Everybody talks knowledge sharing in corporations. I never really understood what knowledge management (KM) departments were up to. So I decided to take a course in knowledge management to learn more from both a theoretical and a practical perspective. One result was the below assignment which I modified for this blog post. It summarises my thoughts about the tacit/explicit knowledge debate and about how technology can foster knowledge and information exchange in the workplace.
The main points
- By arguing that tacit knowledge is hard to write down but most valuable, KM departments are keen to extract knowledge from individuals in an organization. To do this, a lot of tools, methods and standards force them to literally write down all they know. I argue, that this is not the best way to share knowledge. Technological support based on this tacit/explicit dichotomy does not make knowledge sharing more effective. It only reinforces the idea of writing down knowledge in a digital environment.
- From my perspective, knowledge is socially-constructed. Rather than beeing either tacit or explicit, knowledge becomes information as soon as it is seperated from the original knowledge-holder and the context. While this definition holds true for others in the field, I believe that the implications for KM technology support are often overlooked.
- IT support for knowledge exchange should focus on connecting knowledgable people, enrich information by context and offer various formats for sharing information. Concrete examples could be suggestions for colleagues who have worked on similar projects, case studies (instead of “lessons learned”) and a variety of formats such as video, blog posts or forums.
Tacit vs explicit knowledge?
The difficulty with the tacit vs explicit knowledge dichotomy is that it does not highlight the relevant aspects of knowledge which are crucial in an organizational context. According to this dichotomy, tacit knowledge is difficult to write down or extract. Yet, the crucial difference does not exist between tacit and explicit knowledge but rather between knowledge and information. Explicit knowledge becomes information, tacit knowledge becomes knowledge. Without comprehending the context in which knowledge has been generated in, a receiver of the information will not be able to enhance her knowledge. Instead of placing extensive efforts on how to extract every single bit and bite of knowledge, the tasks of technology in knowledge management (KM) should be to create social connections between people and build on existing sources of information in an organization to link knowledge supply and demand. This text outlines, how moving beyond tacit-explicit-knowledge can shape more precise requirements for IT tools in knowledge management.