Most initiatives that require resources will be expected to show a return in investment – what benefits did we get to justify the costs involved – and knowledge management in usually no
exception. The problem is that both the costs and the benefits of knowledge management can be notoriously difficult to pin down. While the costs associated with an investment in information technology can be relatively straightforward to identify, other costs can be less so, such as for projects that involve an amalgam of resources from across the organisation, or those inherent in challenging an organisation’s culture. On the benefits side, how do you measure things like increased knowledge sharing, faster learning or better decision-making?
A number of approaches have been developed for showing financial returns on knowledge assets, such as that of Mark Clare and Arthur Detore (see Resources and References below). Such approaches tend to be rather complex, and therefore are probably more appropriate to organisations that are reasonably advanced in their knowledge management efforts, rather than just starting out.
The Knowledge Management Lifecycle
Some organisations measure the progress of their knowledge management activities in terms of their maturity – how far ‘down the line’ they are in implementing knowledge management practices and ways of working. The American Productivity and Quality Center has developed a framework known as Road Map to Knowledge Management Results: Stages of Implementation. The aim is to provide organisations with a map to guide them from getting started right through to ‘institutionalizing’ knowledge management – embedding it in the organisation and making it an integral part of the way an organisation works. The map has five stages:
Develop a strategy
Design and launch a knowledge management initiative
Expand and support
Institutionalise knowledge management