Home | Company Services | Links
Stuhlman Management Consultants
Helping you turn data into knowledge

Knowledge Management Terms
by Daniel D. Stuhlman
Organizations are complex organisms. For an organization to grow and prosper in this information age, it must become a learning organization understanding both its roots and branching out to new endeavors. One of the challenges in mastering "Knowledge Management" is understanding the terminology of the field. In any field one must have a common understanding of the nomenclature of both the terms and concepts. People use the same words and phrases but the meanings could be different based on gender, location, context, profession, etc. This document defines terms, borrowed from other fields such as computer science, business, psychology and education that may be applied to knowledge management in organizations. Throughout this document I use the term "organization" rather than business. All organizations, profit making, non-profit, and voluntary, share some of the same needs for sound knowledge management practices. Even non-profit organizations must use sound business practices to ensure prosperity.

Knowledge management is a conscious, hopefully consistent, strategy implemented to gather, store and retrieve knowledge and then help distribute the information and knowledge to those who need it in a timely manner. The strategy includes rules, procedures, and cultural aspects in addition to the hardware and software to help put the knowledge management strategy into action. The best computers and software are not useful without the people and procedures for using them. Knowledge management is a framework and management mind-set that includes building on experience and creating new avenues for exchanging knowledge. The strategy includes both the technological infrastructure and the human aspects that uses the tools.

The progression for a learning organization is: data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Data and information are gathered; knowledge and wisdom are applied as a result of analysis.


Analysis is the process of interpreting data and information. One may order the data for easier interpretation or take the raw data and use it to create information and wisdom. Analysis requires data input and outputs something based on the data, experience, and previously learned wisdom of the people involved.

Artificial ignorance occurs when truth is sacrificed in favor of reverence or ritual. People practice artificial ignorance when they behave without thinking about the reason behind the actions. They follow the rules, practices, procedures, or laws exactly without thinking of the implications and results. Humorous fictional examples include Amelia Bedilia in the books by Peggy Parish, Silly Jack in English folklore and the Wise Men of Chelm in Jewish folklore.

Artificial intelligence occurs when analysis and the search for truth takes precedence over the creative and human activities of a job. People who practice artificial intelligence behave with so much thinking and analysis that the feeling, intuition, and art of making decisions is sacrificed.

Barriers are objects, ideas, practices, structures, systems, etc. that prevent or discourage action. Sometimes physical barriers are necessary for physical safety. Security barriers are important for an organization to protect assets. Barriers are not good when they discourage, sharing, creativity, service and other forms of positive business activity.

Cataloging is the systematic organization of information, data, or materials so that they can be retrieved when the requester needs them. Cataloging follows rules and practices to enable users to understand the system. Putting words in alphabetical order in a dictionary or index is one example of cataloging. Alphabetical order has rules so that the lexicographer and the end user can find words. A librarian-cataloger follows rules established by national and global organizations. The rules are flexible enough to enable interpretation and localization. Rules also include controlled vocabulary for subject headings. A business cataloger follows the business rules of the organization.

Explicit Knowledge is the captured and cataloged information and knowledge that is made ready for people to use.

Sometimes within businesses the term, taxonomy, is used for the classification of knowledge.   A good taxonomy or catalog enables the same knowledge to be accessed via multiple paths.

Classification is a system of arranging ideas or physical objects in hierarchal and enumerative schemes. Schemes may be based on national standards such library classification systems (for example: Library of Congress Classification, Dewey Decimal Classification, or National Library of Medicine Classification) or internally developed. Classification systems arrange materials in an order. In libraries multiple orders may exist such as reference collections, children collections or branch libraries. In businesses multiple orders many include departments, branches or other segregations of materials. Library classifications are based on subjects. Business classifications are based on logical arrangements for each business. Linear or systematic arrangements impose limits on the classifiers. The classification of digital documents does not have physical and temporal limits on accessibility as books or physical documents. Numbers, letters or symbols are the shorthand codes for arranging materials. These codes help people who don't have expert knowledge of the subjects store and retrieve materials in the correct places.

For classification systems to work they must 1) Encompass the whole field of knowledge or business activity and allow for future revisions; 2) Be systematic 3) Be logical; 4) Be flexible enough so that new subjects may be inserted without dislocating current materials; 5) Be kept current; and 6) Employ terminology that is clear, consistent, and unambiguous for the classifier and end users.

