Encyclopedia of Sustainable Management

Living Edition
| Editors: Samuel Idowu, René Schmidpeter, Nicholas Capaldi, Liangrong Zu, Mara Del Baldo, Rute Abreu

Knowledge Management

  • Oluwasegun SerikiEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-02006-4_472-1


In understanding how to effectively manage knowledge, one needs to first recognize what constitutes “knowledge.” Blumentritt and Johnston (1999) explain that knowledge is sometimes used interchangeably with information, and in this case, the focus should be on information management as a proxy for knowledge management. However, several interpretations of what constitutes knowledge exist, suggesting that it is much more than information or data management (Carrillo et al. 2000). Grant (1996) also explained that knowledge must be transferable and have the capacity to be aggregated and appropriated.

One of the key concepts of knowledge was put forward by Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995), who defined knowledge as a dynamic human process of justifying personal belief toward the “truth” (i.e., a justified true belief). Later, Zack (1999) presented that for organizations to stay competitive, they must learn how to effectively and efficiently create, locate, capture, and share knowledge and expertise for problem-solving and gaining advantage. Webb (1998) also defined knowledge management as the “…identification, optimisation and active management of intellectual assets to create value, increase productivity, and gain and sustain competitive advantage.” Thus, the KM process involves the creation, dissemination, sharing, and storage of knowledge. Since the introduction of the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018, a new aspect of knowledge management needs to be updated known as data protection.

Therefore, knowledge management can be defined as:

….the process through which knowledge is created, located, captured, shared, regularly updated, validated (-or fact-checked) and protected for creating efficiencies and gaining competitive advantage.


Rennie (1999) outlined that knowledge is about knowing-why, knowing-how, and knowing- who and that it is a particular intangible economic resource from which future revenues can be derived. In understanding the concept of knowledge management, it is critical to examine what knowledge is, why it needs to be managed, how it can be managed, and who is responsible for its management. Von Kutzschenbach and Brønn (2010) postulated that the first phase in knowledge management is the acquisition of knowledge, with the later stages being the transfer, utilization, and storage of knowledge. Yang (2011) also asserted that KM is primarily concerned with identifying/creating, assimilating, and applying organizational knowledge to exploit new opportunities and enhance organizational performance.

Knowledge is considered a strategic asset to maintain competitiveness and create a niche for the firm within a sector of activity (Bergeron and Raymond 1992). It is not unusual to find firms lacking a structured approach to managing knowledge. How then do managers identify what knowledge to manage or exclude? How do they organize the firm structure to place responsibility on the individuals responsible for knowledge management for competitiveness? The purpose of these questions is to understand what knowledge it is required for and what it contributes to, who needs it, how they will use it, and where they can find it when it is required (Carrillo et al. 2000).

Six critical considerations in the knowledge management process will now be explored in detail in this entry:
  1. 1.

    Know what

  2. 2.


  3. 3.

    Know who

  4. 4.


  5. 5.

    Know where

  6. 6.

    Know when


Know What (Identification)

The first step in knowledge management is “knowing what” kind of knowledge that the firm needs to acquire. Since knowledge has been formally recognized as a resource for attaining competitive advantage (Spender and Grant 1996), special attention needs to be paid to what type of knowledge a firm acquires for management. This process is known as knowledge identification. The identification of knowledge relevant to the achievement of organizational objectives is critical for knowledge management (Connaughton et al. 2015). When this identification process is complete, they can then be leveraged for competitiveness. Two broad types of knowledge are identified within KM literature – tacit and explicit knowledge (Bresnen et al. 2003).

Tacit knowledge is used in reference to knowledge gained via accumulated experience and learning of an individual (Debowski 2006), and it is usually developed via direct experience and action; is generally very logical and case-specific; is intuitively understood and applied; is challenging to articulate; and can only in most cases be frequently disseminated via interactive interaction and personalized experience (McAdam et al. 2007). Explicit knowledge, on the other hand, is usually transmittable in formal, systematic language and can be readily made available in a conceptualized format and stored in information systems (Takeuchi and Nonaka 2004). While explicit knowledge is easier to document and identify, tacit knowledge is linked to individuals engaged in practices and draws on the unconscious, intangible activities that have been gained over time and that are enacted collectively (Rasche and Chia 2009). In addition, tacit knowledge involves activities focus on the storage of knowledge in human minds and its subsequent sharing/transfer through direct social interactions, thus is often harder to manage due to its perceived stickiness and ambiguity in measurement.

The identification process for knowledge is the first, critical step in the management of knowledge, and Grant’s (1996) knowledge-based view of the firm explains the crucial nature of knowledge for attaining long-term competitive advantage, mainly because its utilization can lead to value creation.


