An explanation for the Knowledge-Information-Record ecology

I have a hypothesis … a working theory (WARNING: Live knowledge work!) that an analogy from nature could help explain the Knowledge-Information-Record ecology, from a Same-and-Different perspective.

This is a view that is not about a hierarchy, where you attempt to resolve questions like: Is Information a subset of Knowledge? Or is Knowledge a subset of Information? This is a different and maybe fresh perspective.

If you are reading this and need to answer the question now about ‘Why would I care about these differences?‘ then jump down to the section entitled “How the distinction might be useful“. If you are still figuring out the ‘What’ it is that you might care about, then keep reading.

Starting with physics

In nature, H20 is a substance that can exist in different forms or phases: Gas, Liquid and Solid. Or as we more commonly say: Steam, Water, and Ice.  There are processes that transition such substances between these phases, e.g. freezing and condensation.

Here is a perspective that recognises Related yet Separate entities: Related = Water; Separate = Solid, Liquid, Gas.

How might this be applied to Knowledge-Information-Record?  How about:
Solid = Records/Archives – as something ‘tangible’ that can be touched/seen; is preserved
Liquid = Information – as something still ‘tangible’ that can be seen; is an input or output of process
(A tangential thought: Droplets = Data – the small bits that come together to make Information)
Gas  = Knowledge – as something less tangible; not seen directly; inferred by its effect on things; very fuzzy boundaries; more problematic to contain and capture

Does that resonate with you?

Changing Form

Science gives us six phase transitions that happen to the Forms of Solid, Liquid and Gas.

              sublimation                             deposition
SOLID  ============>  GAS    ==============> SOLID

              melting                                    freezing
SOLID  ============>  LIQUID  =============>  SOLID

            condensation                          vapourisation
GAS  =============>   LIQUID  =============> GAS

Cognitive equivalents for these phase transitions might be:
Sublimation = reading, thinking and memorising about the content of a record
Deposition = reflecting and working out loud to elicit inner thoughts and record them directly as something concrete and immutable
Melting =  reading and talking about the content of a record
Freezing = talking and writing with others to make the content of a record
Condensation = speaking, showing, writing about your knowledge to make it transportable outside of you
Vapourisation = listening, learning, doing, observing as you take in the knowledge of others and what is around you to ‘store’ it inside you
NB: I didn’t specify ‘inside you’ as your head or mind. Some of your knowledge may be residing in other parts of your body! And that’s a whole other conversation for another day.

There’s an interesting relationship to explore here in comparing these phase transitions with Nonaka & Takeuchi’s SECI model (1995).  For the uninitiated, SECI stands for Socialisation – sharing tacit knowledge tacitly through shared experience or in face-to-face communication utilising practical examples; Externalisation – converting tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge that is in forms that others can read/listen/watch and interpret for themselves; Combination – combining explicit knowledge with other explicit knowledge to create new forms and concepts that can be analysed and organised anew; and Internalisation – understanding and taking in explicit knowledge so that it becomes an individual’s own internal and tacit knowledge.

I leave it to you to explore and make up your own mind about such a relationship.

Defining Form

Another useful construct about each of the phases has to do with shape and volume:  A Solid has a definite shape and volume. A Liquid has a definite volume but it takes the shape of a container in which is resides. A Gas expands freely filling whatever space is available regardless of the quantity.

A Record is fixed; it has a definite form and volume because it captures the cognitive substance to be immutable, a static preservation at a moment in time.  Information is more fluid it has a definite volume but can change shape based on context and utility. Knowledge is amorphous it definitely exists but is hard to see or touch as something discrete or distinct from its surroundings.

How the distinction might be useful

Making such a distinction between Knowledge, Information and Records, and thus Knowledge Management, Information Management and Records Management, might provide useful clarification about differing expertise, differing and related problem spaces and thus fit-for-purpose solutions.

When you think of the different forms of water, it’s relatively easy to think of different roles for attending to each form, e.g. a Gas Engineer compared to a Water Engineer. Also easy to consider the use of different methods, technology and containers for storing gas (or steam) compared to water/liquid and ice (or frozen stuff).

I don’t have the answers for how you might think about the role of a Knowledge Manager compared to a Records Manager, or an Information Manager.  By sharing this concept, I simply intend to catalyse a fresh and potentially useful conversation.

Where will you take this knowledge?


Nonaka, I. and Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge-creating company. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Helen Palmer is Founder of RHX Group, a boutique agency that partners with people who want to make change in how they work with information and knowledge.  She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isnt wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do.

