Collaborative Knowledge Services

Written By: Guy St. Clair of SMR International


Those of us working with knowledge strategy are often greeted with a question: What is the difference between knowledge management (KM) and knowledge services? It’s an easy question to answer, and there is a nicely convenient line of reasoning that comes in play as we respond. And our conclusion is almost always the same: it doesn’t really matter whether you say “KM” or “knowledge services.”

How you deal with KM or knowledge services is determined exactly by how the discipline is described in your workplace, the organization where you are employed. Or, as one of our colleagues puts it when asked if it is “KM or knowledge services,” he says it depends on how the work is described where the questioner works. “It’s sort of a-rose-is-a-rose thing,” he says.


Knowledge Management or Something Else?

So is there a difference? Barrie Levy and I, in The Knowledge Services Handbook, describe a very real difference: KM – as most definitions put it – has to do with process. The value of the human interface is acknowledged, but it is, sadly, not often given enough attention. We define KM this way (with the absolute understanding that defining KM will depend exclusively on how KM is defined in the workplace of the organization in which the knowledge strategist is employed):

Knowledge management is a method for working with the organization’s intellectual capital, the combined knowledge of all organizational stakeholders. KM is also a process, the element of the knowledge services practice that enables the capture, development, sharing, and utilization of organizational knowledge for the benefit of the organization.

And as for what we might think of as “neglect” with respect to connecting KM to the people involved in managing intellectual capital, Barrie wrote a few years back about how she attended a KM conference in which the focus was expected to include attention to community-building and to the people who did the work. Instead, the conference was more technology- and search- focused, as evidenced by the preponderance of search companies among the vendors.


Collaboration Defines the Difference

Employees who focus on knowledge services generate the opposite effect – whether they are knowledge strategists or in some other position in the organization. They connect with collaborative knowledge services as they perform their duties. They are quick to describe knowledge services as, yes, the convergence of information management, KM, and strategic learning into a single over-arching operational function. And at the same time, they recognize and understand their work as supporting the organization as a knowledge culture and (while they are at it) they proselytize that their work is built on a foundation of collaborative interactions in which all participants are rewarded when they learn what they need to know and then share what they learn.

They move in this direction because, as we all know, in all organizations the boundaries that are required for “pushing” the management of intellectual capital are twofold: the overarching lack of quality in knowledge sharing in most organizations and a muted enthusiasm about KM, since for many organizations that tried it, KM did not provide the needed solution. The solution was what came to be known as collaborative knowledge services.

The knowledge strategist pushes those boundaries and does, indeed, use the ideas that come from the collaborative effort to strengthen knowledge services in the parent organization. And the strategist goes beyond “strengthening” to – through a carefully thought-out and well-leveraged awareness raising program – re-invent the organization as a new operational framework benefiting the organization at large, the creation of an enterprise-wide knowledge culture, and the achievement of the rewards that result.

“Guy St. Clair is President, Consulting Specialist for Knowledge Strategy, and Knowledge Services Evangelist for SMR International. In his professional work, Guy is recognized as an expert adviser in knowledge services and in building the organizational knowledge culture, with a special emphasis on knowledge strategy development.”

Guy was awarded SLA’s top honor, the John Cotton Dana award, at the 2019 SLA Annual Conference. Learn more about Guy St. Clair’s accolades and his life time of achievements here.