Download "A Synthesis of Knowledge Management Failure Factors" by Alan Frost. Free paper released Jan. 2014.


Introducing Organizational Knowledge

In an earlier section we identified the three different types of knowledge that can exist in an organization. Now I will take a closer look at the scope organizational knowledge and its significance to the knowledge management (KM) process.


Organizational Knowledge Resources

Business knowledge can exist on several different levels:

Individual: Personal, often tacit knowledge/know-how of some sort. It can also be explicit, but it must be individual in nature, e.g. a private notebook.

Groups/community: Knowledge held in groups but not shared with the rest of the organization. Companies usually consist of communities (most often informally created) which are linked together by common practice. These communities of practice (Lave & Wenger 1991) may share common values, language, procedures, know-how, etc. They are a source of learning and a repository for tacit, explicit, and embedded knowledge.

Structural: Embedded knowledge found in processes, culture, etc. This may be understood by many or very few members of the organization. E.g. the knowledge embedded in the routines used by the army may not be known by the soldiers who follow these routines. At times, structural knowledge may be the remnant of past, otherwise long forgotten lessons, where the knowledge of this lesson exists exclusively in the process itself.

Organizational: The definition of organizational knowledge is yet another concept that has very little consensus within literature. Variations include the extent to which the knowledge is spread within the organization, as well as the actual make-up of this knowledge. Hatch (2010) defines it as: "When group knowledge from several subunits or groups is combined and used to create new knowledge, the resulting tacit and explicit knowledge can be called organizational knowledge." Others present a broader perspective: "individual knowledge, shared knowledge, and objectified knowledge are different aspects or views of organizational knowledge" (Ekinge & Lennartsson 2000). As always, texts emphasizing an IT based outlook once again offer shallower, information-based definitions, e.g. Virvou & Nakamura 2008, "Information internalized by means of research, study or experience that has value to the organization".

For the purpose of this site I will adopt a broad, knowledge-based perspective. Organizational knowledge is therefore defined as: all the knowledge resources within an organization that can be realistically tapped by that organization. It can therefore reside in individuals and groups, or exist at the organizational level.

Extra-organizational: Defined here as: Knowledge resources existing outside the organization which could be used to enhance the performance of the organization. They include explicit elements like publications, as well as tacit elements found in communities of practice that span beyond the organization's borders.


Implications for KM

In order to enhance organisational knowledge, KM must therefore be involved across the entire knowledge spectrum. It must help knowledge development at all levels and facilitate & promote its diffusion to individuals, groups, and/or across the entire firm, in accordance with the organization's requirements. KM must manage organizational knowledge storage and retrieval capabilities, and create an environment conducive to learning and knowledge sharing. Similarly it must be involved in tapping external sources of knowledge whenever these are necessary for the development of the organizational knowledge resources.

To a large degree, KM is therefore dependent on the understanding and management of organizational learning, organizational memory, knowledge sharing, knowledge creation, and organizational culture.


Alan Frost M.Sc., 2010

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