All knowledge is not equal.

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ImageWhen exploring the possibility of building a repository of business knowledge it is worth understanding that knowledge presents itself in many different forms and should consequently have different treatments and perhaps different values associated to it.

It is generally understood that knowledge can be categorised as either being:

  • Tacit Knowledge: this is knowledge that is embedded within individuals and is based on their own experiences and involves such intangible factors as their personal beliefs, perspective s and values.

Tacit knowledge forms that invisible, influential part of organisational knowledge, subtly driving the organisational culture, relationships and capabilities.

Tacit knowledge is often difficult to articulate and consequently hard to communicate and store, it consists of non-codified content. Being resident exclusively in the human mind, it can be communicated through face-to-face contact and the telling of stories. Sharing of tacit knowledge which is “owned” by the individual is realistically the only way that this can be preserved within a business. Losing a ‘sole owner’ of tacit knowledge can be disastrous.

  • Explicit knowledge: is knowledge that can be fully articulated and consequently captured and transmitted. Being easier to articulate, communicate and store, explicit knowledge can be codified and stored in artifacts such as documents (paper or digital) or databases. Explicit knowledge can be “owned” solely by the organization and is not dependent on the individual.

Tacit and Explicit Knowledge are however fairly course grained categories. To be able to best assign some value to either we should also look further. At the highest level Knowledge has an additional classification in that it can regarded as being

  • a priori knowledge which is gained without needing to observe the world and
  • a posteriori or empirical knowledge which is only obtained after observing the world or interacting with it in some way.

Other means of categorising knowledge encompass:

  • Personal Knowledge: is knowledge of acquaintance and is gained through experience. This knowledge can be affected by personal belief systems

Belief systems are a powerful influencer of personal knowledge. A person, believing something to be true, with neither personal experience nor evidence to support it may presume this to be knowledge and communicate it as such.

  • Procedural Knowledge: describes how something can be done. People who claim to know how to operate a computer, or model the business using software tools, are not simply claiming that they understand the theory involved in these activities but are claiming to possess the skills required to do them. Knowledge of this type could be said to be “know how knowledge”
  • Propositional Knowledge: or descriptive knowledge is the knowledge of facts. These will be supported by ‘scientific’ or observable evidence. By its very nature knowledge of this type can be expressed in declarative sentences or indicative propositions.
  • Inferential knowledge: is based on reasoning. It is established though taking facts and/or theories an inferring something new. This knowledge may not be verifiable through either observation or testing but can be a powerful tool asset in supporting the decision making process.

Understanding the source of knowledge and how it has been established provides significant value to it user. Being able to adequately deal with personal and corporate beliefs is important. It is possible to believe yet not to know or to know yet not to believe.

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