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Knowledge management in 2020: the year in review

With 2021 now underway, it’s time for our annual review of achievements and significant events for both the knowledge management (KM) community and RealKM over the previous year. The contents of this year’s review are:

  1. Highlights in 2020 for KM and RealKM
  2. Looking back at five years of progress for RealKM
  3. A key challenge into the future – embracing diversity.
Thank you to everyone who has supported RealKM in 2020, in particular our generous RealKM Patrons and article contributors for making RealKM’s valuable work possible! A special thank you goes to RealKM Platinum Patron Dr Arthur Shelley of Intelligent Answers for his very significant contribution.
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A year of highs and lows

The year that was 2020 has been starkly mixed. There have certainly been things to smile about, but it’s also been an exceptionally difficult year of hardship and tragedy for many.

On the positive side, there have been a number of great 2020 highlights for KM and RealKM. These include RealKM winning a Platinum Award in the 2020 AuSKM Awards, CILIP announcing the first Chartered Knowledge Manager, and gathering momentum in regard to both the ISO 30401 KM standard and the decolonisation of knowledge and KM. These highlights are explored in the first section below.

As RealKM’s AuSKM Platinum Award has coincided with our fifth birthday, we’re looking back over RealKM’s progress since its establishment as a focus for this year’s review. You’ll find this retrospective in the second section below.

On the negative side, 2020 has been a very difficult and distressing year for many people. This time last year, RealKM’s home country Australia was in the midst of a horror bushfire crisis, and then, a short time later, the global COVID-19 pandemic erupted, and still continues.

At the time of writing this article, there have been more than 85 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, and over 1.85 million deaths1. In March 2020, soon after the beginning of the pandemic, RealKM began publishing a series of articles exploring the pandemic from a KM perspective, with the aim of assisting with the global COVID-19 response. This series now includes 42 articles, and new posts will continue to be added into the future.

RealKM sends its condolences to everyone who has lost loved ones to COVID-19, or who has been negatively affected in any other way. For me personally, international travel restrictions and dark side KM tactics as part of Australia’s response have meant that I’ve been stranded outside the country I now call home for the past 11 months. On top of the stress and distress of separation, living with constant uncertainty, and being denied healthcare in Australia, the massively increased workload required to effectively teach online has meant that I’ve also had to endure the stress of working seven days a week for all of the 11 months, except for a couple of days break in the beginning and middle of the year. But I know I’m one of the lucky ones, particularly with COVID-19 case numbers and deaths surging in some countries, for example the United States and United Kingdom.

The rollout of vaccines, which has already begun in a number of countries, means that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic should progressively ease as 2021 passes. However, in the meantime, many people will continue to experience difficulties and tragedy. In the wake of the pandemic, we’re also going to be left with a world that is more deeply divided than it has been in decades. In the third and final section below, I reflect on what these divisions mean for RealKM and the KM community.

1. Highlights in 2020 for KM and RealKM

RealKM wins a Platinum Award in the 2020 AuSKM Awards

RealKM is very honoured to have received a Platinum Award in the 2020 Australian Society for Knowledge Management (AuSKM) Awards. The award recognises excellence in sharing high-value knowledge management research through concise, practically-oriented articles for knowledge management (KM) practitioners and a broader management audience.

The award was presented in a virtual event jointly hosted by AuSKM and the Victorian Knowledge Management Leadership Forum (KMLF) on the 9th of December 2020. We gratefully thank AuSKM and everyone involved in the awards for this prestigious recognition.

CILIP announces the first Chartered Knowledge Manager

Professional accreditation is valuable to both the careers of knowledge managers and the future of the field of knowledge management (KM). In this regard, RealKM has identified the CILIP Chartered Knowledge Manager initiative as one of the big new things in KM because of its significant benefits.

The CILIP program offers accreditation under Royal Charter, with an established and respected assessment and support infrastructure. Importantly, the program also has an emphasis on the development of KM competence rather than just the completion of training.

CILIP announced in September 2020 that Elena Costello, an Associate at Arup, had become the first person to be awarded the Chartered Knowledge Manager status MCLIP Chartered Knowledge Manager. I hear that some more exciting announcements are not too far away.

Emerging activity around the ISO 30401 KM standard

The new knowledge management standard ISO 30401:2018 Knowledge management systems – Requirements was published in November 2018, more than two years ago. Things had appeared to have been relatively quiet on the ISO 30401 front since, but this has started to change considerably in the past couple of months.

