The words “knowledge” and “information” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. In this Guide, the term “knowledge” is used to refer to what exists inside the human brain – as opposed to “information,” which can be represented on paper, independent of any person. Knowledge is built over time through education, work experience, and interactions. It enables people to make good decisions and act in an effective manner.
In any organization, there are veteran employees that are the source of institutional knowledge – accumulated through years of experience. Sometimes this institutional knowledge is not helpful and inhibits positive change – as in “we’ve always done it this way.” However, much of this knowledge is very valuable. If properly tapped, it can help the organization to avoid repeating past mistakes and improve on past performance. Once employees leave, this knowledge may be lost forever.
“Knowledge Management” is an umbrella term for a variety of techniques for building, leveraging and sustaining the know-how and experience of an organization’s employees and partners to carry out its mission in an intelligent manner.
Building knowledge requires providing opportunities for employees to learn from their peers – both within and outside of the organization.
Leveraging knowledge requires making sure that individuals and project teams are learning from prior experience and are not re-inventing the wheel.
Sustaining knowledge requires retaining critical capabilities and institutional memory as employees retire or transition to other jobs-either within or outside of the organization.
Fundamental activities of KM are knowledge capture and knowledge transfer. Both of these are needed in order to build, leverage and sustain an organization’s institutional knowledge.
There are different types of knowledge and each type may require different approaches to capture and transfer:
Knowledge management and information management are interrelated and have overlapping activities:
To understand how information and knowledge management are interrelated, it is helpful to look at the information and knowledge life cycle illustrated in Figure 1. This cycle highlights the touch points between knowledge and information management. Key activities in the information life cycle are:
Key activities in the knowledge life cycle are:
Data and documents that have been given value through analysis, interpretation or compilation in a meaningful form. br> Example: A map showing high crash locations.
The basis for a person’s ability to take effective action or make an effective decision. Example: a safety professional’s understanding of what countermeasures would be appropriate in different situations.
"Most of the engineers who were part of the design teams planning, designing and building the highways in Maine from the 1950s through the 1970s have retired. Moreover, that was the ‘golden years’ for highway construction in Maine when most of its limited-access highways were built. The knowledge of how the planning, design and construction of those highways occurred is starting to wane.
“The objective of this project was to have influential engineers from the ‘golden years’ of road construction give seminars where they presented highlights from their careers and to document how large projects in the state of Maine were done and what can be learned from this for future large projects.”
Source: "Institutional Memories of Road Design." See reference 11
Information management and knowledge management are synergistic – coordinating activities in these areas is a successful strategy.