a free monthly briefing on the knowledge agenda
|No. 43||September 2000|
Networks or Notworks?
As a new discipline emerges people who share an interest in it come together, usually initially as informal groups. They share their unique experiences and often represent a pooling of the most relevant practical knowledge for this discipline at that time. As time pases more formal structures evolve with rules, committees and special interest groups. Many grow into formal professional bodies and associations. The more august and influential may even receive national or international recognition, as exemplified by the award of a royal charter in the UK (e.g. The Chartered Instititute of Marketing). With similar evolution taking place in the field of knowledge management it seems an appropriate time to question the relevance of professional associations in this age of rapid knowledge diffusion.
Standards and Services
A primary aim of many professional associations is to raise standards. This is usually achieved by some accreditation scheme that may include examinations and evidence of work-based practice (or even proficiency). Most now also have some form of CPD (Continuous Professional Development) programme to show evidence that their members are maintaining and enhancing their competence. A secondary aim is to promote the interests of their members to other organizations e.g. marketing the quality of their members to potential employees. They also represent the interests of their members in policy making bodies and with other associations, such as trade associations. For most members, the immediate benefits are in the services they provide, such as:
In other words a good association will act as a focal point - a portal no less - for the body of knowledge of its discipline. It defines level of knowledge competence and accredits practitioners. It provides a place for sharing (and even trading) knowledge. A worthy aim, but not without problems.
Problems of Professionalism
Since the emergence of knowledge management as a specialist field (circa 1995) there have been several associations and networks aimed at KM professionals, though several are now dormant. First, there are associations created by knowledge professionals from the ground up. Then there are others that have changed their focus or have created special interest groups or chapters devoted to knowledge management. Here are some of the better known associations and networks:
Some earlier vibrant networks, notably KM-Forum and the forum of the International Knowledge Management Network (CIBIT, Holland) are currently inactive.
The above list excludes those where KM is not the primary association focus (e.g. AIIM) or membership associations at organizations e.g. Institute of Knowledge Management, Federation for Enterprise Knowledge Development - these are listed along others at the KM Resource Center (http://www.kmresource.com).
One thing is clear. Although there is more use of the Internet, many KM associations already reflect the dynamics of other professional networks. Several forums started with enthusiasm, often by a single individual, have failed to maintain momentum. Divergence is already apparent. Last year there was a split in the leadership of Knowledge Management Consortium International (KMCI) resulting in the creation of a rival group eKnowledgeCenter. Knowledge associations (like many other ventures), it seems, are operating in a competitive rather than a collaborative manner.
Despite several years of evolution knowledge associations are still in their infancy (no boom and bust like dot.coms!!). Most have yet to establish strong credentials among the profession or user community (many knowledge management professionals still tend to regard another profession as their primary profession). Several associations are vying to set themselves apart from the rest. But don't be swayed by influential sounding names like Institute, Board or International. Look at their services and what they can offer in terms of helping you. Talk to colleagues to find out which (if any) association best meets your needs.
Any association that wants want to be successful into the future must view knowledge as one of its primary assets - whether held as resources or as know-how in their network that can be exchanged. Knowledge associations should be in an ideal position to apply some of the tools and techniques of knowledge management - creating valuable knowledge-bases for the KM community, validating knowledge quality, establishing thriving knowledge exchange networks and trading platforms, influencing the wider business community - by creating a thriving knowledge-based service business and setting a leading example for other professional associations. At the moment, I don't see any of the current KM associations taking that leadership position - but you may disagree. It could be that until KM is much more widely accepted as a distinct discipline that there is little need for specialist KM networks or associations? It could be that KM is so generic that sharing KM knowledge is adequately addressed by existing professional associations or networks? It could simply be that knowledge professionals do not see the benefits of joining a knowledge association? Let's hear your views.
© Copyright, 2000. David Skyrme Associates Limited and Authors - All rights reserved.
I3 UPDATE / ENTOVATION International News is a joint publication of David Skyrme Associates Limited and ENTOVATION International Limited - providers of trends analysis, strategic advice and workshops on knowledge management and knowledge innovation®
® Knowledge Innovation is a registered trade mark of ENTOVATION International.