Knowledge Management Explained in Five Disciplines

We welcome Tim Wieringa as a guest blogger to Green Chameleon.

Since 1999, my work has been related to Knowledge Management (KM). Already then, KM was a term that was not well recognised; at the time, we did not label our KM-related consulting services with Knowledge Management. Today I am holding an official position in Knowledge Management, still many people do not grasp the term and have a clear understanding of it. “Knowledge Management” seems to be fuzzy and not specific enough; it does not refer to daily (work) life topics.

In my comprehension, the field of Knowledge Management has a few clearly distinguished topics. With this article, I want to suggest that professionals in Knowledge Management should define a limited number of disciplines, that are concrete, easy to grasp, specific, and well-understood by people inside and outside the field of KM.

Here is a suggestion to split Knowledge Management into five disciplines.

One: Information Management & Search
This might be the classic part of Knowledge Management; the collection, storage, and distribution of information, documents, books, and intellectual property. Instead of information management, we could also call it document management and library management. Related to this is the topic of taxonomies, tagging, and other forms to classification.

Separately, but within the same discipline, I would like to mention the chapter of search; a rather large topic. Related to this is indexing and semantic categorisation.


Two: Collaboration
Knowledge does not only exist in final documents, books, website, etc. People are working together to create this information. People need to be engaged in conversations and encourage to share what they already know, in order to achieve more and to innovate. For me, this discipline has two major aspects: 1) establishing a knowledge sharing culture; provide management support, etc. 2) provide supportive collaboration tools; e.g. project management, task management, wiki tools.


Three: Workflow Definitions
In my experience, when we design workflow definitions, or process definitions, and flowcharts for a series of job activities, then we can influence how information is captured, stored, and distributed. This might not be commonly understood as part of Knowledge Management, but workflows of customer complaints processes or order processing flow contain a lot of important information and knowledge. With the right procedures and processes, this knowledge can be captured and shared more efficiently.


Four: Networking
In collaboration, people are working together to share documented knowledge. More important than that is the exchange of tacit knowledge. Again, we need to engage people in conversations; typical platforms are communities of practice, forums, and social networking tools. The main aspect of networking is talking to each other; other elements are expert profiles, white pages, and connections.


Five: Training & Learning
This is another classic in knowledge management. I would assume that in most cases, knowledge is transferred by schools, trainings, and other form of learning platforms. Training and learning is a rather formal transfer of knowledge. Today, this is not a one way transfer anymore. In many areas, the lecturer is capturing experiences from the audience. Popular concepts are case studies, workshops, etc.


Related Disciplines
Beside these five disciplines, there are other topics which are very closely related to Knowledge Management; topics that are necessary for Knowledge Management but might also be applicable in other areas. These disciplines are Psychology of Behaviour, Change Management, etc.

Conclusion & Benefits
Most of these disciplines are very closely linked. For example, people collaborate on documents, or procedure are defined in network. Still, this separation could help to make dismantle the myths about knowledge management and make it more approachable.

All of the five disciplines have the following benefits:

Overall, Knowledge Management supports smarter decisions making and innovation.

If we separate Knowledge Management in these five disciplines, the outside world would have a clearer understanding of this field; because people are more familiar with these specific topics, the acceptance of KM could be higher.

8 Comments so far

Christian Young

Thank you for taking the time to put this together Tim!

I’m always asked how I’ve learned what I know and while I am completely comfortable discussing the finer points of knowledge management, I tend to lose my tongue with this question.

KM is indeed a highly multi-disciplinary field and a broad base of skills are essential to being successful at what we do.

For my part I would add some sort of Analysis or Statistical Discipline.  I don’t think it’s necessary to be a “numbers person” but the ability to identify, explain, and present correlations (qualitative and quantitative) in all of the data and information we work with is valuable not only to improving our own understanding, but to demonstrating KM’s value proposition to the organizations with which we work (I’m all about the KM value proposition in 2010).

Posted on February 10, 2010 at 03:21 PM | Comment permalink


You have put it quite well. Especially insteresting is the idea of defining processes in a way where knowledge-sharing becomes a part of the process itself.

Posted on February 10, 2010 at 05:56 PM | Comment permalink

nick milton

what you have missed from this list is the topic of reoutine learning from experience.

This will include after action review, retrospect, peer assist, baton passing, and lessons learned - processes by which new knowledge is gained from experience, used to improve process, and carried forward into improved practice.

This is a major focus of KM in project-based organisations and in the military, and is not covered by any of your 5.

Posted on February 10, 2010 at 08:18 PM | Comment permalink

Thank you Tim. I agree with your classification and find it useful for my KM consulting work.

Posted on February 10, 2010 at 11:02 PM | Comment permalink


Nice post. I just like it. I blogged ( few days back on the similar topic- how to split KM into different worktasks, programs. Tim’s post has good explanations.

Posted on February 11, 2010 at 05:04 AM | Comment permalink


@Christian, I like your suggestion for a discipline for Analysis and Statistics; it would mean, as you mentioned, to provide management input to make better decisions

@Nick, I agree with you that After Action Reviews (collecting & sharing experiences) should be part here. I see this task as a part of project management and I have included it in ‘Collaboration’. But it could also be in ‘Information Management’. In our company, we see AAR as the connecting point between collaboration and our library.

@Naguib, I have seen your blog and I am positively surprised how similar our thoughts are; we can’t be so wrong wink

Thanks a lot to all comments and readers.

Posted on February 11, 2010 at 06:43 AM | Comment permalink

Ralph Poole

In my experience it is point number 4, which you all networking, that is most important.  The greatest amount of information is transferred and people learn more quickly when they talk with their colleagues.  Codifying information is necessary, but then connecting the content to a real person with whom you can discuss results is essential.

Morten Hansen wrote about this in his HBR article in 1999 called “What’s your Knowledge Stragegy”.  It is essential to get the mix of conversation and document sharing right, in order to gain the most benefit from Knowledge Management

Posted on February 22, 2010 at 06:10 AM | Comment permalink

Md Santo

I do agree with your five disciplines plus related disciplines if needed in practicing KM. But, I have suggestion derived from my own KM framework, called as Human System Biology-based KM system, that prior to implement a KM, we should know the “genome structure” of the organization. What so called “genome structure” here, is the “DNA pattern” of the organization. Here I use the term Enterprise DNA which is consist of two compulsory structures. First, the ENTERPRISE ARCHITECTURE providing the (genetic) information of the pattern of Content and the Contextual aspect. Second, the TAXONOMY – METADATA MANAGEMENT of the organization.

Posted on March 08, 2010 at 12:48 PM | Comment permalink

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