Governance is the primary focus for addressing the top layer of our KM capabilities model. It sets the principles and framework within which all the components of a KM programme fit. They should also fit culturally and structurally within the wider organizational context. Most of these aspects may have already been addressed to some extent in the KM Strategy. Now is the time to flesh them out.
In many organizations it is too easy to get bogged down in detail and not see the "wood from the trees". Sitting above everything else is the need for an overarching policy. This is often best articulated as a set of guiding principles. I distinctly remember a couple of senior management workshops I ran on KM which sought to set some defining parameters for how a knowledge and information management initiative should pan out. When confronted with examples of the guiding principles from other organizations around the world, the following strong opinions stood out in both cases:
- The need for a short (less than one page) set of guiding principles
- That these principles should be written in simple language that everyone in the organization can understand (tabloid newspaper speak not broadsheet)
- That they should be widely communicated, understood and embedded into everyone's thinking and actions.
The accompanying page shows a couple of sample sets of policies and principles (modified from real customer situations). It is also quite common for such principles to be prominent in KM promotional material, and perhaps printed on credit-card sized laminated cards for staff to carry around.
Frameworks for Management
A recurring feature of successful KM programmes is the existence of a KM framework or architecture. This is usually some visual depiction of the elements of KM. For example, the KM capabilities model could be used for this purpose. Shown above is an example of one framework we have used (with adaptation) for a number of clients. Another example is our Knowledge Initiative Framework.
An early framework was Karl Wiig's Three Pillars of Knowledge Management, depicted as the pillars of a Greek temple:
- Pillar 1: survey and categorize, analyse KM activities, elicit, codify and organize
- Pillar 2: appraise and evaluate value of knowledge and KM
- Pillar 3: handle, use and control knowledge; leverage, distribute and automate
And underpinning the three pillars is the knowledge management foundation of understanding, creation, manifestations, use and transfer.
Other frameworks that have been published include IBM's Intellectual Capital Model, Siemens Comprehensive Knowledge Model (including KSP - Knowledge Strategy Process) and the EKMF (European KM Framework). Such is the plethora that academics have been quite critical. In 2003, Jay Liebowitz reviewed 20 frameworks and concluded that "Most frameworks are not comprehensive in covering end-to-end concepts" and that "many concentrate just on the knowledge cycle process rather than covering other critical elements of KM". He then proceeded to propose one of his own.1
More recently Peter Heisig reviewed 160 KM frameworks. He concluded that "underlying consensus was detected regarding the basic categories used to describe the knowledge management activities and the critical success factors of KM." He too, developed a framework of his own, synthesising the core elements from those he examined. His has three main 'layers' - business focus, knowledge focus, enabler focus.
A third aspect of governance is how overall oversight and management of KM is achieved. Usually, this is done through some high-level steering committee, with representatives from across the organization, including senior business managers, a KM business 'sponsor', one or more KM 'champions' the Chief Knowledge Officer (or equivalent). They are the group that reviews and approves the KM strategy, the priority projects, KM investments, and reviews (typically on a quarterly basis) progress against objectives and plans.
We cover more on the organizational aspects of KM in the section Roles and Responsibilities.
The key tenet of good governance is encouraging knowledge leadership through a supportive approach and a light touch. It sets high level policies and principles, provides a guiding framework but leaves detailed standards, processes and procedures to those actively involved in implementation. We offer the following guidelines for good governance:
- Set the direction, not the detail
- Forge a framework, that others can follow
- Prepare some principles, not paralyzing processes
- Keep it all simple
- Communicate it clearly
Above all, trust your KM experts. Whilst you (the governors) have the oversight, they have the insight!
1. 'Putting more Rigour into Knowledge Management', Jay Liebowitz, Proceedings, KMAC 2003, University of Aston (July 2003)
2. 'Harmonisation of knowledge management – comparing 160 KM frameworks around the globe', Peter Heisig, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol 13, No. 4 (July 2009)
Last updated: 19th March 2011