We’ve learned that, towards the end of 2019, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation (MBRF) had become the world’s first nonprofit organisation to receive ISO 30401 certification, something many of us had missed at the time. MBRF’s significant impact can be seen in its social media engagement, which is at a level I’ve not seen from other KM organisations or networks.

Then in September 2020, Santhosh Shekar, an accredited ISO 30401 auditor and certifier, conducted a LinkedIn poll seeking KM practitioner and business leader views in regard to the visibility and applicability of ISO 30401. The poll revealed that a large proportion of business leaders remain unaware of ISO 30401, that KM practitioners are generally aware of ISO 30401 but many are yet to fully embrace it, and that some KM practitioners remain strongly opposed to ISO 30401. In response, Santhosh has initiated his KnowledgeWebCast where he interviews KM practitioners in regard to ISO 30401 and KM generally, with the aim of increasing awareness around the standard. He will also shortly be publishing a book on designing KM systems using ISO 30401.

Separately, 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 an accredited ISO 30401 auditor and certifier. As I discuss in a recent article, certification risks mean that there is a need for rigorous ISO 30401 auditor training and certification.

Pioneer Knowledge Services, which produces the Because You Need to Know podcast, is also planning to create and deliver a training product specifically for ISO 30401.

Even more activity can be expected in 2021. In recognition of the wide diversity of perspectives that exists in regard to ISO 30401, I hope that this increased activity can be as open and inclusive as possible.

Gathering momentum in regard to the decolonisation of knowledge and KM

In a December 2019 article, I alerted to the growing momentum to decolonise research, libraries, and knowledge systems, and recommended that the KM community needed to play a more active role in progressing the decolonisation of knowledge and KM. As I had discussed in a previous article, the global knowledge base is significantly biased towards the Global North, and this extends to knowledge about KM.

In the time since, this important topic has been taken up by the Knowledge Management for Development (KM4Dev) community. KM4Dev has now hosted two knowledge cafés on the topic, the first in June 2020, and the second in November. I was very pleased to present to and participate in the first knowledge café, and to have put forward perspectives that were then further discussed in the second. If you’re not yet a KM4Dev member, we encourage you to sign up to the KM4Dev website and KM4Dev discussion group.

The decolonisation of knowledge is also continuing to gather momentum in broader society and the academic literature. More and more sectors of society are realising that their knowledge bases are biased, and are starting to act to address this. Examples include the decolonisation of philosophy, the WASH sector, and botanical collections. A growing number of papers and books are also being published on the topic. An example is a new volume on open access publishing that I’ve begun to serialise in summary form.

The significantly better responses of many Global South countries to the COVID-19 pandemic compared with much of the Global North has also caused an increased questioning of the continued dominance of knowledge from the Global North. Perspectives that we’ve published highlighting what can be learnt from the Global South in regard to pandemic responses include an article discussing Manusher Jonno Foundation’s COVID-19 learning, and an article discussing the benefits of community health workers.

All of this means that the decolonisation of knowledge and KM can be expected to gather even more momentum in 2021, and RealKM will continue to play a leading role in this.

2. Looking back on five years of RealKM

Is RealKM achieving its founding objective?

When it was established in 2015, the founding objective of RealKM was to share “high-value knowledge management research through concise, practically-oriented articles” to a knowledge management (KM) practitioner and broader management audience that is often time-poor and lacks exposure to the research work of the academic sector.

As has already been happening in the overall field of management and also other management disciplines such as human resources (HR), better evidence-based practice is vital for the future of KM. Organisations cannot be expected to embrace KM unless proven processes and practices are used, but sadly the management arena abounds with fads and fixes that are little better than snake oil.

However, as KM is a comparatively new field, the evidence base for what processes and practices work effectively is constantly evolving. Compounding this situation, KM practitioners often find it difficult to keep up to date with the findings of new research in KM and related disciplines such as communications, marketing, psychology, biology, sociology, and management.

By bringing KM practitioners and the management community the findings of high-value KM and related research through concise, practically-oriented articles, RealKM is working to close this research to practice gap.

RealKM has resoundingly achieved this objective, and continues to do so, having so far published over 1,150 evidence summaries, feature articles and series, and article serials, all of which present the findings of high-value KM and related research (from a total of more than 1,300 articles overall).

