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Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Chief Knowledge Officer, The Knowledge Management Institute of Canada; Senior Advisor, Knowledge Management, Organizational Effectiveness, Husky Energy

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Does KM Need a Theory of Knowledge?

The next series of posts explore ideas which will be addressed during the Electricity Human Resource Council's Annual Conference on November 6, 2013 and the KM Workshop we will be hosting at Royal Roads University on November 27th and 28th.

Over the next few weeks I want to explore the idea that the discipline of Knowledge Management needs an underlying theory of knowledge to unify organizational practices in order to produce a cohesive Knowledge Management strategy which is actionable at all levels of the organization.

The practice (and thinking) around Knowledge Management has changed significantly over the past 15 years. It has moved :

  • Away from creating information stocks to encouraging knowledge flows
  • From a technology and content centric discipline to one focused on people and process
  • From a tactical discipline to a strategic one
  • From tasks at centre to ideas at the centre
  • From managing information to creating and harvesting knowledge

"Without Theory There is No Knowledge Building"

 

Around about 1999 in a meeting with a number of business professionals, Dr. Carl Berieter said this in response to a question along the lines of, "Why is understanding the theory of knowledge building so important?

Carl's comment continues to resonant with me to this day. Every time I'm at a conference with KM experts, I hear all kinds of great ideas and best practices around things like succession planning, on-boarding, change management, new technologies etc. and yet I'm always left with the uneasy feeling that these are simply practices common to many disciplines other than KM.

If we accept at a high level, that the reason for engaging in Knowledge Management is to create new knowledge, expertise and capability ( beyond what currently exists ) with the aim of improving performance across the organization, then it stands to reason that having a common theory which guides behaviors, attitudes and supports and sustains the activities of individuals and teams in their efforts to advance knowledge, would be desirable.

The Theory of Knowledge Building


Dr. Marlene Scardamalia and Dr. Carl Bereiter spent a good part of their careers researching experts and expertise trying to answer such important questions as, "What makes an expert?", Is specialization the same as expertise?", "Can there be specialists who are non-experts?"Are there patterns or behaviors, which when adopted,  lead people to become experts?" "Can we teach people (in particular young children) to become experts by having them model the practice and behaviors of experts?"

 

Twelve Principles of Knowledge Building 

 

Following years of research around the nature of expertise,  Scardamalia and Bereiter published the twelve principles of Knowledge Building in 2002 :

 

  1. Real ideas and authentic problems
  2. Improvable ideas
  3. Idea diversity
  4. Rise above
  5. Epistemic agency
  6. Community knowledge, collective responsibility
  7. Democratizing knowledge
  8. Symmetric knowledge advancement
  9. Pervasive Knowledge building
  10. Constructive uses of authoritative sources
  11. Knowledge building discourse
  12. Concurrent, embedded, and transformative assessment

As many readers of this Blog know, I have worked closely with Marlene and Carl for many years. however, where their focus was largely on Knowledge Building in the  K-12 classroom, mine was on adapting the Knowledge Building Principles to advance the practice of Knowledge Management within cross sector business organizations.

In the next series of posts I will discuss how organizations can apply some or all of these principles to improve their Knowledge Management strategy and drive better knowledge outcomes.





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