‘Enabling Knowledge’ –An Introduction

The need for Enabling Knowledge

With the advent of the internet and the increased use of information technologies, it has been found, that there is a dramatic increase in the quantity and variety of information that is available to professionals operating in various Communities of Practice.

Communities of Practice (henceforward referred to as CoP), comprise of any group of people who are engaged in a similar set of activities either consciously or unconsciously. CoPs can include professional communities like lawyers, doctors, etc., as also organizational communities such as a sales force, call-center executives, corporate finance professionals, etc.1

However, it is found that this increase in the quantity of information available, does not necessarily mean that the quality of decision-making and learning in the CoP improves correspondingly. This phenomenon is referred to as ‘Absorptive Capacity’. ‘Absorptive Capacity’ impacts the ability of members of a CoP to recognize the value of new external information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends. Thus the premise of the notion of ‘Absorptive Capacity’ is that an organization (or CoP) needs prior related knowledge to assimilate and use new knowledge.2

What is Enabling Knowledge?

‘Enabling Knowledge’ refers to the prior related knowledge of a CoP that enables the members of the community to improve or enhance their absorption of new knowledge in relation to the changing circumstances. The criticality of ‘Enabling Knowledge’ cannot be over emphasized. Its relationship to existing forms of knowledge may be understood through the concept of the “Ladder of Business Intelligence”, in which the bottom rung is disparate data sources or facts; Data are organized facts; Information is organized data; Knowledge is organized information; and Understanding is organized knowledge; this Understanding leading to creative thinking in individuals.6 ‘Enabling Knowledge’ is at the level of “Understanding”, within this “Ladder of Business Intelligence”.

‘Enabling Knowledge’ derives from multiple sources within an organization.

A part of ‘Enabling Knowledge’ refers to the intermediary practices in a CoP, which previously depended wholly on human relationships and judgment, but has now become increasingly open to codification and mechanization9.

‘Enabling Knowledge’ also refers to the current state of accepted truths, scientific knowledge, and assumptions, used by the community in order to understand and appreciate new theories and knowledge being encountered by the community, these being called the paradigms of the community5.

‘Enabling Knowledge’ also refers to the high level business design of the organization or community, which refers to the way the members of the community work with each other and stipulates the outcomes that are owed by one another, and to the customer. It does not show ‘who reports to whom’ as organization charts do, nor does it codify the ‘flow of work’ as do process maps. The high level business design originates in the firm’s ‘reason for being’ and the stated purpose that the system exists to achieve.4

‘Enabling Knowledge’ also refers to the embedded knowledge also called ‘tacit knowledge’7

Need for a formal approach to Enabling Knowledge

The value of a formal approach is that practitioners can

(i) make explicit and organized, the ‘Enabling Knowledge’ of a Community of Practice, which at present is available in disparate locations and in disparate forms (tacit and explicit i.e. both in formal documents and as accepted but non-codified ways of thinking about and arriving at various outputs in the Community of Practice)

(ii) specify the ‘Enabling Knowledge’ of a Community of Practice, so that the Community of Practice is able to effectively use such knowledge for (a) development of new members of the Community of Practice (b) use the specification to track and assimilate new knowledge effectively (c) use such elements of the specification so as to improve the quality of information use and decision-making by various members of the Community of Practice.

References

1. Brown.J.S. and Duguid.P. (2000); The Social Life of Information; Harvard Business School Press (pages 141, 142-143; 125-127).

2. Cross.R. and Israelit.S. (2000, 2001); Strategic Learning in a Knowledge Economy; Butterworth Heinemann (pages 39-41).

3. Despres.C. and Chauvel.D. (2000, 2001); A Thematic Analysis of the Thinking in Knowledge Management – Knowledge Horizons; Butterworth Heinemann.

4. Haeckel, Stephan H. Adaptive Enterprise Creating and Leading Sense-and-Respond Organizations. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999.

5. Kuhn.T.S.(1962, 1970); The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; The University of Chicago Press (pages 43-51)

6. Mckenna.R. (2002); Total Access; Harvard Business School Press (page 158)

7. Myers.P.S. (1996, 2001); Knowledge Management and Organizational Design; Butterworth; Heinemann.

8. Snowden.D. (2000, 2001); The Social Ecology of Knowledge Management – Knowledge Horizons; Butterworth Heinemann.

9. Wilhelm.W.J. and Downing.J.D. (2001); Information Markets – What Businesses Can Learn from Financial Innovation; Harvard Business School Press (preface page. ix)

10. Geus, Arie De. The Living Company, Growth, Learning and Longevity in Business. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 1999.

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