The Willard Model of IRM

Managing explicit knowledge assets can draw on much good practice from the world of information management, especially the field of Information Resources Management (IRM). One important model used in the field of IRM is the so called 'Willard model', named after one of our former associates, Nick Willard.1. In introducing this model in 2003, Willard wrote:

"The purpose of business information is to feed decisions through the filter of knowledge."

The model has five elements:

Principle Description
Identification Assigning labels or other means of identification; creating an information resources directory (IRD); conducting an information inventory; specifying units information with its attributes and specification.
Ownership The assignment of responsibility for various information management processes - sourcing, distributing, maintaining information throughout its life cycle. Owners will include sponsors (those who agree its value to the business); stewards (those who are 'front line' users) and custodians (those who physically hold the information, such as the librarians or database managers).
Cost & Value Expressing in monetary and other terms a measurement of information utility, as a means of making objective judgements. Costs may be acquisition or replacement costs. Value may be expressed in any number of ways.
Development The need to enhance and sustain the resource in a changing environment, where lack of activity will usually result in diminution of its value or utility. Can it be made more useful, presented in better ways or delivered in different formats?
Exploitation The proactive maximization of value by seeking opportunities to benefit from improving efficiency, effectiveness or strategies position. This may be internal - identifying who else could take advantage of existing information, how could it be used to improve existing processes; or external - commercialization opportunities e.g. how can it add value to products, can it be sold as an asset in its own right (e.g. for database marketing)

These five principles have stood the test of time well. However, today I would probably add a sixth principle:

  • Risk - what risks is the organization exposed to if this information were lost, destroyed or accessed by third parties in a security breach? What measures are in place to ensure appropriate handling (archiving, disposal or destruction) at the end of its useful life?

Although originally written for the context of managing information, we have successfully applied this model to the knowledge asset in general, including tacit knowledge. Here are some examples of things to consider:

  • Identification - 'know who'; as part of a knowledge audit, identifying experts in various knowledge areas of importance to the organisation
  • Ownership - clearly identifying who is responsible for ensuring a core of excellence in a particular field
  • Cost and value - placing a business value on different categories of knowledge, in particular for knowledge than cannot easily be purchased externally if 'lost' (e.g. when people leave)
  • Development - introdcuing mechanisms to share the expertise of individuals more widely across the organization
  • Exploitation - looking for unrealized value in your knowledge assets held by an organization; a good example is Porsche exploiting their design flair by selling design services to other companies (your Fuji FinePix digital camera may actually be a Porsche!).


1. Nick Willard was a founding member of Aslib's IRM Network (now NetIKX) and worked with David Skyrme Associates on several projects. He died in January 2009.

2. 'Information Resources Management', Nick Willard, Aslib Information, Vol. 21, No. 5 (May 1993).

Last updated: 19th March 2011



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Information managers: do we need them?
conference paper

A provocative question aimed at information managers about their careers in the era of knowledge management. It is address in this conference paper (PDF).


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