Are communities of practice losing popularity as a KM mechanism?

Results from the Knoco 2020 global survey of Knowledge Management seem to show that the use of Communities of Practice is in decline.

Every three years since 2014, knoco has conducted a global survey of Knowledge Management. The latest survey is completed, and the final report written (go here to order a free copy).

One of the intriguing results from one of the graphs was that the usage of Communities of Practice seems to be in decline. So I did a bit more digging in the dataset, and came up with some more evidence.

Firstly, CoPs seem to have slipped down the list of priority approaches. 

The plot below is based on a question that asks respondents to prioritise various approaches within their KM strategy. This question has been asked in all three surveys, and the graph below shows the percentage of people who have chosen each of the options as their highest priority.

You can see that “connecting people through communities or networks” was the most popular “first choice” option in 2014 but has decreased significantly over the 6 years, and is now in 4th place.

Secondly, fewer organisations seem to be using CoPs as part of their KM Framework. 

Participants were asked whether they applied Best Practice, Lesson Learning, Communities of Practice, and (in the 2020 survey only)  Knowledge Retention. The percentages anwering Yes to this question for these four (largely tacit knowledge) approaches are shown below for the three surveys.

You can see that 62% used CoPs in 2014, 57% in 2017 and 55% in 2020. A steady decline.

Finally the organisations in 2020 which ARE using CoPs, are applying fewer of the components, and getting lower levels of satisfaction. 

This last one is a bit more subtle. Out of 13 potential component elements to a CoP framework, respondents in 2020 are using fewer (an average of 5.3 in 2020 compared to 5.4 in 2017 and 5.9 in 2020), and recording lower levels of satisfaction (3.04 out of 5 in 2020 compared to 3.16 and 3.2 in 2017 and 2014).  The prevalence of community sponsors, comunity business cases and community wikis is significantly less in the most recent survey.

These three pieces of data suggest that the use of Communities of Practice is in a slow decline.

But why?

I have to admit that I really do not know why this should be the case. Communities of Practice have been a mainstay of KM from the beginning; they are a powerful mechanism for peer to peer knowledge transfer, and they are the nearest thing to a KM silver bullet. So why are they not still top of the list as a KM priority?

Could it be that the survey datasets have changed – that the types of organisations answering the most recent survey are different? They are no smaller – if anything the average size is bigger in 2020 – but they are less multinational. One explanation might be that the 2020 respondent organisations contain a much higher proportion of government admin departments, and a smaller proportion of professional services firms. So maybe its not that CoPs are in decline, but that KM is being applied more in areas where CoPs are not a common mechanism. Maybe the government admin people need to discover the power of communities?

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First preliminary results from the Knoco 2020 survey

The Knoco 2020 Survey of KM is about half way through its open period for accepting contributions. We have some early findings, and your own contribution is still very welcome.

The Knoco 2020 survey of knowledge management is the third in a triennial series of surveys of the global status of KM. It seeks to find out what is going on in the KM World, and identify any trends in KM over the 9-year period. One of the trends is shown at the bottom of this article.

The survey is still open for the next 2 weeks. If you would like to take part, please click on one of the links below.

We have an open link for everyone, a spanish-language version, and also specific links for certain countries, These links are below – choose one that fits!

Open survey, English language
Open survey, Spanish language
Survey for S Africa-based organisations
Survey for China-based organisations
Survey for Indonesia organisations
Survey for Russia-based organisations

The survey takes between 30 minutes to an hour to complete. It is very comprehensive, but creates a very comprehesive set of data and allows you to benchmark against a wide range of parameters. The survey has been visited by nearly 250 people, of which about 180 have left substantial data.

It’s too early to draw any firm conclusions from the data as it comes in, but here is one interesting snippet.  We asked all respondents to describe the trend in importance of KM in their organisation. The answers are shown below.

In each of the three years we have held the survey, the majority have said that the importance of KMis increasing, a substantial minority say it is neither decreasing nor increasing, and a small minority say the importance is decreasing.  Furthermore these results seem to be swinging more in the favour of increasing importance over the period from 2014 to 2019. 

The view that “KM is dead or dying” is not supported by these results. Instead it seems that KM is still very much “on the up”, or at the very least, “steady as she goes”.

The final survey report will contain many more such plots (the 2017 report contained 61 figures and 29 tables).

However for these figures and tables to be fully representative, we need your data! If you have not already participated, please find an hour in the next 2 weeks to take part.

Thank you in advance!

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Invitiation to take part in the Knoco survey of global knowledge management, 2020

You are invited to take part in the 2020 global KM survey – the latest in a triennial series of surveys of knowledge management practices and results.