A new CV … of value for the aspirational Knowledge Manager

At a recent Knowledge Management Mini-Conference arranged by Helen Palmer from RHX Group, it was refreshing to once again see the difference between “knowledge worker” and “Knowledge Manager” articulated. Here is the definition of each as explained by Helen:

knowledge worker
– a class of workers (like ‘blue-collar worker’); knowledge-savvy; primary work purpose is creating, distributing and applying knowledge

Knowledge Manager
– a title of a particular role (like ‘Finance Manager’); a person who has expertise in meta-abilities to do with creation, acquisition, distribution, application and retention of knowledge in organisational contexts

This provided some very interesting insight into my career to date. I have spent nine years working on a variety of significant organisational change projects for the State Government, spanning both Human Resources and Information Management change. This culminated in my role as secretariat for the Executive Sub-Committee for Information Management and ICT for the Department of Health. This was a job that had huge knowledge and change management requirements, but due to the bureaucratic nature of government was often highly administrative.

This led to a very interesting conversation between Helen and I about the career paths for aspiring Knowledge Managers (and Change Managers).

The emerging challenge

The emergence of Knowledge Management (I would argue including Change Management, Information Management and Learning) as a critical workplace vocation and skill set has oft been discussed as a part of the evolution of the 21st century worker. The management of corporate knowledge, as well as individual knowledge (including creativity) is both essential and nebulous. What has become apparent in the last 20 years is that knowledge management is both a specialised and a general skill set. Everyone must manage their own knowledge at the micro level, but the organisational knowledge is managed by a skilled professional at the macro level, to facilitate knowledge sharing and maximise the business benefits of knowledge as an organisational asset.

In this context the professional Knowledge Manager is emerging distinct from the more common “knowledge worker”. The formation of this sector has seen many Knowledge Managers discover their profession usually through serendipitous career progression, usually from an administrative, clerical, technical or professional service role. Being in the right place at the right time. This is on the verge of a boom, as open information sharing and natural (multi-disciplinary) learning methods become the norm, and young professionals (like myself) are realising the value and importance of managing organisational knowledge.

My professional background

In my endeavour to pursue a career in Knowledge Management I entered the Public Sector straight out of university through the Graduate Recruitment Program and knew my Bachelor of Arts/Business background gave me a bent toward generalisation rather than specialisation. It was to my surprise that my role in Organisational Development with one department was quite staid and lacking in Change Management. Also it was not as adept with technology as the broader industry. Therefore, following a few projects I moved to the Office of CIO in another department. This breadth of experience taught me a lot about different approaches to Knowledge Management, between “people knowledge” and “machine knowledge”. I still felt my government career experience was not matching the pace of industry change that I was observing outside of my job.

For a lot of this time I felt like a worker without a job title. When asked what it was I did in my job, the answer was variations of “projects of various kinds”, “at the moment, but that might change”, or “oh, I deal with organisational knowledge and change” – all of which attracted blank looks.

What is the Corporate Lattice?

The 2010 book, The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work written by Cathy Benko and Molly Anderson for Harvard Business Review Press, and well summarised in this Deloitte Review article, did much to form my view of the modern career. When I so often had to battle corporate silos, my view was that if people had sideways career moves as frequently as promotions, most of these battles would disappear.

The future career pattern is a lattice not a ladder

The future career pattern is a lattice not a ladder

The current day CV is designed on the premise that the corporate ladder still exists. Stating your work history in ascending order (most recent first) gives a visual construct of a linear and upwardly mobile career. It doesn’t accommodate sideways career moves, whether that is to shift industries, start your own business, or re-locate to a different city or country. It also creates a presumption that new work builds upon old work – therefore new work is considered more relevant, and work more than three years old is redundant. Modern careers now show that knowledge is gained across many years, and multi-disciplinary experience is a strength not a liability, but the modern CV fails to express that.

The Portfolio CV

When discussing the Corporate Lattice with Helen, and my experience with it, she mentioned to me what she called her “Portfolio CV”. This format effectively turns the modern CV on its head and draws out activities of a knowledge worker that may identify potential Knowledge Management capability. It is a concise 4 page document, with the following pages.

1. Cover Page

Provide contact details, biographical summary, and list of strengths/capabilities relevant to role.

Content is customised for the role which the CV represents; may have multiple CVs to represent different roles or specialities.

2. Portfolio Page

Accurately specify selected pieces of work that support the claims on the Cover Page (Regardless of the currency, industry or whether it was paid, volunteer or extracurricular.  If you’ve done it once, you can do it again)

Content is drawn from a list or ‘database’ of relevant work.

3. Testimonials Page

List quotes and feedback from clients, managers and peers; it confirms the quality and impact of the work explained on Portfolio Page.

Content is drawn from a list or ‘database’ of relevant quotes.

4. Details page

List employment placements, qualifications and other facts of relevance.

Content is constant between versions.