Communities of Interest include the people within the organization or those outside the organization who share interests in an aspect of the business or profession. For example professional staff may join professional organizations to share common interests and offer each other support. This is especially important when the organization has few people in that profession. Within the organization staff may share business interests separate from their professional interests. These communities may be formal and organized such as professional organizations or informal such as people talking to people in other departments about common business interests.

People are linked by proximity, electronic communications, printed documents, published articles, or books. Electronic links could include Internet mailing lists, wikis, RSS, web sites, or news groups. Print resources may include newsletters, trade journals, professional periodicals and scholarly journals. Members of the community do not possess equal levels of expertise, but they are associated by their desire to share and learn from others. The nature of the association changes and develops over time. A neophyte may need a lot of support at the beginning and later evolve into knowledge provider.

Communities may or may not be open to all who wish to join. professional organizations may place educational or experience requirements on membership. Restricted membership organizations are communities of practice for experts. In businesses, these experts, based on their knowledge, are designated for specific subjects. Other groups may be open to anyone who wants to contribute, share, or learn.

Critical thinking is an intellectual process that questions assumptions, data and information. Children are very literal in their understanding of lanuage and the world. (see above Artificial ignorance) Education and maturity teach students to examine any claim, idea, or text to determine if it is true, partially true, false, or somewhere in between.

Critical thinking relies on a body of data and information to create wisdom which is based on sound logical conclusions. While the body of knowledge changes from one disciple to the other, process of seeking the truth is common to all. A mature, critical thinker raises questions, examines facts, and confronts issues before formulating conclusions.*

Culture is a combination of organizational history, shared experiences, group expectations, unwritten or tacit rules, ethics, and social interactions that affect the behavior of everyone in the organization. Culture is developed dejure (organizational rules and pronouncements from upper management) and defacto based on shared experience. Culture is a complex social structure. Sometimes it evolves slowly based on worker actions and sometimes change is enacted by management. We simultaneously participate in many cultures such as families, localoties, religious groups, nations, and organizations. One culture may permit an action, while another forbids it.

In organizations culture can be consciously changed with a new rule from an executive. Culture can als be changed by external stimuli (for example a new law or government regulation that affects business practices). If culture places barriers to sharing knowledge, the organization needs to take actions to create an atmosphere that reduces barriers and becomes more supportive and collaborative.

Data are the smallest units of measure. The word is technically the plural of datum but often used as a singular. Data are the components of information. They may be the 1's and 0's of computer memory, names and addresses in a demographic file, or the raw facts and figures before interpretation. Data are stored in data bases. Data processing is the electronic manipulation of data.

Data Mining (also known as Knowledge Discovery in Databases - KDD) is extraction of implicit, previously unknown, and potentially useful information from data bases.  The process uses machine learning, statistical correlations, statistical analysis, and sophisticated search strategies to extract data in such a way that the information is easily comprehensible.  Then the human decides how to turn this information into knowledge.  The source data bases are usually already owned by the organization.    Data mining is frequently used by marketing departments to learn more about customers and how to better market products and services.  The skilled knowledge manager will help create data base search strategies that enable successful data mining.  However, in some ways data mining is the antithesis of what a knowledge manager is trying to accomplish in an organization. A knowledge manager sets up systems to store and retrieve information on a timely basis; a data miner seeks information in data bases that was previously underutilized.

Discussion Forum is an in-person or electronic forum for staff or like-minded individuals to exchange ideas, post questions, offer answers, or offer help on relevant subjects.  Electronic forums also provide ways of archiving (or storing) and searching for previous exchanges. "Listserv" is a type of electronic forum.

Ethics is a process of applying or breaking the rules to get the right answers. Making ethical decisions envolves knowing the cultures and the rules of the organization and the laws of the land.*

Ideas are mental pictures, or dreams that are unproven. They may or may not be verbalized or recorded. They are not yet substantiated by data, but may be based on the person's knowledge.  Good ideas may have a positive impact on the organization if they can be substantiated or validated by data or input from others.  Bad ideas are those that have no ability to be implemented.  Both good and bad ideas may help in the process of determining the best course of action.