As a thank-you we will give you a free copy of the results from the last survey in 2017, as well as a copy of the 2020 results when they are available.

The 2020 survey is a re-run of surveys we did in 2014 and 2017 which gave some really interesting results, many of which I have covered in my blog.

Just a few of the results are:

and many many more.

This year we are running the survey again, to see what has changed in the last 3 years and 6 years, and also to extend the survey into countries and industries that were under-represented last time. Anyone who takes part will be rewarded with a link to a free copy of the 2017 results, as well as being sent a set of 2020 results when the survey closes.

Note that survey reports can also be ordered here.

Would you like to take part?

If you can answer on behalf of an organisation that does KM, or has done KM, or plans to introduce KM, then please follow this link and take the survey. Bear in mind that the comprehensive nature of the survey means it may take up to an hour to complete, but this also means the results are equally comprehensive and rich, so your time is well worth investing.

Feel free to take the survey now, and/or forward this blog post to any of your colleagues or contacts in other companies.

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Cultural barriers to KM – updated

Which are the most common cultural barriers to KM? How do these barriers change with KM maturity? Which parts of the world have the most cultural barriers?  

These are some of the questions we addressed in our recent surveys of Knowledge Management. The results from the 2014 survey are presented in a previous blog post, and this post includes results from the 2017 survey as well.

 First we provided the respondents with a list of the top ten elements of an Organisational Learning culture, and asked them to identify which of these elements was currently a barrier to the implementation of Knowledge Management. The graph above shows the results, with the numbers being the number of people who identified this element as a barrier to their KM program. A total of 473 people answered the question.

The greatest cultural barrier to KM is short-term thinking – hurrying on with work rather than taking the time to learn before, during and after.  The second most common barrier is a lack of openness – a lack of willingness for people to be open to knowledge sharing and to analysis of what they have learned.  These two barriers are significantly more common that the others, and the same two were in top and second place in the 2014 survey.

Respondents could choose multiple cultural barriers, and to an extent, the number of barriers chosen is a measure of how supportive or unsupportive the culture is.

The number of cultural barriers identified by the respondents is on average fewest (and the culture therefore most supportive) for those companies where Knowledge Management is fully embedded.

This graph may be interpreted in three ways; either KM is easy to embed where the culture is most supportive, that embedding KM requires culture change, or that embedded KM acts to change the culture.

This issue is further explored in the third graph, which shows the average number of cultural barriers identified from respondents from different regions (note that the numbers of respondents are small in some cases).

The most supportive cultures for Knowledge Management seem to be in Australasia and the Indian sub-continent, with the least supportive cultures in Africa and China. The USA and Western Europe sit somewhere in the middle.

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CKO skills, revisited

In 2015 I published a post showing that a significant proportion of CKOs know very little about Knowledge Management, at least according to their Linked-in profiles. This year I revisited these stats.

It seems things have improved a little, but there are still a lot of CKOs out there with few or no KM skills.
I looked at the profiles of 50 CKOs in Linked in – people with “Chief Knowledge Officer” in their current job title – and I counted how far down the list of skills you had to go before you found “Knowledge Management”.  The results are shown in the pie chart here. (Note however that this job title seems disproportionately popular at the moment in the military and legal fields, so these fields are over-represented in the sample).
Note how 34% of CKOs have KM as their top skill – as you might expect.
But note also how 14% of CKOs have KM way down their list of skills – lower than 10th place – and how 26% of the CKO profiles I reviewed DO NOT HAVE KM ON THE LIST OF SKILLS AT ALL!
I said in my 2015 post that there seems to be two types of CKOs out there, with a fairly even split between the two.
  • One type, who are reasonably well versed in Knowledge Management, and see this as the CKO’s domain. KM is top of their list of skills, or high in the list (and half of the the profiles I reviewed had KM in the top 3 skills).
  • Another type, for whom the CKO role is held by a person with few or no KM skills at all.

It’s the second type that puzzles me. Perhaps the job was titled “CKO” because it sounded good and important rather than because it had anything to do with the management of knowledge, or perhaps they appointed someone with information skills in a knowledge role, or perhaps the CKO plays purely an oversight and coordination role, and leaves the KM aspects to Knowledge Managers (managing the initiative rather than the knowledge)?

Whatever the reason, the results are surprising. 40% of CKOs have few if any KM skills.

Would you see this in any other discipline? Imagine

  • a CFO with no financial skills
  • a Chief Lawyer with no legal skills
  • a Chief Engineer with no engineering skills
So why do 40% of CKOs have few if any KM skills?

