Knowledge Management Models

Knowledge Management Models

“Knowledge is experience.  Everything else is information.” Einstein

Knowledge Management (KM) is a process that helps organisations identify, select, organise, disseminate and transfer important information and expertise that are part of the organisations memory.

The following theoretical Knowledge Management models have been developed in order to simplify complex situations which can be more readily grasped and therefore adopted/implemented

The SECI Model – Nonaka & Takeuchi (1995)

Nonaka and Takeuchi developed the SECI model to provide a useful guide to managers in the early days of development of KM theories.  The authors us tacit and explicit knowledge dimensions and demonstrate four methods by which they are applied.

Tacit knowledge (that is, information, experience, skills and intuition that reside in people’s heads) can only be voluntarily shared and the extent to which people are motivated to share their knowledge is dependent on developing shared contexts, socialisation, trust and nurturing an appropriate knowledge sharing culture. Sveiby (1997) highlights the need for managers to realise that knowledge resides in people’s heads and will only be transferred if a knowledge sharing culture and environment is provided.

Explicit knowledge is information that can be codified (documented), is objective and can be recorded in electronic format and widely disseminated throughout the organisation. Once captured and stored, efficient and effective information systems are required to allow timely access to up-to-date, relevant knowledge artefacts.

The four methods of the SECI model are

  • Socialisation: this refers to the transfer of tacit-to-tacit knowledge, an example of this is face to face communication, and shared experiences through joint activities, shadowing, mentoring and apprenticeships. E.g. coffee break discussions among colleagues can help in ‘group-wise’ knowledge sharing. Doesn’t need to be physically face-to-face, this can be through shared experiences such as virtual worlds i.e. 2nd Life
  • Externalisation: this refers to the transfer of tacit to explicit knowledge, where individuals try to make their tacit knowledge available to others. Through externalisation tacit knowledge becomes explicit taking the shape of metaphors, analogies, concepts, hypotheses or models. E.g. the design of a new product explained through drawings
  • Combination: explicit to explicit, involves combining different elements of explicit knowledge to develop some new knowledge. Reconfiguring existing explicit knowledge, data and information to produce new explicit knowledge.

E.g. building a design prototype, or a researcher can assemble existing explicit knowledge to prepare a new set of specifications for a new product.

  • Internalisation: explicit to tacit knowledge. Closely related to ‘learning by doing’, individuals learn through experiencing what they have read or heard. Virtual simulations and experiments are useful electronic means of achieving internalisation.

Organisational knowledge creation takes place when all four modes are strategically managed to form a continual cycle.  This can be viewed as a continued upward spiral process, beginning at individual level and moving up to group level and then to organisational level.


Categorises knowledge into tacit or explicit while most useful is a combination of both types. (Gourlay, 2003)

Doesn’t consider that knowledge can be distorted through translation/transferal, thus ignoring the personal nature of most knowledge.

Over-reliance on technology to manipulate, store and disseminate knowledge.

The ASHEN Model – Snowden (2000)

Snowden developed an approach that applies complexity theory to knowledge management, which focuses on the use of the techniques of narrative and is based on an ‘organic’ approach to KM.  The techniques of narrative involve capturing ‘stories’ that people tell about events in the organisation and then storing these in a database with an index that permits that permits multiple searches on keywords or phrases.  A fast and efficient way to store and disseminate knowledge effectively.  A means of gaining understanding of how knowledge flows within an organisation.

E.g. Good way to store project ‘Lessons Learned’

The ASHEN model was an attempt to provide a linguistic basis for people to describe how they locate, use and share knowledge and is based on the premise of ‘we only know what we know when we need to know it’ and ‘knowledge can only ever be volunteered’ (Snowden, 2000)

Model consists of:

  • Artefacts: All existing explicit knowledge and or codified information within the organisation
  • Skills: those things for which we can identify tangible measures of their successful acquisition
  • Heuristics: rules of thumb or the effective way we make decisions when the full facts are not known
  • Experience: the most valuable and also the most difficult of the tacit assets of an organisation as experience may be collective and it may be practical or sensible to replicate the experience
  • Natural Talent: innate ability or special aptitude. Natural talent is unmanageable and it cannot be manufactured or transferred.

