An evaluation of knowledge management tools: part 2: managing knowledge flows and enablers



Publication Details

Massingham, P. (2014). An evaluation of knowledge management tools: part 2: managing knowledge flows and enablers. Journal of Knowledge Management, 18 (6), 1101-1126.


Purpose This paper evaluates a range of best practice knowledge management (KM) ideas used to manage knowledge flows and enablers. In total, four (4) KM toolkits and twenty-three (23) KM tools were tested over a five year period (2008-2013), as part of a large-scale longitudinal change project. Each tool was assessed against an evaluative framework designed to test criticisms of KM: strategy, implementation, and performance. The results provide empirical evidence about what KM tools work and which do not and why, and outcomes for practitioners, researchers, and consultants.

Design/methodology/approach This paper presents a summary of the findings of a large Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project grant in the period 2008-2013. The case study organization (CSO) was a large public sector department, which faced the threat of lost capability caused by its ageing workforce and knowledge loss. The project aimed to solve this problem by minimising its impact via achieving learning organisation capacity (LOC). The CSO participating in the study was selected because it was a knowledge-intensive organization, with an ageing workforce. All 150 engineering and technical staff at the CSO were invited to participate, including management and staff. An action research methodology was used.

Findings The results provide empirical evidence that KM can be used to manage knowledge flows and enablers. The highest rating toolkit was knowledge preservation, followed by knowledge usage. The most value was created by using KM to provide 'why context' to structural capital (e.g. reports, databases, policies) (meta-data), and to create opportunities to reflect on experience and share the learning outcomes (peer assists and after action reviews). The results tended to support criticism that KM is difficult to implement and identified the main barriers as participation located at the tactical action research level, i.e. why is this useful? Evidence that KM works was found in progress towards learning organization capacity and in practical outcomes.

Research limitations/implications The action research cycle and learning flows provide opportunities to examine barriers to KM implementation. The research also presents opportunities for further research to examine the findings in other organizational and industry settings, for example, the relationship between the KM toolkits and organizational change and performance, presents an important area for further research. Researchers might also consider some of the toolkits which rated poorly, e.g. knowledge sharing (SC), and challenge these findings, perhaps selecting different KS tools for testing. The paper has limitations. It is based on a single case study organization, offset to some degree by the longitudinal nature of the empirical evidence. It is ambitious and the findings may be controversial. However, the depth of the study and its findings provide rare longitudinal empirical evidence about KM and the results should be useful for practitioners, researchers, and consultants.

Practical implications For practitioners, the research findings provide management with an evaluative framework to use when making decisions regarding KM. The findings provide discussion of KM toolkits and tools that may be used to manage knowledge flows and enablers. In addition to the discussion of each tool, there is analysis of what works and what does not and why, barriers to implementation as well as explanation of their impact on organizational change and performance, and a scorecard to guide toolkit choices. This method should allow managers to make sensible decisions about KM.

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