What is heartening though is that things seem to be getting better. Bearing in mind the caveats that

  • these are two different samples, and that 
  • 50 many not be a representative number, and that 
  • the profiles I can see on LinkedIn are related to my own personal network;
the plot below seems to show that the situation is improving. 

In the 2015 sample, only 24% had KM at the top of the skills list – now it is 34%.
In the 2015 sample, 32% had no KM skills on their skills list – now it is 26%.

Perhaps this is evidence that KM is becoming more respected and more established as a discipline, and that CKO is less likely to be used as a random job title.

The trend is heartening, but we still have a long way to go.

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Do social media stifle knowledge sharing?

Do online social media drive a “spiral of silence” which can stifle proper debate?  It can, according to this techcrunch article, which points to this survey from Pew Research.

Shhh by Catherine on Flickr
I think everyone would agree that for knowledge to be shared effectively in organisations, people need to feel free to enter online debates and feel free to disagree with the opinions of others. Knowledge often comes through comparing and challenging conflicting “truths” in order that new truths and new knowledge can be born.
However the nature of online social media is such that we often create our own silos, and when addressing potentially contentious topics, are unwilling to discuss ideas which the rest of the group does not share (a structure called “polarised crowds” by this article, which I also explore in this blog post on groupthink in social media).  This has been referred to as “a spiral of silence” where people with dissenting views remain quiet.
The Pew Research survey explored the willingness to debate online by choosing a contentious topic (in this case the topic of government surveillance) and exploring how openly people would be willing to discuss this in various settings.

As shown below, social media are at the bottom of the list, and people are nearly 4 times less willing to share their thoughts openly online than they are round the dinner table.

The study has the following conclusions

Overall, the findings indicate that in the (government surveillance) case, social media did not provide new forums for those who might otherwise remain silent to express their opinions and debate issues. Further, if people thought their friends and followers in social media disagreed with them, they were less likely to say they would state their views on the story online and in other contexts, such as gatherings of friends, neighbors, or co-workers. This suggests a spiral of silence might spill over from online contexts to in-person contexts, though our data cannot definitively demonstrate this causation. .

Does this spiral of silence apply in workplace social media?

I have seen this happen in the work setting, as in the example below.

A new community of practice for project managers was launched in an organisation. Over a couple of months, activity started to pick up nicely in the community forum, with many people asking questions and receiving answers. However when we followed up with the originators of the questions, we found an interesting pattern had developed. The first answer to the question set the tone, and from that point the only people contributing to the thread were those who agreed with the first answer. Anyone who disagreed found a private offline way to contact the questioner, such as a phone call or a personal email.

We were able over time to resolve this behaviour through strong facilitation, and the community now works well in publicly exploring multiple views on all topics.

For those of us seeking to foster knowledge sharing within an organisation, the research study quoted above is very important. If we do not address this tendency towards a spiral of silence, our in-house social media will either create a new set of silos – silos divided by opinions rather than by geography or by organisational hierarchy (the “polarised crowds” mentioned above) – or people with contrary opinions will just drop out of the conversation.

The lessons to the Knowledge Manager are clear

 To start with, we cannot afford plural communities of practice covering the same topic. There needs to be one community covering each main work topic, not two or more polarised ones.

Then within each topic, disagreement needs to be sought and explored, in service of finding the truth. This is part of the role of the community facilitator – the role of allowing a diversity of opinion, and promoting and facilitating the dialogue that allows this diversity to be explored and resolved.

Finally, for the really contentious topics, you need a face to face discussion, such as a Knowledge Exchange.

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How mature is KM in your industry sector? An interesting plot

The plot below is based on data presented in this blog post from last May. 

The data come from our Knowledge management surveys in 2014 and 2017, responded to by over 700 knowledge managers world wide. in this survey we asked (among many other things) about KM maturity, in two ways: the maturity level of the KM initiative, and the number of years the organisation has been doing KM. These two variables are cross-plotted below, and each data point is the average for each of the industry sectors used in the survey. More explanation of the way the data were created can be found below. If you want a copy of the complete survey report, please fill in the form on this page

Cross plot of the average maturity vs the average duration of  KM initiatives within  number of industry sectors
Image copyright Knoco Ltd

More detail on the data

The plot is based on answers to three questions: 
  1. A question “how long has your organisation been doing KM – please select the closest option” with the following options: 
    • 05 years
    • 1 year
    • 2 years
    • 4 years
    • 8 years
    • 16 years
    • 32 years
    • don’t know
  2. A question “how mature is your KM program”, with the following answers;
    • we do not intend to start KM
    • we are investigating KM but have not started (0 points)
    • we are in the early stages of introducing KM (1 point)
    • we are well in progress with KM (2 points)
    • KM is embedded in the way we work (3 points)
    • we tried KM and have given up
The weighted average was based on the points score above. A sector which was fully mature in KM would therefore score 3 on the vertical axis, while a sector which was fully immature would score zero. Please note that the survey was answered by people with some interest in, or connection with, KM. Therefore this maturity is the maturity of the KM initiatives within the sector, rather than a measure of the take-up of KM within the sector as a whole. 

