The two aspects of the Knowledge Owners’s role

The Knowledge Owner has 2 main aspects to their role, as described below.

One of the key tenets – probably the foundational tenet – of Knowledge Management is that Knowledge is an asset to an organisation, and must be treated as such.

It follows on, therefore, that someone must “own” or “steward” the knowledge – someone must be accountable for ensuring that the value of that asset is realised. Even if they delegate much or all of the work, they carry the accountability. Every critical or strategic knowledge topic needs an Owner, or a “Steward” if that word works better for you.

This is not the same as a content owner for a document, and is not the same as a librarian who manages a collection of documents on many topics, this is a role with accountability for the state of knowledge on a particular topic. So there would be an “Owner” for knowledge of electrical engineering, another for knowledge of servicing and repairing a product range, another for knowledge of a particular major client.

There are two dimensions to this role of Knowledge Owner or Knowledge Steward.

  • Secondly they need to ensure that the store of explicit knowledge assets exists, is as complete as it needs to be, is well maintained, and is usable by and valuable to the community of practice. They may delegate the work of writing and maintaining the assets, but they are accountable for making sure they are written.

By addressing these two aspects, they ensure that knowledge related to this topic is built and applied in both tacit and explicit form.

Knowledge Stewards can take one of three approaches to stewardship, based on the maturity of the knowledge topic, the degree of experience of the community of practice, and the local culture in their organisation.

  1. The Knowledge Stewards can personally own the knowledge. They are the Knowers, they hold the expertise and write the guidance and the manuals, while the knowledge workers apply the knowledge.
  2. The Knowledge Stewards can quality-control the knowledge and validate it, while the knowledge workers both apply the knowledge and submit new knowledge to the Knowledge Steward for approval and incorporation.
  3. The Knowledge Stewards can build and manage the knowledge-creating and knowledge-validating system, while the knowledge is created, updated and validated by the members of the community of practice themselves.
The first model seems very old fashioned nowadays, and the third model seems much more attractive, and is becoming more common (see for example the use of Wikis to develop Army doctrine). However there may still be cases where the first model is appropriate, and the second case is still valid for mission-critical, safety-critical or strategic knowledge topics.
As always in Knowledge Management, you need to accept the principle (in this case, that each important knowledge topic needs stewardship) and then apply the principle in a way that suits your business context.

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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