What is the 4th enabler for Knowledge Management?

There was a time when most people believed that there were 3 enablers for Knowledge Management;  People, Process and Technology.  We are now coming to realise realise that there is a fourth enabler. But what is it?

It has been obvious for a while that people, process and technology are not enough – that there are many examples of KM where roles are in place, processes defined and technology acquired, but knowledge still does not flow.

At Knoco, we have been advocating four enablers for a while now (see “the 4 legs on the KM table“), and many presentations at KM world and elsewhere also show a fourth enabler – a fourth circle on the diagram.

In quite a few cases, the fourth circle is “Content”.

I think the addition of Content is a mistake, for the following reasons.

  • Content is a form of knowledge, and knowledge is what is being managed. Knowledge cannot be an enabler for knowledge. Effective management of content requires roles, processes and accountabilities, but content cannot be managed using content. Roles, processes and technologies are enablers – they are input factors. Content is an output. Adding content to the list of enablers is like saying “the components for making babies are a man, a woman, a procreative process, and a baby”. A baby is in fact the outcome of the man, the woman and the procreative process, just as content is the output of roles, processes and technology. 
  • If content is added as the fourth circle, then the assumption is made from the outset that KM equates to content management.  However we know that KM is about tacit as well as explicit, and about conversation as well as content. To add content as the fourth circle dooms you to focusing on the explicit content, and ignoring the conversations by which tacit knowledge is created and shared.
Some of the people I have spoken to on this matter say that “by content, we mean the rules and regulations around content – the taxonomy, metadata and so on”.  However this is not content itself, it is the governance you place on content. 
Which brings me to the second approach to that fourth circle.
In the second approach, that fourth circle is represented by governance
This includes the governance around content, but also the governance around behaviours and conversations, and the governance elements of expectations, incentives, performance management and support.
At Knoco, this is also how we see the fourth circle. Governance is an enabler to knowledge flow – an enabler of conversations and content – and is the weakest element in many KM programs. Governance is the way that behaviours are embedded and supported, will evolve as KM implementation progresses, and can be described in 5 letters.
Adding governance as the fourth circle prompts you to focus no this often-missing element, which may be the difference between success and failure of your KM program, whether you focus on content alone, or on all types of knowledge.
ISO 30401:2018 adds a 5th enabler – culture (clause 4.4.4).
There were long discussions about this in the ISO working group, mostly around the question whether culture is an input to KM, or a result of KM. I was, and still am, of the opinion that culture is as much an output form KM as it is an enabler, and that introducing Knowledge Management changes the culture. I believe that governance is the way cultures are set and rewarded; by setting clear expectations for behaviours and attitudes, modelling these behaviours, recognising and rewarding them, penalising the wrong behaviours etc. So for me culture is an output. Also culture is not something you can just implement, like roles, processes, technology and governance. With culture as a 5th enabler, people can feel powerless – “Our culture is not supportive – what can we do?” Well, you can change the culture, largely through governance.

That is why I believe there is a fourth (and only a fourth) enabler, and its name is Governance.

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