We also asked the respondents to identify which industry sector their organisation worked in. The list of sectors can be derived from the data labels. Any sector with fewer than 10 respondents has been omitted.


The graph shows those sectors which are more mature in KM terms, and have been doing it the longest. There is a reasonable straight-line relationship, as you might expect. The longer a sector has been doing KM, the more mature and embedded it becomes.

There are no fully mature sectors, and no fully immature sectors.

There is no flattening off at the top of the graph. There are no sectors which have been doing KM long enough that they have reached full maturity.

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What technologies are used for KM, and what value do they deliver?

Here are some more results from our 2014 and 2017 Global Survey of Knowledge management; a plot of KM Technology usage and value.

We asked the survey participants to rate a range of different types of technology by the value they have added to their KM program, giving them the options:

  • Large value
  • Moderate value
  • Slight value
  • No value
  • Too soon to tell
  • Do not use

 513 people answered this question.

The answers allow us to look not only at the usage of the technology, but also (through a weighted average of the first 4 reponese) the value that it delivers.

The chart above shows the survey results in order of value, as a stacked bar chart, with the weighted value shown as a line (this line would be at 100% if all the participants that used this technology claimed it had “high value” and at 0 they all claimed it had no value).

The top of the dark grey area represents the usage percentage for these technologies (the light grey area above represents people who do not use this technology). The top of the green area represents the percentage of people who said this technology had added “large value”.

The technology types are listed below in order of usage, and in order of value.

Technology type in order of usage 
(most common at the top)
Technology type in order of value delivered  when used (most valuable at the top)
1. Document collaboration
2. Best practice repository
3. People and expertise search
4. Portals (non-wiki)
5. eLearning
6. Enterprise content management
7. Enterprise search
8. Question and answer forums
9. Blogs
10. Lessons Management
11. Video publication
12. Wikis
14.Social media other than microblogs
16. Expert systems
17. Data mining
18. Innovation funnel
19. Semantic search
1. Enterprise search
2. Best practice repository
3. Document collaboration
4. Enterprise content management
5. Portals (non-wiki)
6. People and expertise search
8. Question and answer forums
9. Lessons Management
10.Expert systems
11. Brainstorming/ideation/crowdsourcing
12. Social media other than microblogs
13. Video publication
14. Wikis
15.Innovation funnel
16. Data mining
17. Semantic search
18. Microblogs
19. Blogs

What does this tell us?

We could take these results at face value, and say that the chart and the lists above represent the usage of the various technology types and (independently) the value of the various technology types.  The strong correlation between usage and value that we see in the chart and lists could represent a tendency for the more valuable technologies to get the greatest use. This is a perfectly valid interpretation.

An alternative argument would be to say that technologies deliver more value the more they are used. Technologies at the top of the list are mainstream technologies, used frequently, and delivering high value. Technologies at the bottom of the list are less mainstream, and deliver less value to the companies that use them, because those companies make less use of these technologies. This is also a plausible interpretation.

Even with this interpretation, we could still look for “Good performing” technologies which deliver more value than their popularity would imply, and “Poor performing technologies” which deliver less value than their popularity would imply.  Under this interpretation, the best performing technologies are Enterprise Search and Expert Systems (both of them 6 places higher in the Value list than the Usage list) and the worst performing technologies would be Blogs (10 places higher in the usage table than the value table).  This of course does not mean that Blogs have no value; it could men that the way they are being used is not adding the expected value (see my post about the “director’s blog“.

We saw very similar results for this question between the 2017 and 2014 surveys, with some minor changes. Those technologies which most increased in use between 2014 and 2017 were Microblogs and Video publication, and not surprisingly these have also seen the greatest increase in reported value delivery as well. The technology which decreased in use the most over the 3 year period is the innovation funnel technology (capturing and filtering improvement suggestions).

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A new way to differentiate Industry approaches to KM?

If you are interested in how different industries approach KM, here is a new way to differentiate them. 

