This paper discusses the results and propositions of organizational knowledge management researches conducted in between 2001-2007. This longitudinal research had the unique goal of investigating and analyzing ―Knowledge Management‖ (KM) processes effectively implemented in world class organizations. The main objective was to investigate and analyze the conceptions, motivations, practices, metrics and results of KM processes implemented in multiple industries. The first set of studies involved 20 world cases related in the literature and served as basis for a theoretical framework entitled ―KM Integrative Conceptual Mapping Proposition‖. This theoretical proposal was then put to proof in a qualitative study with three large organizations within the Brazilian organizational context. The results of the qualitative study validated the mapping proposition and left inquiries for new researches concerning the implementation of a knowledge-based organizational model strategy.
The current debate about Knowledge Management (KM) is also and mainly divulged in recent publications and research works of mainstream authors from the field of library and information science such as Davenport & Cronin (2000). They suggest that:
(…) though considerable academic and professional attention has been focused on this area in the past decade, the concept is not yet stable: the term appears to be used differently across domains with each claiming that its partial understanding represents a definitive articulation of the concept. (DAVENPORT & CRONIN, 2000)
We have intended to discuss in this article the concept of KM based not only in the available literature, but also from the observation of world class organizations that have implemented KM processes, aiming to contribute for the academic discussions in the field. The result is an integrative ―map‖ that can be used in further discussions on the subject.
KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT (KM): FROM SEMANTIC DRIFT TO CONCEPTUAL SHIFT
Their inquiry is seminal: ―Is it a semantic drift or a conceptual shift?‖ Davenport & Cronin (2000) explored the concept of KM in the context of three domains committed to KM, that is to say, (i) library and information science (KM1 - information management or KM by another name), (ii) process engineering (KM 2 - business processes, ontologies, the management of ‗know-how‘) and (iii) organizational theory (KM-3 - from knowledge as a resource to knowledge as a capability; tacit and explicit knowledge conversions; the context, ―Ba‖ or organizational space for knowledge). The objective of their proposal - called ―KM Triad Framework‖ – is the proposition of a tool or analysis instrument that it‘s suitable for exploring the tensions that might arise in any organizations committed to KM, where different domains have different understandings The ―KM Triad‖ can be used to identify conflicts or territorial struggles and to contribute for a collective understanding of all the interactors of the KM space in organizations. Their conclusion suggests that in evolutionary terms, there‘s a major shift from information management (KM1) to informatizing (KM2) and then to information ethologies (KM3). Knowledge management is not information management. Information management is just one of the components of knowledge management and this latter also includes topics on the creation and use of knowledge within and across organizational boundaries.
STRATEGIC KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT: MODELS, MAPS AND CONCEPTUAL TRIALS
Alvarenga Neto (2005) proposed a KM integrative conceptual mapping proposition. His theoretical framework was based on three basic conceptions: (i) a strategic conception of information and knowledge - as proposed by Choo (1998) - factors of competitiveness for organizations and nations; (ii) the creation of an organizational space (in the tactical level) for knowledge, the enabling context or ―Ba‖: the favorable conditions that should be provided by organizations in order for them to use the best information and knowledge available - as suggested by Von Krogh, Ichijo & Nonaka (2001); (iii) the introduction of such strategy in the operational level through several managerial approaches and information technology tools, which are susceptible to communication and orchestration, metaphorically named here as a ―KM umbrella‖. These conceptions will be roughly discussed below.
i) A Strategic Conception for Information and Knowledge in Organizations
Choo (1998) asserts that the ―knowing organizations‖ are those that use information strategically in the context of three arenas, namely, (a) sense making, (b) knowledge creation and (c) decision making. Concerning (a) sense making, its immediate goal is to allow the organizations‘ members the construction of a mutual and shared understanding of what the organization is and what it does. Strategic reflections must be done concerning the organization‘s mission, vision, values and culture, allowing its members to bring meaning to their lives and jobs. An ambitious and challenging vision or state of the future reveals the organization‘s intention and it is extremely valuable, contributing to communicate the types of knowledge that are welcomed and will be nurtured. Sense making‘s long term goal is the warranty that organizations will adapt and continue to prosper in a dynamic and complex environment through activities of prospect and interpretation of relevant information that allow them to understand changes, trends and scenarios about clients, suppliers, competitors and other external environment actors. Organizations face issues such as the reduction of uncertainty and the management of ambiguity. Competitive, competitor and social intelligences, environmental scanning, marketing research and activities alike are organizational initiatives that aim at constructing meaning about issues for which there are no clear answers. TABLE 1 presents the organizational sense making process through an information perspective:
(b) Knowledge creation is a process that allows an organization to create or acquire, organize and process information in order to generate new knowledge through organizational learning. The new knowledge generated, in its turn, allows the organization to develop new abilities and capabilities, create new products and new services, improve the existing ones and redesign its organizational processes. TABLE 2 supplies an analogy between knowledge creation models and permits inferences between their differences and likenesses.
The third component of CHOO‘s (1998) model involves (c) decision-making. The enterprise must choose the best option among those that are plausible and presented and pursue it based on the organization‘s strategy. Decision making process in organizations is constrained by the bounded rationality principle, as advocated by March & Simon (1975). Many inferences can be made upon the decision theory, Choo (1998) and also March & Simon (1975) list a few of them: (i) the decision making process is driven by the search for alternatives that are satisfactory or good enough, rather than seeking for the optimal solution; (ii) the choice of one single alternative implies in giving up the remaining ones and concomitantly in the emergence of trade-offs or costs of opportunity; (iii) a completely rational decision would require information beyond the capability of the organization to collect, and information processing beyond the human capacity to execute.
ii) The creation of an organizational space for knowledge, the enabling context or “Ba”
The creation of organizational knowledge is, in fact, the augmentation of knowledge created by individuals, once fulfilled the contextual conditions that should be supplied or enabled by the organization. This is what Von Krogh, Ichijo & Nonaka (2001) call ―Ba‖, the enabling conditions or enabling context. ―Ba‖ is needed in the tactical level in order to bridge the existing gap between strategy and action. In this context, the understanding of the word ―management‖ when associated with the word ―knowledge should not mean control, but promotion of activities of knowledge creation and sharing in the organizational space. Hence, KM assumes a new hermeneutic perspective – from knowledge as a resource to knowledge as a capability, from knowledge management to a management towards knowledge. Nonaka & Takeuchi (1995) and Von Krogh, Ichijo & Nonaka (2001) list the many elements of ―Ba‖, namely: creative chaos, redundancy, layout, organizational culture and human behavior, leadership, intention or vision of future and empowerment, not to mention organizational structure and layout, among others.