One of the pitfalls of Knowledge Management initiatives is their inability to clearly identify what knowledge is important / critical to the business. Clarity on ‘Core Knowledge’ helps. In layman’s terms core knowledge is that bit of knowledge (could be strategic or operational) which contributes meaningfully to organisational processes and / or outcomes.
There are essentially 3 types of core knowledge. They are:
• Basic core knowledge
• Strategic core knowledge
• Developmental core knowledge
Basic core knowledge: This could be attributed as essential knowledge that is generated, used and reused and managed by staff at all levels. This could also be termed as universal knowledge and the emphasis is on adding knowledge to the organisation’s memory bank and enriching it further. The knowledge that is generated and used is often based on data points like customers, markets, products etc.
Strategic core Knowledge: This element of knowledge, while crucial to business outcomes is largely guided by the principle of ‘need-to-know’. The knowledge in question here is not generated organically but is often triggered by business issues and the corresponding solutions provided by domain experts. A great example of an activity that generates this kind of knowledge pertains to ideas management.
Developmental core knowledge: The phrase that defines this knowledge type is ‘potential’. It is evolutionary in nature and its applicability needs to be explored and there is always the likelihood that the original idea will get transformed into an outcome which is different from what was envisaged initially. This form of knowledge could evolve into strategic core knowledge and could also seamlessly move into the first category after it assumes a form which can be related to universally.
While an understanding of categories is helpful, what is equally important is the recognition that core knowledge will differ from organisation to organisation. For example, for an oil and gas company, core knowledge will focus on reporting of project activity on a real time basis (against milestones), collaboration around expertise (often across geographies) and development of new strategies and solutions to overcome the hurdles faced. On the contrary, for a law firm, core knowledge will revolve around legal, analytical and procedural knowledge with a strong emphasis on customer relationship management.
I would like to end this post with a framework suggested by Shelda Debowski in her book Knowledge Management. The framework uses a 3 phase structure to explain the process of managing core knowledge.