Different industries tend to approach KM in different ways, or apply KM in “different flavours.”  In September I posted a ternary plot, where different industries were plotted on their relative focus on Product Knowledge, Process Knowledge, or Customer Knowledge. Below is a similar plot, but looking at the preferred “default approach” to KM.
This plot is derived from answers to our KM surveys in 2014 and 2017, answered by more than 700 knowledge managers worldwide. One of the questions asked the respondents to list, in order of importance, a series of KM components (communities of practice, for example). In this plot we look at three components, 
  • Connecting people through communities of practice;
  • Learning from Experience;
  • Improved access to documents (including search and portals)
The plot maps out the percentage of companies from each industry which chose each one of these three as their top area of importance. Of course for many companies, all three were important, but for this plot, we look at which of these three components was chosen as MOST important.
A Ternary plot such as this one shows a choice between three components, measures on three axes (labelled in the plot above) and the closeness to each of the apices shows the proportion of companies in that industry which chose that KM approach as the most important of the three. For example, the data point on the far left, the “Legal” data point scores 
  • 71% on the axis “improved access to documents”
  • 26% on the axis “connecting people through communities”, and
  • 3% on the axis “learning from experience”
This represents the views of the 35 survey respondents from the legal industry concerning which of these three was most important for KM. 
What is interesting about this plot, is that the points are well spread out, suggesting that this is a way to differentiate some of the industries. 
  • Legal, for example, sees access to documents as the most important of these 3 KM tasks. Finance/Insurance and Health are similar. 
  • Oil and Gas, on the other hand, sees a mix of communities of practice and learning from.experience as more important (only 15% of respondents voted for “improved access to documents”).
  • IT/telecoms has the highest proportion of people preferring “connecting people through communities”, perhaps related to their long history of online collaboration.
  • “Learning from Experience” gets its greatest attention from Aid/Development, Military/Emergency and Mining.
  • In the middle of the plot, where all three areas get equal votes, are Utilities, Construction, and Education/Training.
You can see the outworkings of these preferences in all sorts of things, such as the ways KM job descriptions are written, the skills from which KM teams recruit, and the preferred components of the KM Frameworks
What’s the conclusion? I think that this plot may be an interesting way to differentiate different KM approaches, but perhaps the main conclusion is that id you are looking at analogue Km approaches to learn from; stick to a neighbouring industry. There would be no point in an oil and gas company applying a KM framework from Legal, or Legal applying a KM framework from IT, or IT applying a Framework from Mining. 
Understand how your industry approaches KM, and use that as your starting point. 

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The biggest barriers and enablers for knowledge Management

This post is an update of an earlier post in 2014, brought up to date with new survey data.

As part of our global surveys in 2014 and 2017, answered by over 700 KM professionals, we asked respondents to rank a number of barriers in order of the impact they had had on their KM programme, ranking these from 1 to 8 (Knoco 2017).

 The results are shown in the table below, with high numbers representing high ranking and therefore high impact.


Average ranking

Cultural issues 5.8
Lack of prioritisation and support from leadership 5.0
Lack of KM roles and accountabilities 4.8
Lack of KM incentives 4.8
Lack of a defined KM approach 4.6
Incentives for the wrong behaviours (inability to time-write KM, rewards for internal competition etc) 4.3
Lack of support from departments such as IT, HR etc 4.1
Insufficient technology 4.0

They were then asked to prioritise the main enablers for KM which had proved powerful, ranking them from 1 to 9. The resulting figures are shown in the table below (high numbers being high ranking).


Average ranking

Support from senior management 6.2
Championship and support from KM team/champions 6.2
Evidence of value from KM 5.9
Easy to use technology 5.6
A supportive company culture 5.6
Effective KM processes 5.5
Clear KM accountabilities and roles 5.4
Personal benefit for staff from KM 4.6
Incentive systems for KM 4.2
So what does this tell us?

  • The number two barrier and the number one enabler are support from senior management. Without this, you will struggle. With this, you will succeed. This blog contains much advice about gaining senior management support (see here for example, or here), and if you need more help, we will be happy to advise. Get this support, all else will be much easier.
  • Although culture is the number one barrier, it is much lower in the enablers table. I think this is because the highest enablers – leadership support, champions and evidence of value – are all means by which the culture can be changed. Culture is therefore not the enabler; culture change is the enabler. 
  • Although roles and incentives are seen as major barriers, they are much lower in the enablers table. These are perhaps not the barriers that they might seem to be, even though they are a key part of your Knowledge Management Framework. 
  • Technology is seldom a barrier, nor is it at the top of the enabler list. Anyone thinking that the solution to effective KM is technology alone is ignoring the lessons from the past 2 decades of successful KM.

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