In my instance, creating a Portfolio CV was quite easy for pages 1,2 and 4 – the challenge was page 3. Public servants are well trained on the precautions required when putting statements on the record. It took quite a bit of foraging and chasing, but I was able to get some testimonials from previous co-workers and managers. In discussing these challenges Helen described that it is a trait of saavy professionals to keep their network engaged and collect written testimonials. Coming from an industry where long tenures are the norm and silos run deep, that is something that I have realised through this experience.


Having come through this process, I now have a very interesting career document. One that definitely defines my Knowledge Management and Change Management experience very clearly. However, I get the sense that the recruitment industry in Australia is not completely ofay with the multi-disciplinary nature of KM and CM. The most success I have had to date has been through discussions with other Knowledge Managers. Others still appear to think of Knowledge Management as a heightened records keeper, and Change Manager as a project manager with pizzazz.

In closing, I’d like to return to this concept of a KM career path. Of all the colleagues I’ve spoken to about how they got into Knowledge Management, it has always be a circuitous route, a chance project, or a fortunate happenstance that helped reveal their aptitude for Knowledge Management. But where is the feeder pool for the next generation of Knowledge Managers; where are the 2ICs and the deputies/juniors to the current crop of KM field leaders?

This blog post was written by guest author Christoph Hewett. Christoph is General Manager of Resonant Integrity Training Solutions, a consultancy for knowledge, change and learning.

Image credit/source: Wikimedia

The work of Knowledge Mgmt vs Information Mgmt

Another way (see previous post Knowledge Management vs Information Management – Same Difference?) to understand the difference between Knowledge Management and Information Management is to consider the typical Objectives and Activities of each. KM and IM are both organisational functions. Both can be constructed as programmes of initiatives – though with different expected outcomes. From an enterprise view, here is how I think they differ.

Knowledge Management

Typical Objectives

  • Adaptability and agility to quickly achieve competitive advantage
  • Retention, growth and circulation of institutional memory
  • Creativity generating innovation
  • Organisational effectiveness in collaboration and coordination
  • Liveability and credibility of organisation for insiders

Typical Activities

  • Establish, facilitate and promote Communities of Practice
  • Conduct Knowledge Audits to identify knowledge that is needed to do work, and is difficult to replace or replicate
  • Establish and facilitate Lessons Learned approaches to capture after-the-fact knowledge from particular process, project or event
  • Establish and facilitate Storytelling approaches to transfer context-rich knowledge
  • Facilitate Mentoring and Apprenticeship programs to leverage subject matter experts tacit knowledge
  • Enhance and facilitate integrated knowledge transfer practices within employment life cycle, e.g. Induction program, professional development, exit interviews
  • Facilitate and promote enterprise knowledge transfer events, e.g. Knowledge Fairs (“look what we know or did”)
  • Facilitate and promote enterprise knowledge sharing and retention tools, e.g. Human Yellow Pages, Lessons Learned logs, Handoff/handover documents
  • Define and teach best practice for knowledge transfer and retention
  • Facilitate extraction of subject-matter-expertise knowledge and integrating this into targeted learning programs and tools

NB: I haven’t explicitly mentioned technology … On purpose! I think too many KM programs get focused on intranets, social computing and virtual collaboration tools at the expense of the people connecting, sharing and conversing activity.

Information Management

Typical Objectives

  • Compliance with regulations and standards (internal and external)
  • Organisational effectiveness in collaboration and coordination
  • Preservation of critical institutional information
  • Minimised organisational risk with non-repudiable evidence of activity
  • Better quality responsive decision-making

Typical Activities

  • Define and manage enterprise Information Architecture and meta-data to organise information and data
  • Define sources and destinations of information
  • Develop and implement new and upgraded IM systems (systems = people, process and tools)
  • Develop and manage integration of multiple IM systems
  • Manage interfaces for users to search and create data, content and information
  • Develop and implement data and content administration Manage retention, revision and retirement of enterprise information
  • Define and manage security and accessibility of information
  • Extract, aggregate and analyse data and information to provide business intelligence
  • Define and teach best practice for information capture, organisation and disposal

And both functions have activities in common like other organisational functions e.g. financial management, human resources. For example:

  • Understand the KM or IM needs for executing corporate business strategy
  • Define enterprise KM or IM strategy, policies and standards
  • Assess the KM or IM implications of new technologies
  • Define stewardship and responsibilities for KM or IM
  • Maintain KM or IM services and solutions including managing risk, compliance, funding, etc

Do they seem the same to you?

One reason for confusion about the difference may be that IM and KM both involve people, both exist for people, and should be designed for and with people. However KM addresses the tacit knowledge that is inside people that isn’t, and sometimes can’t or shouldn’t be, documented. KM’s focus is on retention and transfer of knowledge between and within people, rather than between people and information systems or within information systems.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and ways 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.