Ignorance is the state of not knowing. Ignorance occurs when those who can benefit from knowledge are unwilling or unable to find or assimilate the knowledge.  The flip side of ignorance is having knowledge and not having any way of sharing that knowledge.

Information is organized data that has been arranged for better comprehension, understanding and/or retrieval. What is one person's information can become another person's data.

Intellectual Capital is the same as the knowledge asset of an organization. Knowledge assets help achieve business goals. This capital is the set of intangible assets that includes the internal knowledge of employees have of information processes, external and internal experts, products, customers and competitors. Intellectual capital includes internal proprietary reports, libraries, patents, copyrights, and licenses that record the company history and help it plan for tomorrow.

Knowledge is the result of learning. Knowledge is the internalization of information, data, and experience. Tacit Knowledge is the personal knowledge resident within the mind, behavior and perceptions of individual members of the organization. Explicit Knowledge is the formal, recorded, or systematic knowledge in the form of scientific formulae, procedures, rules, organizational archives, principles, etc., and can easily be accessed, transmitted, or stored in computer files or hard copy.

Knowledge Management Staff are the people in the organization assigned the task of providing the leadership and implementation of the policy for the creation, capture, storage, cataloging, and sharing of organizational knowledge. Sometimes the organization appoints a chief knowledge officer (CKO) and sometimes the tasks are performed by other managers. The person in charge is the focal point or switching point for all knowledge related tasks. This person works with those in technology, human relations, and operational units to create the requisite infrastructure and management policies. Alternative job titles for the person in charge of knowledge management might be director of knowledge mobilization, director of global knowledge exchange, and senior vice president over strategic knowledge capabilities.

A Knowledge architect is the staff member who oversees the definitions of knowledge and intellectual processes and then identifies the technological and human resources required to create, capture, organize, access and use knowledge assets.  Architecture is the technology and human infrastructure to support the organization's KM initiatives.  It includes physical (e.g., hardware and tools) and logical (e.g., knowledge policies) dimensions.

Knowledge assets, also called intellectual capital, are the human, structural and recorded resources available to the organization. Assets reside within the minds of members, customers, and colleagues and also include physical structures and recorded media.

Knowledge audit is the formal process to determination and evaluation of how and where information knowledge is used within the organization. The audit examines policies, forms, procedures, storage and any other ways that knowledge is collected, stored, cataloged and stored.

Knowledge bridge is the connection that a KM expert builds between the business processes and the technological, sociological, personal, financial, sales, creative, and customer oriented functions of the organization. Building a knowledge bridge is the 'glue' making the long-term connections between the functions that sometimes compete for resources.

Knowledge creation is the process that results in new knowledge, or organizes current knowledge in new ways making techniques to use existing knowledge. Once knowledge is created the organization has a Knowledge flow, which is the way knowledge travels, grows, is stored and retrieved. Knowledge flows 1) Up and down from management; 2) Within circles of sharing (such as shared interests between staff performing similar or complementary roles) 3) Through planning, investigation, and training; or 4) Through common sources such as books, reports, data bases or knowledge bases.

Knowledge facilitators help harness the wealth of knowledge in the organization. Facilitators engender a sense of ownership in those involved, by helping them arrive at a jointly developed solution.

Know-how is the technical expression of knowledge or how to physically apply knowlege in the physical world. Examples are the manual and mental skills of a master craftsman or tradesman.

Knowledge lens is the perspective or viewpoint of the problem or situation. A KM expert brings experience from many industries or disciplines to focus valuable insights or illuminate new ideas. Through this lens the KM expert synthesizes the situation and helps makes sense of disparate pieces.

Knowledge map (K-Map) is a tangible representation or catalog of the concepts and relationships of knowledge. The catalog is a navigational aid that enables a user to find the desired concept, and then retrieve relevant knowledge sources.

Knowledge source is the person, document, non-print source, or place that is the origin or prime cause of knowledge. Others may see you as a source and you turn to your own sources for knowledge.

Knowledge owner is the person or people who are responsible for knowledge, a knowledge domain, or set of documents. The knowledge owner is responsible for keeping the knowledge and information current, relevant, and complete. The knowledge owner usually acts at a local or decentralized level. The knowledge owner may or may not be the author or creator of the specific content. The owner may be the expert in the subject area or a skilled editor.

