KM Standards

Peter Drucker had started to use the term ‘knowledge worker’ in conversations and lectures in the late 1950’s and by 1968 used the terms ‘knowledge worker’ and ‘knowledge society’ in  The age of discontinuity.  Nonaka’s knowledge spiral was first described in 1991 without the now famous and often-times maligned diagram, “The knowledge creating company”, Harvard Business Review, followed by the full-fledged SECI model in 1995, The knowledge creating company and finally the ‘Ba’ model in 1998, ‘The concept of ‘Ba’’, California Management Review.  Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak published Working Knowledge in 1998.  Cynthia Kurtz and Dave Snowden published their paper, ‘The new dynamics of strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world’ in IBM Systems Journal 2003.  These seminal works represent a continuum from concept, Drucker, to theory, Nonaka and his co-writers, thru to codification and the beginning of a body of expertise on how to ‘do’ knowledge management with Davenport and Prusak and refinement of theory and practice with Kurtz and Snowden.

When a field of expertise begins to become mature it wants to set boundaries on membership.  One way of setting these boundaries is to make rules for membership in the group; e.g. members must pass exams.  Another way to set boundaries is to make rules for how to do things in the field; e.g. use this terminology, use this model, follow this path.  One advantage to rules, standards, guidelines is to improve the ability of members of the group to share knowledge efficiently and effectively.  Since sharing knowledge is a core goal of knowledge management it is logical to see standards and guidelines appearing in the knowledge management field.

KM practitioners have become interested in developing ‘standard ways of doing things’, ‘guidelines of practice’, ‘criteria for validating membership into KM groups’ ‘qualifying examinations and degree programs and so on as the field has matured, diversified and grown.  Most simply put these are attempts to make knowledge management a ‘profession’.

Here are some examples;

CKIM™ – Certificate in Knowledge and Innovation; from the KMCI – Knowledge Management Consortium International,

MSc Knowledge Management; from HKPolyU ISE department,

CKM®/CKEE™ – Certified Knowledge Manager / Certified Knowledge Environment Engineer; from the Certified Knowledge Management Certification Board

Here is a good web-page which lists some KM organizations that are involved in standard setting in the United States.

There is obvious conflict and disagreement among various KM groups and organizations on what constitutes these standards.  David Skyrme mentions a few of the conflicts here back in 2002.  This is another sign of the relative immaturity of the KM field.  Debate is helpful if it produces clarity and consensus.  It remains to be seen if the debate in knowledge management standards is going to produce clarity and consensus.

I took the Cognitive Edge course a few weeks back and am now a ‘certified Cognitive Edge practitioner’.  This is described as an open-source certification meaning that once you have attended the course you can use the methods and tools and are encouraged to participate in a network of others who have also taken the course.  There is more information here.

It seems to me the various attempts at standard setting in KM can be classified into 3 groups; qualification focused, guideline focus and road-map focus.  US KM standards emphasize training, certification and qualifications.  This may be because the US organizations are making money by selling training and related qualifications.  Notice the heavy use of intellectual property protection in the certified KM programs.  Australian and British KM standards emphasize guidelines that reflect divergent opinions on how to do knowledge management.  European KM standards emphasize road-maps to follow and to measure ones own organizations against in order to judge success and progress.  The academic program I am now taking, the MSc program in KM at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, gives us a qualification in knowledge management which is closer to the Australian and British guideline than the US certificate qualifications.  We have a broad-based KM qualification that can be applied in a variety of ways using a variety of methodologies and theoretical frameworks.  In other words, we will be able to apply KM concepts and practices and maybe contribute to evolving KM standards.



  1. Good observations Baoman. The Australian KM Standard is a descriptive guide or framework, which offers a 3-step methodology for organisations or individuals (Map/Build/Operationalise or Action as I prefer to call it). I think it’s less divergent than you suggest but agree that it offers various tools, tips and techniques to reflect on and perhaps implement. It’s a pretty basic guide that will be helpful for newbies.

    I get worried about the “certification” programmes out there. If, as we KM practitioners suggest and acknowledge, KM is a flow, organic, emergent, then certifying the heck out of it is counter-productive. I think the “certification” you have just gained is one of the few I would agree with!

  2. Baoman said

    I should clarify; by divergent I mean that the Australian standard is different from the British standard. I can now see that it doesn’t read that way. Having certification of some sort to acknowledge effort, bind a group together or simply being able to share a set terms and concepts is not silly but putting IP around it clearly is. It is a uniquely American approach; too much effort into the profit protection side and not enough effort into the intellectual sustainability side. What’s interesting to me about the CE practitioner network is that it is a ‘lightly held group’ which is likely to be able to interact and grow over time.

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