Additionally, not only is RealKM successfully communicating the “what” of evidence-based practice in KM, but also the “how.” To this end, RealKM has established links with and sought the advice of the Centre for Evidence Based Management (CEBMa) to produce an ever-growing range of resources providing guidance in how to practice evidence-based KM. Based in the United Kingdom, CEBMa is recognised as a leading global organisation in regard to education and support for evidence-based practice.

Also supporting the “how” of evidence-based KM, RealKM is presenting two ongoing article series: “Critical Eye” which analyses and discusses the methodology and science behind claims made in publications, and “Quality of science and science communication” which looks critically at the quality of both the science being published in academic journals and the communication of this science to the public. Furthermore, a new RealKM article series that is reviewing KM academic journals is further strengthening RealKM’s support for evidence-based KM.

As further discussed below, RealKM has also gone well beyond its founding objective to support other important aspects of KM capability improvement. This includes providing active leadership and support in regard to key KM issues and emerging initiatives that are shaping the future of KM as an organisational endeavour, professional career, and research discipline.

How does RealKM operate?

RealKM was originally established in August 2015 as an initiative of founding editor Stephen Bounds under the umbrella of consulting firm KnowQuestion (now part of Cordelta, a professional services firm based in Canberra). Stephen was supported in this by Bruce Boyes, who was recruited as editor and lead writer.

In early 2019, Stephen Bounds formally transitioned RealKM to a community-owned not-for-profit model, with the RealKM Cooperative Limited registered in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) on 2 May 2019. This followed an inaugural meeting on 8 February 2019, at which Stephen Bounds, Bruce Boyes, and Dr Arthur Shelley were elected as directors.

RealKM was initially supported financially through a significant investment by Stephen Bounds and KnowQuestion. In April 2018, the transition to a crowdfunding model was initiated with the launch of a fundraising campaign through the Patreon platform. RealKM is now completely supported by the generosity of an ever-growing number of greatly valued RealKM Patrons.

RealKM Patrons can commit to regularly contributing any monthly amount of their choice, from $1 per month upwards. Those who contribute at least $50 per year are entitled to membership of the RealKM Cooperative, which includes the right to participate in and vote at the RealKM Cooperative AGM and other official meetings.

Each week, RealKM publishes four to six articles on the RealKM Magazine website. These articles are then promoted widely through social media, and summaries of the articles with links are sent to email subscribers through the RealKM Weekly Wrap newsletter. Significant or particularly notable articles and article series will also be featured on the RealKM Magazine website homepage. All RealKM articles are freely accessible, and will always be so.

Four main types of articles are published, and each week a mix of these different types of articles is presented to the RealKM Magazine audience:

  • Evidence summaries that present current research findings. These summaries are often based on recently published systematic reviews. Systematic reviews produce a more reliable knowledge base through accumulating findings from a range of studies.
  • Feature articles and series that synthesize a range of research in regard to a topical KM issue.
  • Article serials that present large research reports, dissertations, and books in more readily digestible weekly parts.
  • News items that announce events, book publications and reviews, or other significant developments in KM.

The articles and article series are also published in six different categories:

  • In the news – Event announcements, book reviews, and other newsworthy issues or developments related to KM.
  • ABCs of KM – Articles on accepted KM practice and key issues for the KM community.
  • Brain power– Articles backed by sound research on individual and collective thinking and behaviour (both of the human and artificially intelligent kind), or that describe a real and specific case scenario.
  • Systems & complexity – Articles backed by sound research on organisations and social systems (including complexity theory, organisational change, and culture), or that describe a real and specific case scenario.
  • Tools & tech – Descriptions and/or reviews of tools and techniques that support knowledge management outcomes.
  • Opinion – Articles endorsing a particular conclusion or course of action without evidence of sound research being supplied.

The website is managed and maintained by Stephen Bounds and Bruce Boyes. In the role of editor and lead writer, Bruce Boyes sources and edits articles and article serials from the KM community and beyond, and also researches and writes many of the evidence summaries and feature articles and series. He also actively operates the RealKM social media channels, promoting all of RealKM’s articles and the RealKM Weekly Wrap to RealKM’s audience and directly engaging with audience members to alert them to articles that may be of interest and respond to their questions and comments.

What is the value and impact of RealKM?

Since its establishment in 2015, RealKM Magazine has cemented a vital role in the international KM landscape, becoming a key go-to resource for KM practitioners and the wider management community.