To promote knowledge capture and acquisition within knowledge management, individuals or firms need to know why a particular kind of knowledge needs to be acquired or captured (Chen and Hung 2010). Questions to be asked in this phase include the following:
  • Of what operational or strategic importance is this knowledge?

  • Is the knowledge critical to achieving the stated objectives of the firm? For instance, there is no point for a cloud software company to acquire logistics-related knowledge similar to fast-moving consumer goods (FCMG) firms.

  • Why is this knowledge relevant?

The list of questions needed to be asked in the know-why phase is non-exhaustive but indicative of the typical issues that should arise in the knowledge management process. This will enable staff involved in the KM process to identify critical priorities and questions that should be asked concerning what the knowledge is required for and why it is being managed, thus providing clarity to those who will be involved in the management thereof.

Know Who

Within the KM process, managers must be able to identify with whom vital knowledge on projects are located and who has it (Yin 2003). It is also equally important to understand who will be utilizing knowledge and the key actors responsible for unlocking value from it. Under this heading, some of the questions to be asked include:
  • Who has the knowledge (whether tacit or explicit), i.e., custodians of knowledge?

  • Who will be using the knowledge, i.e., who needs to know what?

  • Who is responsible for interpreting knowledge?

  • Who is responsible for updating knowledge?

  • Who authorizes access to knowledge?

The questions above will assist in identifying people-related aspects in the KM process, including critical actors in the network and whom to ask about specific problems and tasks.

Know-How (Procedures)

This step in the KM process includes identifying intra-firm organizational procedures/culture, much of which will be unwritten, informal, and tied into the culture of the organization. Prusak (1996) outlined that not only must a firm be conscious about what it knows but also how it uses knowledge is a critical determinant of its competitiveness. In the KM process, one must be able to clearly delineate the intra-firm procedures involved in knowledge management and the subsequent utility of the knowledge. This delineation will then guide how the firm will deploy organizational and technological resources and capabilities for explicating and leveraging the said knowledge (Hari et al. 2005). Also, this will assist in identifying the location of knowledge when it is needed.

Know Where (Location/Storage)

Within KM systems, users and managers alike must develop a capability that enhances all employees to locate relevant knowledge/expertise quickly (Callahan 2002). Egbu et al. (2005) outlined that explicit knowledge is easy to be located but tacit knowledge is mainly in people’s heads and therefore hard to organize into a system that can be searched. Kamara et al. (2003) also posit that locating knowledge repositories involves reliance on informal networks, as opposed to structured signposting to the required knowledge. KM processes should include structures that allow for accessible location of expertise, supported by either technology or easy-to-follow guidelines.

Know When (Timeline of Updating Knowledge and Timeliness)

When does knowledge become obsolete and required updating or outright discarding? These question needs to be incorporated into the KM process, to ensure that knowledge is regularly updated and those that are no more relevant are archived on demand. For instance, a company that used to have knowledge management systems for typewriting or sending faxes needs to consider archiving that knowledge and replacing them with modern typesetting using computers and email systems.

Offsey (1997) also espoused that timeliness is vital for KM systems, i.e., knowledge should be made available when(ever) it is needed. It is, therefore, critical for managers to know when a specific type of knowledge is required and the timing needed for making it available (Kim 2009). Due to the rate of changing dynamics in knowledge and depending on the industry, it is recommended that KM systems be updated within an agreed timeline.

Knowledge Protection

The introduction of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has necessitated the emphasis of a crucial component of knowledge management, known as knowledge protection. Allameh et al. (2011) outline that knowledge protection involves activities for protecting knowledge against inappropriate use or being leaked inside or outside of the organization. Probst et al. (2000) also argue that knowledge must have limited access, especially that which is critical for competitiveness. Some of the restrictions that are used in practice include password technology, encryption, and more recently the use of blockchain technology.

Knowledge Validation (Fact-Checking)

How do we know that the knowledge held by an organization is valid or factual? Tchechmedjiev et al. (2019) outlined that knowledge management requires claims to be contextualized and labeled as accurate to facilitate supervision, validation, or reproducibility of such knowledge. Firms need to establish checking mechanisms to ensure knowledge is true and factual before it is replicated or shared. This component adds an additional step in the KM process, needed to ensure knowledge is accurate and true.


This entry has explored the concept of knowledge management, first outlining what constitutes “knowledge” and the process involved in its management. Six key components are described, with the additional, relatively underexplored area of fact-checking introduced. The definition presented in this entry covered vital areas such as the kind of knowledge involved, why and how it is managed, who is involved in the management process, where the knowledge is located, and when it needs to be updated. The definition also considers the protection of knowledge against inappropriate use or access.



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Technological University DublinDublinIreland

Section editors and affiliations

  • Arto O. Salonen
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Social Sciences and Business StudiesUniversity of Eastern FinlandKuopioFinland