Knowledge principles for government
What is the difference between knowledge and information? What is the difference between managing knowledge and managing information?
We all deal with large amounts of data on a daily basis, whether sifting through email at work or trying to remember the myriad passwords we’ve littered across the internet. This information needs to be managed in varying degrees.
Information is tangible and can be stored, protected and exploited in a controlled and structured environment, such as an Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS). Knowledge, on the other hand, is more intangible, and therefore requires different approaches and strategies in order to manage and share it efficiently and effectively.
The value of knowledge is universally recognised; how to capture it and exploit it is less certain. The GKIM Knowledge Management Working Group (KMWG) – a cross-government group – has recently produced a set of Knowledge Principles as a companion to the previously published Information Principles.
Building on the Information Principles, the Knowledge Principles will ensure that civil servants can deliver the information we work with in a tangible way, while developing strategies and plans to improve how knowledge is captured, shared and nurtured within government departments.
The KMWG defines knowledge as: ‘a sum of experience, training, insight and education and is tacit, whereas information is tangible, captured, manipulated in information systems and subject to further interpretation’.
Knowledge is not information, and managing knowledge is not the same as managing information, although there is undoubtedly some crossover. For instance, information management principles may be applied to knowledge once it is captured.
Consider the difference between possessing natural leadership skills and attending a workshop on leadership skills. Leadership is a complex social construct, a mixture of various abstract characteristics such as charisma, resolve, decisiveness, and perhaps, humour. Leadership skills can be identified, captured, taught and practiced, but at its core leadership is a mix of inherent qualities perfected by an individual over time. Although not always straightforward, every effort should be made to capture and transfer tacit knowledge between individuals for the overall benefit of an organisation.
Civil servants are responsible for retaining and sharing knowledge and using it to maximise productivity, avoiding re-work and wasting resources. By sharing knowledge we can weed out bad practices and avoid repeating any mistakes made by our predecessors.
Experienced staff in government departments are a well of insight and intuition, workarounds and ‘knowhow’ – this knowledge must be identified and tapped. Knowledge transfer between experienced staff and less-experienced staff is key. This can happen through personal contact on a daily basis (once trust has been established), and by processes such as informal training, mentorship and exit interviews for staff leaving an organisation.
We have all experienced a senior member of staff leaving an organisation and taking precious knowledge with them – knowledge gained from their time spent in a role and particular to their experiences. The Knowledge Principles have been designed to guard against such loss and to ensure that knowledge can be captured, protected and shared within an organisation.
Purpose and direction
The Knowledge Principles have been set out to express truths to which all public sector organisations can subscribe.
The aim is to distill workplace experiences into lessons-learned exercises in order to increase productivity and contribute to organisational competence.
The principles are intended to be bold and challenging and to set directions. However, they are not intended to be directives.
The principles provide high-level foundations and therefore their scope is intentionally broad. They apply to all knowledge that is created and re-used by a UK public sector organisation. Organisations can vary in size and structure, as well as having bespoke internal practices and values – such dynamics can affect how knowledge sharing is interpreted and implemented.
The intention is that organisations across the public sector will become increasingly aligned in their use and management of knowledge, drawing their own local strategy and practices from a common set of principles and best practices.