KM challenge

Education for knowledge management in a time of chaotic transition

By Deb Wallace

At a recent workshop presentation, a participant wondered whether it was important for someone working in the field of knowledge management (KM) to have particular credentials. What programs, if any, exist where such a credential could be obtained? Are there practical programs to arm senior managers or executives with the proverbial tools of the trade required to manage the strategic use of an organization’s knowledge?

Someone who already understands the complexities of knowledge management might find these questions somewhat offensive. How can participation in a series of courses, writing a few papers and taking a couple of exams magically certify someone as a knowledge management professional? But quick fixes aside, some valid issues arise from the question.

Library and information studies faculties, business and management schools, professional associations, technology training institutes, community colleges and other organizations involved in educating professionals are grappling with offering a professional educational program in knowledge management. But what is a knowledge management professional? What competencies are needed to effectively design, implement, manage and evaluate a knowledge management initiative? What type of credential verifies or acknowledges that a professional possesses these competencies? What types of programs will provide professionals with the competencies they need to use new technologies, to manage and add value to the ever-increasing volume of information and to harness knowledge to compete in a global economy?

Consider the challenge for educational institutions when:

– Concepts, principles and vocabulary of KM are yet to be identified and defined.

– Relevant cross-multiple disciplines are not necessarily taught in traditional programs.

– Researchers are just beginning to identify models and frameworks.

– Practitioners have been too immersed in doing to reflect on their actions and write about their experiences.

– Sceptics challenge the very existence of the field and are unlikely to acknowledge the validity of a new category of professional.

Competencies for KM

Developing a program for an emerging field in a volatile and fast-changing marketplace presents special challenges. Definition of terminology is embryonic. What do the terms know-ledge-based economy, knowledge management professional, knowledge worker and knowledge-enabled organization mean? What is knowledge and how does it differ from information? Do software developers, IT managers, systems administrators, information professionals, chief knowledge officers (CKO), chief information officers (CIO) and others who claim to practice knowledge management, all understand the terms in the same way?

Collectively-agreed-upon competencies that capture the common characteristics of a profession — the knowledge base, skills and attitudes required to practice — are a good starting point. In a learning program for professionals, competencies reflect what the learner should leave the course knowing and the skills acquired through study. They should complement and reflect the needs and realities of the job market.

Development of competencies for professionals in knowledge management is just beginning. The first attempts can be found in early job descriptions or ads for CKOs. In his CIO Magazine article, “Knowledge Roles: The CKO and Beyond,” Tom Davenport notes that CKOs have two key responsibilities: creating a knowledge management infrastructure and building a knowledge culture. He stops short of outlining the specific competencies required to accomplish these objectives. In their study of the skills necessary to build a knowledge economy, the UK-based Library and Information Commission and TFPL Ltd. identify core competencies, survival skills and KM enabling skills. They note that organizations are currently developing their own KM competency frameworks and that these frameworks continue to evolve as activities develop.

Competency identification is also underway by professional associations such as the American Library Association and Alliance for Libraries, Archives and Records Managers (ALARM). These efforts contribute to the discussion of competencies required by knowledge management professionals, knowledge practitioners and knowledge workers.

Confused about competencies? Join the club! To date, most KM education has been limited to the application of technology, mostly in programming and the use of software. But effective knowledge management practice requires broad multidisciplinary competencies in information literacy, information management, organizational design, human resources and business processes. Also needed are skills in communication and leadership that encourage team work, innovation and continuous learning. The framework includes working in a global, technology-rich environment with a renewed emphasis on client needs.

Educating the KM professional

Present professional education opportunities range from sessions at conferences and short continuing education workshops intended to create awareness or interest, to full programs where participation is evaluated and credentials such as certificates, post graduate or advanced standing diplomas and masters or executive masters degrees are awarded. Most KM educational initiatives fall into the conference and short course categories. To our knowledge, a full certificate or degree in knowledge management is not yet offered in Canada. There are a number of degree programs in the proposal stage, but approval through the university and provincial governance structures can take from three to five years to complete. However, interesting research in knowledge management within masters or Ph.D programs in business or information studies programs is on the rise.

Organizations and institutions offering professional education currently are as wide ranging as the field of knowledge management itself, and can be found in both the public and private sectors. Professional associations like the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP), Canadian Association of Special Libraries and Information Science (CASLIS), Special Libraries Association (SLA) and Association of Records Managers and Administrators (ARMA) offer continuing education workshops. Communities of interest like the federal government’s Interdepartmental Knowledge Management Forum and commercial organizations such as Infonex and the Delphi Group offer one-to-two day sessions on various aspects of knowledge management. The Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto offers an executive development institute, a continuing education series and currently has a certificate in advance standing under consideration.

The KM education challenge

Developing a program for professional education is a lengthy and resource-intensive process. In order to provide a relevant educational opportunity, many elements need to be considered:

– learner needs and learning styles

– expected outcomes

– content framework

– instructional approach

– human and material resources required

– participant assessment and course evaluation

The challenges do not end once the program has been developed. It must be marketed, its credibility needs to be established and it must continue to evolve with the needs of the profession. This means continual evaluation and modification, particularly challenging in a rapidly evolving and changing field like knowledge management.

One step forward, or two steps back? As we move toward a global knowledge-based economy, an information and technology-rich society, educating professionals to manage and anticipate change is a fascinating challenge. So is helping to shape a new field that draws on expertise from multiple disciplines and involves educators and professionals at all levels.

Web Resources

Faculty of Information Studies —┬áKM Primer and Alpha Source
www.fis.utoronto.ca/kmi
Conference/Workshop Listings
The Knowledge Management
Resource Center
www.kmresource.com/exp_conferences.htm
CIO Magazine Knowledge
Management Events
www2.cio.com/forums/events.cfm?Type=kmg
Knowledge, Inc.
www.Webcom.com/quantera/welcome.html
Competency Websites
Special Libraries Association
www.sla.org/professional/competency.html
TFPL Ltd. and the Library
Information Commission (UK)
www.tfpl.com/KM_skills/KS_fr2.htm
Tom Davenport
“Knowledge roles: The CKO and beyond”
www.cio.com/archive/040196_davenport_content.html

Deb Wallace is the Assistant to the Dean – Knowledge Management Initiatives for the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto. She is responsible for creating a portfolio of programs for educating professionals responsible for the strategic use of knowledge. You can contact her at wallace@fis.utoronto.ca.

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