Knowledge use is the effective integration of knowledge by people or organizations. It is the result of understanding and application of knowledge and the knowledge gathering process. It is hard to define because it is the result and application of all the terms defined on this page.

Knowledge worker is a member of the organization who uses knowledge to be a more productive worker. These workers use all varieties of knowledge in the performance of their regular business activities. Everyone who uses any form of recorded knowledge could be considered a knowledge worker.

Alternative job titles for person in charge of knowledge management:  Director of knowledge mobilization, Director, global knowledge exchange, and Senior VP, strategic knowledge capabilities.

Learning is the complex process of assimilating stimuli and changing behavior. The stimuli can be received by any of the senses.  Many learning situations use stimuli of multiple senses.  For example one listens, practices with the hands, and then explains. Learning happens in situations when people are using their minds best. Learning styles vary by person and situation. While most people learn with a combination of seeing, hearing, and motion (tactile or physical), some people show a preference to one of these types of input or stimuli. Adults as well as children learn using a methodology that is suitable for their condition and the subject they are learning. Everyone has to figure out what methodology and stimuli combination works best for them and the job of a teacher is to help the student in this journey of discovery. Learning is a process that is self perpetuating because each step of learning creates a foundation for the next step.

An alternative view of the definition of learning --  Learning in the context of a business is a process to acquire knowledge or skills to enhance the ability to perform business or professional activities. The end result is the person can help better the business's bottom line. Learning helps an individual or group work better, faster, more efficiently, or smarter.

Magic is the use of words, actions, or reading of signs to influence nature or people. Magic has no place in knowledge management. One must use solid techniques with a scientific basis to change people and organizations. Change is not caused by magic.

Management is the organizational process that includes strategic planning, setting objectives, managing resources, deploying the human and financial assets needed to achieve objectives, and measuring results.  Management also includes recording and storing facts and information for later use or for others within the organization.  Management functions are not limited to managers and supervisors. Every member of the organization has some management and reporting functions as part of their job.

Metadata is structured information that describes, explains, locates, or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use or manage an information resource. The Dublin Core is an example of a standard. It was developed for libraries to be simple and concise. The current Dublin Core standard defines fifteen metadata elements (title, subject, description, source, language, relation, coverage, creator, publisher, contributor, rights, date, type, format, and identifier) for resource description in a cross-disciplinary information environment. A library catalog is an example of metadata for books and other library materials. A product catalog is metadata for the products a company sells or distributes.

Metadata has become a "buzz" word and is mis-used. In a library the catalog contains "metadata" on each item (book and non-books) in the library. In an organization "metadata" is used to describe the products, items, raw materials, or human resources. The human resources metadata contains the demographic description (name, address, office, etc.) for each person. The product metadata contain the name, physical description, quantity, etc. for each product bought and sold.

Motivation is the push of the mental forces to accomplish an action. Unsatisfied needs, motivate. On the biological level basic human needs of food, shelter and survival are powerful motivators. On the psychological level people need to be understood, affirmed, validated and appreciated. On the business level motivation occurs when people perceive a clear business reason for pursuing a transfer of knowledge or practices.

Personal Competence is a collection of behaviors including concentration, intensity, persistence, and self-sufficiency. Concentration is required to examine, contemplate and make decisions. Intensity refers to the depth of involvement in an activity. Time is an important component of both concentration and intensity. One must invest the proper amount of time to accomplish the task. People must take the time to concentrate which enables persistence. Self-sufficiency is measured by the number and duration of responses that solve problems.

Practices are the techniques, methodologies, procedures, and processes that are used in the organizations to get the job done.  Good practices are those practices that have fostered improved business results and continue to enable the organization to improve. Bad practices are those that are detrimental to good business results. Data are gathered to create information that is used to measure results and determine if the practice is good, bad, or worth further investigation.

Best practices are any practices, use of knowledge, or experience that have been proven by data or experience to be valuable or effective to individuals, groups, or organizations.  These best practices may be useful or be applicable to others.

Local best practices are practices that have been used by a department or other unit of an organization. Based on analysis, these practices have been determined to be helpful to other departments or units of the organization.

