This Guest paper was submitted for publication and is Copyright to T. Kippenberger (2005).
Published here October 2005.

Editor's Note | What is a Community of Practice? | Knowledge Management
Communities of Practice | The Three Elements | The Benefits

Knowledge Management

By the mid to late 1990s, the value of knowledge in what is today described as the "knowledge economy" was given even more emphasis and this increasing recognition of its importance ushered in the concept of Knowledge Management.

As a result, over the last ten years many organizations have introduced various forms of Knowledge Management initiatives in order to capture and share the wide variety of knowledge available within the organization. Unfortunately, many managers see organizations as machines for information processing - knowledge is made explicit in the form of reports, formal presentations, budgets, standard policies and even written procedures, so that it can all be easily communicated and shared. The benefit is that formalized in this way, knowledge can be checked, assessed, processed by computer, transmitted electronically and stored in a database.

As a result, early approaches to knowledge management focused on the use of information systems to capture, codify and store already structured or explicit knowledge - often using an intranet as the repository. However, the limitations of this approach are now becoming apparent as many organizations discover that the real value of knowledge management comes not through the lodging of documents in a passive online warehouse, but in the more direct exchange of insights, ideas and experience.

But here another problem arises. While it is relatively easy to share and absorb explicit knowledge - almost all formal education and training is based on the process - it is much more difficult to share personal knowledge or add tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge. As a result organizations have tried a number of approaches, like mentoring (learning from someone else's experience) or "story-telling" (learning by hearing other's experience), to find ways of making experiential, tacit knowledge more easily shareable.

A newer approach has been the formation of Communities of Interest or Communities of Practice. But here again, early experiments have proved less successful than had been hoped because they were initially created along rather formal lines and subsequently "managed". Now however, there is recognition that such communities work best when groups of like-minded individuals, with a common interest or purpose, come together informally and then address issues or problems that engage their mutual interests.

What is a Community of Practice?  What is a Community of Practice?

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