Knowledge mgmt and Information mgmt – same-difference?

Knowledge management (KM) and Information management (IM) are different and related. It’s easy to be confused and think they are the same, that KM is somehow a more faddish version of IM. Some would say it doesn’t matter – I beg to differ. To do better KM requires a different focus than to do better IM, and therefore different expertise and approaches.

Here’s my take on the difference.

For KM, the focus is knowledge; which is to say, the focus is people. Knowledge needs a knower. People create and carry knowledge. They learn, they make-sense, they make knowledge part of themselves.

For IM, the focus is information; which is stuff that lives outside a person. Much information starts out as knowledge. But when it gets detached from a person, it tends to lose context and meaning. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value, simply it has different value. (More on the knowledge vs. information difference below)

The aim of good KM in an organisation is vitalising your knowledge-base. (Remember your knowledge is in people, so your knowledge-base is what people know, as well as how they come to know it.) Managing knowledge means creating and maintaining the right conditions so knowledge can move and nourish the organisation. And this doesn’t mean putting it into information systems – it’s about harnessing social power: conversation and relationship.

The aim of good IM in an organisation is utilising information to make decisions and explain organisational activities. Managing information means developing and administering systems that collect, organise, process and aggregate information. This can mean using KM to improve people’s knowledge about to know where to get good information, and know how much value to give that information.

Information is a-kind-of knowledge, often referred to as explicit or codified knowledge. Knowledge often gets captured in more tangible forms because it makes it easier to move across time (it can outlive you) and across space (it can go without you). What started out as the knowledge of the knower becomes information, and will remain information, until someone makes sense of it and comes to know it.

Maybe this example will help you sense the difference between knowledge and information:
‘80 Rahera Street’ – As a piece of knowledge, these words represent a location where I used to live, where I shaped my environment and made many memories. My knowledge of 80 Rahera Street is emotional, aesthetic, geographical and functional. This knowledge lives in my knowledge-base and can be used to restimulate memories and facts of use to my family, and potentially real estate agents!
‘80 Rahera Street’ – As a piece of information, is an address to a specific geographical location. This can be put in a database and be used to confirm my identity and to send me stuff.

Often people working in the KM space, attempt to resolve the KM vs IM confusion by stating that they are working on the people-side of KM. Thus distinguishing themselves from the IM part (i.e. information technology and systems) under a KM umbrella.

So next time you are defining or implementing a KM strategy/solution – check: are you doing knowledge-people stuff as well as information-systems stuff? If you are focusing on information-systems stuff, then you are making IM change not KM.

And why does it matter? Because KM approaches and skills are different than IM, and you might be attempting the equivalent of building a house with cooking tools and techniques. (For ideas on KM techniques see The work of Knowledge Mgmt vs Information Mgmt.)

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact.  With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

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