Industry best practices are practices that have been determined from outside of the organization as helpful approaches to large numbers of organizations within that industry. These best practices may be reported in written sources based on investigative reporting or based on agreements or conventions of trade or professional groups. For example articles or books may be written about a practice that one company does that has improved their performance. This is a very common occurrence in the literature.

Query is a question or series of questions that are presented to a knowledge management system or information retrieval system. Data and information can be retrieved with a query. The most precise queries are those which return the fewest false drops. The result of a query needs interpretation by the requestor. A query may return sorted or unsorted replies.

Relationships are the connections people have with other people.  Relationships may be between people with personal connections or those with connections based on print, media or correspondence. People absorb more knowledge when the bond is with someone they know and respect. Good relationships create a unity necessary to run effective organizations. One is more likely to share knowledge with those who share personal relationships. Building relationships is a mutually helpful activity for creating interdependence.

Sharing is the human behavior that describes the exchange of knowledge. Sharing and learning are social activities and may occur in face-to-face meetings or via aural, written or visual stimuli. At least two people are required for sharing. Sharing knowledge is a positive activity in an organization. Coveting knowledge is the opposite of sharing.

Storytelling is the skilled delivery of stories use to present anecdotal evidence, clarify a point, support a point of view and crystallize ideas. A story can present material that research data can not. Stories use verbal pictures to spark interest, add variety, and change the pace of a discussion. Stories make dull speeches sparkle. Storytelling is the connecting device between data and reality. Stories can share a "truth" that data can not. Storytelling can help bridge the gap between data and knowledge. It also could be the result of integrating information. A well chosen story gets the audience's attention. Knowledge managers use storytelling as a device and tool for sharing knowledge. Storytelling allows you to present dreams and tell about the past. Click here for more on storytelling.

Technology is the set of tools both hardware (physical) and software (algorithms, philosphical systems, or procedures) that help us act and think better. Technology includes all the objects from a basic pencil and paper to the latest electronic gadget. Electronic and computer technology help use share information and knowledge quickly and efficiently. What was previously slow and tedious is now easier and more realistic. Any tool has the potential to remove the tedium and repetition that will allow us to perform that which is most human-- thinking, dreaming, and planning.

Thinking is an internal mental process that uses data or information as input, integrates that information into previous learned material and the and results in either knowledge or nothing. It may occur at any moment including while eating, sleeping or working on an unrelated task. Problem solving, planning, information integration, and analysis are four kinds of thinking.

Wisdom is the result of learning and using knowledge for a strategic advantage. After gaining knowledge, wisdom is used to meet new situations. Wisdom resides in the minds of the users. Organizational wisdom is the goal of knowledge management system.

A version of this web page appears as a chapter in: Perspectives in Knowledge Management, published in May 2008 by Scarecrow Press.

* Changed since last revision.


Bibliography

Cohen, Stuart.  Child Development : a study of the growth process. Itasca, IL, F.E. Peacock Publishers, 1971.
Covey, Stephen R.  The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People : restoring the character ethic.  New York, Simon & Schuster, 1989.
Glasser, William.  Schools Without Failure.  New York, Harper & Row, 1969.
Holt, John.  How Children Learn. New York, Pitman Publishing Corp., 1969.
O'Dell, Carla and C. Jackson Grayson, Jr.  If Only We Knew What We Know : the transfer of internal knowledge and best practice.  New York, Free Press, 1998.
Rosenberg, Marc J. E-Learning : strategies for delivering knowledge in the digital age.  New York, McGraw-Hill, 2001.

Note: This is a work in progress. It is not exhaustive and will have new terms and revisions added as needed. Please send me any ideas or comments to improve this list.


Links
Librarian's Lobby Jewish Library Network of Metro Chicago Stuhlman Management Consultants Stories by Stuhlman Benefits of a Consultation Journal of Knowledge, Education and Libraries Daniel D. Stuhlman CV [leaves this web site]

Stuhlman Management Consultants , Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. For more information visit our home page.    for help with your information and knowledge needs.

Suggested bibliographic citation: Stuhlman, Daniel D. Knowledge management terms. Chicago, Stuhlman Managment Consutants, 2012. Retrieved from: Http://home.earthlink.net/~ddstuhlman/defin1.htm on {today's date}.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
 ©2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 by Daniel D. Stuhlman. All rights reserved.
Last revised December 3, 2012

Google