We spend a great deal of time talking about the “knowledge services audit” – that seemingly simple management mechanism we knowledge strategists work with.
Sometimes referred to simply as the “knowledge audit,” it is not a new topic for this series of podcasts and blog posts. An earlier approach to the subject was back in 2017, on July 24 (Developing Your Knowledge Strategy Begins with the Knowledge Services Audit). Nevertheless, the more I think about it, the more I realize there is more to think about with this important subject.
As it happens, I have recently been part of quite a few conversations about how we move forward with developing knowledge strategy for the organizations where various friends and colleagues are employed. And as we talk, it’s becoming more and more clear to me, as I work with this critical subject, that one of the reasons I think so much about the knowledge services audit is that there is a certain amount of confusion about what we mean when we speak about this topic.
For one thing, we long ago took up the idea of the knowledge audit, back in the early 1980s (don’t kid yourself – that truly was a long time ago!). Back then, some of us were working with what we were calling a “needs analysis.” Our goal was to come up with some way of describing what we were doing, for many of us – primarily consultants – were working with research organizations as their managers sought to codify methodologies for establishing whether (or not) their various research development and knowledge-sharing activities were successful.
So somewhere along the way, we moved from “needs analysis” to “information audit” (after all, information was very much on our minds in the 1980s and the early 1990s, with many businesses and organizations busy creating “information centers” and “information research centers” at the time).
And we were very serious is our approach, so the evaluation tool we were calling “the information audit” seemed to fit, especially when Sue Henczel came along with her classic The Information Audit, published by De Gruyter in 2001. And (in a slight digression) which excellent work is currently being dealt with in the move to our new age of knowledge services with Henczel’s up-coming The Knowledge Services Audit. The new book builds on what was offered in the 2001 book and in Henczel’s subsequent career in traveling the world working with clients and corporate strategic learning groups on perfecting the information audit – now the knowledge services audit – for their organizations. The Knowledge Services Audit, scheduled as one of the first titles of De Gruyter’s new series on knowledge services, will further strengthen Henczel’s recognition as the authority par excellence for this important topic.
Why important? Because knowledge strategy development and, indeed, the knowledge strategy itself when developed, are founded on knowledge services, a point well made as we saw the term “knowledge audit” take over from “information audit.” And with the growth and acceptance of knowledge services as the management methodology for dealing with organizational intellectual capital, the term for evaluating the success of the effort naturally evolved into what we use today, the “knowledge services audit.” It is the term (well, as we’ll see below, one of several terms) the knowledge strategist and his or her team of knowledge services professionals, other leaders in senior positions in the organization, and other stakeholders have recognized as an appropriate way to describe what they are doing. And noting – along the way – the usual caveat that caution must be advised about the last word of the term, since the most common use of the word “audit” – that is, in financial services – is a much different animal!
Special situations notwithstanding, it has become clear that with the exception of work in financial services organizations, the knowledge services audit is the tool we use to evaluate how well the organization manages knowledge services and knowledge sharing. Indeed, it is not possible for the “idea” of knowledge strategy development or the knowledge strategy itself to move forward without a clear understanding of what has come before in the organization’s knowledge domain, and that’s why this particular endeavor must be undertaken. Work must be done, and the tool for that work – for most of us knowledge strategists — is the knowledge services audit. Or, in another digression, depending on the phraseology organizational leaders use as they speak about how they manage the organization, what we in the knowledge services field refer to as the “knowledge services audit” might be called, in the immediate organization attempting to develop a knowledge strategy, an “information services audit,” a “needs assessment,” a “service-delivery evaluation,” an “opportunity assessment,” an “appreciative inquiry,” even a “background document.” Or whatever other terminology is appropriate to the organization and used for such evaluative activities in other sections or business units of the organization.
All of which, not so incidentally, brings us to our work as managers and leaders in the organization, and the query raised in almost every organization, about what we’re going to achieve with the knowledge services audit. There are serious returns from this effort, and while we’re nearly always associating the return-on-investment/ROI construct with financial returns, there are plenty of other, “softer” benefits that can also be realized with a knowledge services audit. These come up often when we think about what we get from the knowledge services audit. I’ve managed to pull together a few that, to me, make the effort extremely valuable.
For one thing, as noted in the earlier podcast and post mentioned above, there is no question but that the knowledge services audit supports, and in many cases drives the success of the development process for the organizational knowledge strategy. But there are other benefits as well, and I’ve had a few occasions to articular these. I’ve identified six results from the work of the knowledge strategist and his or her fellow knowledge services auditors (if we choose to use “audit” as our descriptor):
- They are able to establish – without a great deal of elaboration or narrative – how knowledge sharing affects (or does not affect) organizational success
- Similarly, they are able to determine what knowledge services provides (and should) provide for the organization
- They are able to compare and contrast current information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning tools and performance against what is going to be needed, sometimes for immediate needs but certainly against future needs
- They are now able to determine a strategic direction for knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge utilization (what we generally refer to simply as “KD/KS/KU,” using the popular acronym)
- Linked to item # 4, they can now establish resource requirements for KD/KS/KU
- Building on all of the above, the knowledge strategist and his or her team can incorporate change leadership into their work, including how change management and change implementation are re-focused and put to good use in the organizational knowledge domain and the knowledge domain’s successful operational function.
What do you think? Do these thoughts about the knowledge services audit make sense to you, as a knowledge strategist or as someone getting started in your work as a knowledge strategist?
[The edited text of Knowledge Services: More on the Knowledge Services Audit, the Knowledge Services Podcast of October 4, 2018]