Knowledge management or enabling information?

I’m interested in knowledge theory in respect to what is known as knowledge management. I’ve read some articles about KM which drill down to the philosophical arguements about types and ways of knowing and knowledge. Rafael Capurro writes about what he terms skeptical knowledge management. What this means is that when looking at knowledge in corporate contexts (and I would say any context really),  “implict and explicit presuppositions, impact and goals” must be considered (Capurro 2000 pg 7). Knowledge is not an island in and of itself – decontextualised knowledge is confusing and worrying and this has been demonstrated by varying reactions to the  growth of and increased access to the internet.  A critical approach is therapeutic (Socratic thought). It is very dense but does it make sense? However, the paper that I really enjoyed reading was T.D. Wilson’s ‘The Nonsense of Knowledge Management’. Wilson did a brief study of articles with knowledge management in the title and found that:  1] knowledge is used as a synonym for information 2] explict knowledge is used as a synonym for information (ha!) 2] a comment in one paper stating that managers have to understand things before they make a decision (wow!). I also discovered via Wilson that Nonaka’s understanding of Polanyi’s tacit and explicit knowledge theoryis flawed and in the previous paper by Capurro that Nonaka’s theory is based on Karl Popper’s World 3 theory (now abandoned by philosophers and scientists). So, where does that leave Nonaka? In a not very good position I would have to say. Wilson’s small study discovered that there is no consensus as to what knowledge management is but it seems to be a combination of information management and people management. What it is not is an IT solution. It is ironic that the corporate world has rediscovered how valuable information management is but some continue to dismantle their libraries (this is downsizing theory which has been disasterous for some companies). I don’t know anything about that theory so no more on that.  I’ve never liked the term knowledge management because when you get down to the real meaning – it is managing what is inside people (thoughts, feelings, internal meanings derived from experience, dreams, memory etc). Try to manage your own thoughts – it is hard! Let alone memories. So – what can be managed? The tangible outputs from what is inside you – that is information.  Wilson looked at what the consulting firms where touting it as and yet again, there was the substitution of knowledge for information. Basically, it is about developing processes that emable people to share and find information at the point of need and also about creating environments where new information can be created. I think that librarians have a unique role in this and that is – the embeded librarian.

1] Hans-Chrisoph Hobohm Ed.: Knowledge Management. Libraries and Librarians Taking Up the Challenge. IFLA Publication 108, Munich: Saur 2004, 47-57. Available online at http://www.capurro.de/skepsis.html

2] Wilson, T.D. (2002) “The nonsense of ‘knowledge management'” Information Research, 8(1), paper no. 144   Available online at http://InformationR.net/ir/8-1/paper144.html

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