook.
Information on the auditor training and certification can be found on the KM/HR Systems Auditors website. The first class will be convened in January 2021.
The rigour of the course can be clearly seen. Candidates must meet course prerequisites before being accepted into the class. This includes being able to demonstrate both audit and KM experience, and candidates may be asked to undertake additional training before being admitted to the course. There are then numerous oral and written exercises throughout the course, and a written final exam. Candidates who pass the exam will obtain associate auditor certification, but full certification is only achieved after a senior auditor has observed the provisional auditor conduct an audit to ensure that the new auditor is competent.
However, a note of concern
The rejection of ISO 30401 by more than a quarter of the respondents in Santhosh Shekar’s recent poll comes as no surprise given the controversy that erupted when the draft standard was released for public comment at the end of 2017. As I’ve discussed in another previous article, consultation during the ISO 30401 draft KM standard development process was inadequate, and time and time again I’ve seen processes fail because they didn’t adequately involve all relevant stakeholders and their knowledge.
If the implementation of ISO 30401 is similarly not as open and inclusive as possible, then opposition to the standard will continue or potentially even grow. Having ISO 30401 auditor training and certification centred on just two people in one country in the Global North is a risk in this regard, particularly with growing awareness of the significant global knowledge bias towards the Global North and clear evidence that our divided world is unable to unite to address global challenges.
In consideration of this, Dr Ron McKinley and Patricia Eng are encouraged to explore how they might be able to help empower a global community of KM practitioners to be able to similarly deliver rigorous ISO 30401 auditor training and certification throughout the world. To be successful, the training will need to be culturally aware and culturally appropriate. Establishing a global community of practice that can help to facilitate and encourage the ongoing integrity of ISO 30401 certification is also highly desirable.
- Vílchez, V. F. (2017). The dark side of ISO 14001: The symbolic environmental behavior. European Research on Management and Business Economics, 23(1), 33-39. ↩