KM experts are often asked where KM is best placed within an organisation, with no definitive answer. Experience shows that KM does not have a clear place of its own and is often placed in very different units. The key point is that KM is very much cross-functional and affects every unit and team in an organisation, and therefore should not be isolated. This suggests that no matter where KM is placed and who KM focal points report to, it is important that the efforts and benefits of KM work are distributed evenly across the organisation.
So where should it sit?
- What goals are you trying to achieve with KM?
Think about organisational, departmental and project-level goals and priorities, and how KM can help you achieve those goals. Break them up into long-, medium- and short-term objectives and milestones. If you are looking to strengthen your human resources, encourage knowledge sharing and retain knowledge, then it might make sense to place KM within the HR unit and introduce relevant practices. If you want to improve information flows and draw lessons learned and best practices to improve project performance, then you may benefit from placing KM within the information management, reporting, or M&E. Make sure you define clear objectives and milestones, as well as the bigger goals, at every level before deciding on KM’s best fit.
- What challenges are you trying to overcome?
In addition to the goals, map out the challenges your organisation is facing and how KM may be able to address those challenges. As above, are you trying to solve the problem of knowledge hoarding or institutional memory loss due to a lack of relevant practices to share and retain knowledge? Do you keep making the same mistakes and reinvent the wheel when planning a new project? Do your employees find it hard to access information that they need, which results in delays or poor performance? Consider all the difficulties, inefficiencies and other issues that hinder your organisational performance at different levels as these will help define the role of KM and its place.
It is worth noting that placing KM in one unit or another may make a different impact in that particular unit and across the organisation. That being said, it will have a different focus and purpose. As mentioned above, while KM may be placed in a particular unit, a high level of interaction and collaboration between units should be ensured, so that the benefits of KM are shared equally within the organisation. Knowledge champions should be identified in different units and teams, and engaged in idea generation and decision-making. This way, they can act as ambassadors of KM work in their respective circles.
A good KM assessment is a good start to help you and your organisation understand where the pain points are, as well as the opportunities. It can also help decide on where to best position KM within your organisation.
Contributor: Lori Reid, Senior KM Consultant, Consult KM International