Does your #nonprofit know about #KnowledgeManagement?

I first learned about the concept of Knowledge Management (KM) back in 2012 as I was preparing to enter library school, and it immediately sparked my interest for its total systems thinking approach to handling the creation, distillation, and transfer of knowledge and information within an organization. Unlike traditional library science norms, KM is rooted in strategies, workflows, and organizational principles that address all types of knowledge exchanges in a company. These concepts are then embedded in existing practices to optimize or pair with continuous improvement, positive feedback loops, or other methods for optimizing a company.  Corporate libraries often assume a quite passive and limited role in the total lifecycle of a piece of information or knowledge, and are normally at the end point of many business workflows. In this structure, librarians predominantly play a role of defense [with some offense on resource acquisition] and problem solving to ensure that assets are captured and findable– which of course is extremely important in today’s world of big data. To differentiate these two fairly similar disciplines, KM plays an equal mix of both offense and defense and acts as the bridge between libraries and the administrators to help them improve their organization within today’s common challenges such as reducing costs, improved efficiency, worker effectiveness, competition, and mission goals. KM is information management with internal consulting roles in strategy, communication, information systems, and human resources. KM often comprises of both strategies and tools, where knowledge sharing technologies are introduced to help support newly adopted principles.

KM has many working deifinitions depending on what industry you’re talking two, so i’ll give a couple right now:

From the business perspective, “Knowledge management is a collaborative and integrated approach to the creation, capture, organization, access, and use of an enterprise’s intellectual assets.” (Grey, 1996)

And here’s a KM definition from the process-technology perspective: “The tools, techniques, strategies to retain, analyze, organize, improve, and share business expertise.” (Groff and Jones, 2003)

After that quick primer on KM, I hope you have a slightly better understanding or appreciation for what this emerging discipline can do for improving the value of an organization. As a knowledge manager for an architecture, research and planning firm in Philadelphia I can testify to the many benefits of instilling a formal KM program. Furthermore, as a green professional interested in cultural landscapes and public gardens, I see many components of KM that would benefit non-profit organizations aspiring to leverage cumulative knowledge to enhance their mission.  KM has been engrained in the private industry for a least a decade now, and like formalized marketing departments and corporate organizational hierarchies, the practices are slowly being instituted in medium to large non profit organizations. Marketing departments at some public gardens rival the horticulture staff in numbers, and all of the sudden department heads for units such as education and facilities are now bestowed with a “vice president” title. These are mission-driven changes, and KM is next.

I’d now like to share a very useful resource in the architecture, engineering, and construction [AEC] industry for knowledge management practices, and then help you decide how easily these concepts can transfer to the non-profit world. The chart below was created by Christopher Parsons, founder of KA Connect, which is an annual conference and social network seeking to advance the practice of knowledge management in the AEC Industry. The graphic essentially utilizes the framework of the periodic table of elements in science to help users understand all the program elements required for KM in the AEC industry. I highly recommend listening to the recording of his presentation to fully understand how the chart is visualized, and how companies should reference the resource when building their KM program. In this concept, there are 33 program elements that makes up KM and they are divided among the following six disciplines: Information systems; Information management; research & development; knowledge transfer; knowledge sharing; and program management


For those in the non-profit world, I urge to consider the following concepts:

  1. How many of these program elements are you currently undertaking?
  2. How many of these are being executed at the informal vs. formal level?
  3. Which elements seem very intriguing, and you would like to learn more about?
  4. Are there any elements that you think has nothing to do with KM?
  5. How do these elements fit in with your current staffing needs?
  6. How do these elements align with your current IT and infrastructure strategies?
  7. How many of these elements are vital to advancing your mission?
  8. How do the six disciplines relate to your organization?

My goal for this post is to share my insights and help make connections between industries, as well as educate people on the basics of knowledge management. Going forward, I will aim to highlight these 33 program elements as case studies.


Smarter by Design: A Knowledge Management Manifesto for the AEC Industry.

Grey, D. 1996. What is Knowledge Management? The Knowledge Management Forum. March 1996,

Groff, T. and T. Jones. 2003. Introduction to Knowledge Management: KM in Business. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heineman



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