The Metaknowledge Guide offers a concise, practical guide to knowledge management for both newcomers and experienced practitioners.
Part V takes a deep dive into the different roles involved in each of the KM activities.
Following are the different roles involves in the knowledge management (KM) activities. While they each have their own focus and responsibilities, they don’t necessarily require different people. If the scope of the KM program is small enough, one person could fulfil multiple roles.
Before going into the roles related to specific activities, let’s review the roles involve in the KM program as a whole.
- The defining role of knowledge management is, of course, the knowledge manager. Especially in smaller organisations, the knowledge manager’s role may be very broad and touch on all four of the KM activities. However, experience has shown that these activities each require their own skills – not to mention time investment – which has caused a number of more specialized roles to emerge. That’s not to say the role of knowledge manager is outdated. While these specialized roles may have taken up some of the earlier responsibilities, the knowledge manager remains the end-to-end overseer of the KM process as a whole, and most often a contact point for those seeking KM services.
- The knowledge project manager (PM) or knowledge management manager is just that – they oversee the knowledge management project, manage scope and milestones, and direct available resources. When there are multiple KM projects happening within a single initiative, a knowledge program manager might be involved as well – ensuring the projects remain aligned on achieving the program’s strategic goals.
- The chief knowledge officer (CKO’s) translates the strategic goals of the organisation into KM initiatives, and is responsible for securing the necessary resources and support. As organisational learning is becoming a strategic focus for more and more companies, the CKO is gradually becoming a more common role. Note: it is important to distinguish the domain of the CKO from that of the Chief HR officer or Chief Learning Officer – which focus on the development of individuals and teams – while the CKO focuses on the improvement and retention of the capabilities of the organisation as a whole.
1. Connecting People and Direct Knowledge Sharing
The responsibilities within this first KM activity revolve around connecting knowledge seekers to knowledge providers, and ensuring discussions create actionable insights that the participants can apply to improve their work. Managing a community or organizing events – especially larger ones – takes time. Hence, it’s important that these roles are made explicit rather than assumed, and that they receive the time and resources needed.
- A facilitator is valuable in just about any knowledge sharing. In a single event, they facilitate productive exploration of different views without descending into blame or argument, ensure everyone is heard and involved, and that the discussion ultimately produces actionable conclusions. They are generally responsible for organizing the event, and making sure any necessary preparation (such as gathering potential discussion points) is done beforehand. Within a community or network, the facilitator moderates discussions, and encourages participation and engagement of members.
- A community leader is the overall ‘owner’ of the community or network, and responsible for ensuring it serves its intended purpose as a knowledge-sharing platform. They set the community’s focus and policies, develop its membership, and promote the community with its management sponsors to secure the necessary resources.
- A mentor provides technical or career guidance to less experienced colleagues. Mentors often serve as permanent or semi-permanent participants in one-to-one or one-to-many events (see part IV: Process), but could also serve as facilitators in relevant communities. Regardless of the focus, a mentorship needs to be considered as a project to be effective, with a defined end-goal and phased plan.
2. Capturing Scalable Knowledge
Ideally, everyone in the organisation that uses information also contributes to that information. Even then, there is usually a need for dedicated people to optimize the content for reuse.
- A knowledge engineer (whose role overlaps with those of business analysts, process analysts, and researchers) captures useful insights, processes, and decision-making logic and turns it into information that others can use. In many organisations, this overlaps with the role of the business or operations analyst, though these roles tend to be more about finding the cause of specific issues or identifying opportunities for improvement rather than supporting knowledge sharing per se.
In a process KM context, a knowledge engineer will often work hand-in-hand with the process owner to capture valuable insights. They may also have a key role in interviewing retiring experts to ensure their experience is retained and embedded in the organisation’s processes. In KSM the role of the knowledge engineer should be embedded in the role of everyone who provides the services. That way, everyone has the responsibility of capturing questions and answers for customers and colleagues. In fact, this Capture In The Moment is one of the core principles of the KCS® methodology (see Part IV: Process). That aside, the knowledge engineer identifies which knowledge the ‘customer’ was missing to prevent the issue in the first place, and creates the information needed to meet that need. In this way, the knowledge analyst helps reduce the dependency on experts. In a research KM context, the role of the knowledge engineer overlaps with that of researchers. While researchers may be working on a specific issue or trying to find a specific pattern, the knowledge analyst seeks to identify gaps in the available information.
Regardless of their context, a knowledge engineer needs to be good at asking critical questions, finding the why behind things, and needs to be able to make distinction between anecdotal and scalable insights.
- The role of the lesson-learned facilitator is a combination between knowledge analyst and facilitator. They not only ensure the smooth running of the after-action review or retrospect, but also capture the insights gained from these events, and follow up on any action points to ensure their implementation.
3. Ensuring the Quality and Accuracy of Information
- A knowledge owner could also be known as process owner, product owner, subject matter expert, or simply knowledge manager. They determine who the ‘customers’ of the information are, and ensure the available information meets their needs. They set standards for the structure of the content, ensure its quality and completeness. They monitor the use of that information, and work with the knowledge project manager to implement improvements.
- A knowledge editor usually works together with knowledge engineers to add and improve the content of the knowledgebase. While the analyst tends to focus on capturing and improving knowledge, the editor usually focuses on the format and readability of the information. They may also handle any comments or small improvements on existing information.
4. Making Information Findable & Reusable
- A knowledge analyst researches and compiles information into useful summaries or briefings for customer-facing staff and managers. This role is most common in service and consulting organisations.
- Especially in larger organisations, different teams may have different interpretations of the same concepts, leading to confusion and potentially costly mistakes. A taxonomist plays a crucial role in creating a common ‘vocabulary’ for the organisation, and translate it into connections between people and information. In practice this could mean maintaining a lexicon of terminology. It could also involve linking individual profiles to different projects, technologies, competences, or other knowledge domains people might have, so it becomes easier to find useful contacts when looking for knowledge. Taxonomists also create and manage the system of ‘tags’ used in the organisation’s knowledge bases.
- While the knowledge owner focuses on the content of the information, the information manager focuses on the organization, access, and security of the information They manage the different KM technologies available, and act as liaison with the organisation’s IT team.