Knowledge Management: What’s in a Name?

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

May 21, 2020

The field of knowledge management is broad. It continues to evolve in parallel with related fields such as: Information Management, Learning and Development, Library Science, Philosophy, and Social Media

Organizations use a variety of terms to describe their efforts. Many people complain that “knowledge management” is a poor term, that it is not possible to manage knowledge, and that other people are turned off by hearing this term. As a result, I have seen or heard many other terms suggested as replacements, including these 50:

  1. Best Practice Replication
  2. Best Practice Transfer
  3. Business Improvement Services
  4. Collaboration
  5. Collaboration Systems
  6. Collective Learning
  7. Communities
  8. Digital Enterprise
  9. Digital Workplace
  10. Digital Transformation
  11. Enterprise 2.0
  12. Enterprise Collaboration
  13. Enterprise Content Sourcing
  14. Enterprise Learning and Collaboration
  15. Enterprise Social
  16. Enterprise Social Network
  17. Insights
  18. Intangible Asset Plan
  19. Intellectual Capital
  20. Intellectual Property
  21. Knowledge and Information Management
  22. Knowledge and Information Sharing
  23. Knowledge and Learning Processes
  24. Knowledge Development
  25. Knowledge Enablement
  26. Knowledge, Engagement and Collaboration
  27. Knowledge Exchange
  28. Knowledge Flow Management
  29. Knowledge Processing
  30. Knowledge Publishing and Curation
  31. Knowledge Retention
  32. Knowledge Science
  33. Knowledge Services
  34. Knowledge Sharing
  35. Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration
  36. Knowledge Transfer
  37. Learning and Knowledge Exchange
  38. Learning Communities
  39. Learning from Experience
  40. Management
  41. Organizational Effectiveness
  42. Post-Industrial Knowledge Age Transformation
  43. Performance Management
  44. Radical Connectivity
  45. Social Business
  46. Social Collaboration
  47. Social Learning
  48. Social Media
  49. Social Networking
  50. Tackling Wicked Problems

One of the reasons some people claim that “KM is dead” has to do with the name for knowledge management. There are always people saying that we shouldn’t call it knowledge management – that we should call it something else. All of the 50 different names suggested above have some validity. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, but we’re still calling it knowledge management. That’s the label that stuck. Spending a lot of time talking about what we should call it probably isn’t as helpful as worrying about how to do it better.

Knowledge Management has been around as a term for over 25 years, while other terms such as “Enterprise 2.0” have come and gone during that time. So even if it is not the best term, it is a recognized one, and attempts to replace it have not been successful so far. Those organizations that have tried using one of these alternatives usually end up having to explain what the new term means, and often resort to saying something like “that’s what we used to call knowledge management.” If you have to do that, then changing the name didn’t really help.

Nick Milton wrote, ” ‘Knowledge sharing and reuse’ is better than ‘Knowledge sharing,’ but you need to add Knowledge Creation to the list as well, and probably Knowledge Synthesis, and definitely Knowledge Seeking, so by the time you say ‘Knowledge creation and seeking and sharing and synthesis and reuse’ you might as well say ‘Knowledge management.’ Knowledge Management does not imply the management of pieces of knowledge, any more than Time Management means the management of pieces of time. As Etienne Wenger said, ‘If by manage we mean to care for, grow, steward, make more useful, then the term knowledge management is rather apt.’ “

I agree with Nick and Etienne. “Knowledge Management” is a reasonable term to continue using.

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Please read Stan’s blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. And learn about Lucidea’s Inmagic Presto, with KM capabilities to support successful knowledge management programs.

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