Managers can use the ASHEN model to help people explain what components of knowledge they used or would like to have had when they undertook particular tasks or projects (Snowden, 2000). They can articulate this by describing what ASHEN items were involved in the process and can identify where in the organisation these components reside.  This is not a model to categorise knowledge, but a means of identifying the knowledge flow within an organisation.  It helps create a shift from key-person dependency towards knowledge dependency where the emphasis is not on key ‘experts’ who may be the only individuals who know about a specific process but on an understanding of what types of knowledge are required to undertake a particular process, and where this knowledge resides.


Does not dictate any specific tools and techniques to capture and disseminate knowledge.

Time-consuming process, carrying this out at the end of project to record all knowledge types for each element may be tedious, relies on the commitment of resources to follow the processes accurately

The Knowledge Management Spectrum – Binney (2001)

This framework was developed to cover the broad range of KM applications and ensuing tools and techniques.  An understanding of the various range of KM applications, together with their enabling technologies, provides mangers with concrete examples of how and when such technologies can be usefully applied.

The six elements of KM spectrum:

Transactional KM relies on the use of knowledge gained through the application of technology and is based on case-based reasoning (CBR). When a transaction is being completed the operator inputs the data to match similar past cases, this way issues/processes are grouped and can be resolved using past experience.

Applications: CBR, Help Desk Apps, Customer Service Application

Enabling Technology: Expert systems, Cognitive technologies, Semantic networks

  • Analytical KM creates new knowledge from large amounts of data or information that can be analysed in many different ways, focusing on the use of technology. When this knowledge application is used in conjunction with knowledge discovery tools such as data mining, trends and patterns can be identified.

Applications: Data Warehousing, data mining, business Intelligence

Enabling Technology: Intelligent Agent, Web Crawlers, Relational and Object DBMS

  • Asset Management KM focuses on processes associate with the management of knowledge assets, including the management of explicit assets and intellectual capital. Equivalent to a library where all the knowledge assets are stored catalogued and available for use by employees.

Applications: IP, Doc Management, Knowledge Repositories

Enabling Technology: Document Mgmt. tools, Search engines, knowledge maps, library system

  • Process Based KM is often a development of other management practices such as TQM and BPR and covers the codification and improvement processes. E.g. ERP software that enables and supports a supply chain process. P&G and Walmart, automated stock control.

Applications: TQM, Benchmarking, Best Practices, Quality Management, BPR

Enabling Technology: Workflow management, process modelling

  • Developmental KM focuses on developing the competencies and skills of employees and is consistent with the ‘learning organisation’ concept of learning to learn. The transfer of explicit knowledge through training interventions and tacit knowledge sharing are key features of this.

Applications: Skills development, staff competencies, training and development

Emerging Technology: Computer-based training, Online training

  • Innovation/Creation KM focuses on providing an environment to stimulate the creation of new knowledge through collaboration and teamwork. Organisations must provide an environment conducive to knowledge creation and innovation, there must be trust and supportive communications, and innovations processes should be institutionalised so that it isn’t lost (Desouza et al, 2006).  Institutionalising innovation isn’t easily done and can often feel forced upon employees, and so blocking their natural creativity.

Applications: Discussion forums, virtual teams, multi-disciplinary teams

Enabling Technologies: email, intranets, bulletin boards, video conferencing

All the models presented represent different ways to explore and explain the complexity of KM.  They help managers to understand the key components of knowledge, how knowledge flows in organisations and the tools and techniques which may be applied to manage different types of knowledge.  They do not, however explain where the knowledge comes from or the organisational learning systems that need to be in place to create new knowledge.

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