A range of statistics support the conclusion that RealKM is having a significant impact. RealKM readership has progressively increased over time, rising to 7,500 website visitors in October 2020. Over the past 12 months, over 50,000 readers visited the RealKM website, and more than 20,000 have engaged with RealKM articles on social media.

Since the establishment of RealKM Magazine in August 2015, over 1,300 articles have now been published. More than 530 of these articles have been researched and authored by Bruce Boyes, with the remainder having been written by more than 50 other contributors. Many of the now more than 1,300 RealKM articles have been viewed many hundreds or even thousands of times, with the most popular article now exceeding 30,000 views.

Through its more than five years of operation, RealKM has consistently published at least four articles each and every week for all 52 weeks of the year, and also actively engaged with the RealKM audience through social media every week of the year. This recognises that as an Australian-based but global initiative, RealKM Magazine cannot credibly confine itself to a knowledge transfer schedule that is determined only by Australia’s annual calendar.

Furthermore, glowing testimonials are regularly received from RealKM’s readers and partners. These testimonials mean that RealKM’s significant impact correlates directly with RealKM’s resources being seen as having great value by KM practitioners and the wider management community.

As discussed above, RealKM’s focal work to encourage and support evidence-based KM means that RealKM is making a substantial contribution to service improvement in the KM and wider management communities. RealKM’s support for both the “what” and the “how” of evidence-based KM means that knowledge managers and other organisational leaders can now be more confident that the services they provide are using proven KM processes and practices.

RealKM’s significant impact and value is also translating into capability improvement. Since its founding, RealKM Magazine has proven itself to be invaluable for its ability to:

  • Provide opportunities for KM practitioners globally to connect and learn from each other. Through both its articles and audience engagement, RealKM seeks to facilitate opportunities for collaborative learning. An example is RealKM’s extensive and continually expanding COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic article series and associated KM community engagement. This has prompted KM community discussions in regard to the management of COVID-19 as a complex issue, and also prompted others to connect and offer further insights, for example the NHS (United Kingdom) and Manusher Jonno Foundation (Bangladesh).
  • Foster critical debate and discussion in regard to emerging KM initiatives that seek to professionalise and expand recognition of KM as a discipline. These KM initiatives include:

3. A key challenge into the future – embracing diversity

The world is becoming increasingly polarised, particularly in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which has seen tensions between two of the world’s largest superpowers – China and the United States – rise significantly. At the same time, disinformation is rampant in both public and political discourse, and this is compounding the polarisation. These issues represent a risk and a challenge for any endeavour which, like KM, is seeking to have a global reach.

Actions that RealKM has taken and will continue to take to meet this challenge include:

  • taking a leading role in advancing the decolonisation of knowledge and KM (see above).
  • sourcing and publishing numerous articles highlighting how disinformation undermines effective KM outcomes, and discussing the solutions to this.
  • actively encouraging and publishing KM perspectives from the Global South (that is, from beyond North America, Europe and Australia).
  • seeking to increase the global diversity of RealKM’s membership.

Furthermore, in all of its activities, including the articles it publishes, RealKM respects and asks that the others it works with respect the great diversity of individual and collective differences found across the world, including in regard to social and political perspectives, life experience, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity / expression, physical ability, learning differences, faith tradition, religious belief, class, and language.

So that the global KM community can continue to work together collaboratively and cooperatively to strengthen and grow KM into the future, everyone is encouraged to do the same.

Thank you image source: Adapted from Gerd Altmann on Pixabay, Public Domain.

Reference:

  1. Worldometers, 4 January 2021.

Also published on Medium.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes (www.bruceboyes.info) is editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (www.realkm.com), and a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and project management consultant. He holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction, and his expertise and experience includes knowledge management (KM), environmental management, project management, stakeholder engagement, teaching and training, communications, research, and writing and editing. With a demonstrated ability to identify and implement innovative solutions to social and ecological complexity, Bruce's many career highlights include establishing RealKM Magazine as an award-winning resource, using agile and knowledge management approaches to oversee an award-winning $77.4 million western Sydney river recovery program, leading a knowledge strategy process for Australia's 56 natural resource management (NRM) regional organisations, pioneering collaborative learning and governance approaches to support the sustainable management of landscapes and catchments, and initiating and teaching two new knowledge management subjects at Shanxi University in China.

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