In my view governance ensures that the whole system, whether it is a corporate governance system or a knowledge management system, is performing optimally and as intended and as required for the objectives of the organisation to be met. In relation to knowledge management:
- Plans, policies and processes need to be appropriate, responsive and feasible
- Supporting technologies should be fit for purpose and intuitive to users
- Appropriately skilled people should be reflective, self engaged, valued and supported
- Training and learning should be embedded and embraced
- Oversight and review should be required, regular, valued and embraced
- Innovation and improvement should be continuous
Think of this as a set of requirements that is cyclical in nature and is continually being refreshed and renewed.
Governance should not be at arms length and passive. Ticking off that requirements have been met against a high level checklist is passive governance. Engaged, proactive governance of policies, processes and the system as a whole ensures that problems are found and rectified.
Here is an important aside though – not all aspects of knowledge management – particularly those relating to tacit knowledge – can be enforced in an organisation. The orientation of KM governance is towards a support and improvement perspective.
Peter Cebon (a highly respected consultant and academic at Melbourne University Business School) reflects on the need for governance to have overall active engagement and for it to occasionally do “deep dives” to find areas of improvement. He states that this newer approach to corporate governance, is now becoming more widely adopted. www.abc.net.au/radionational/program/bestpracticer.peter-cebon/8269852.
For knowledge management governance, it’s important to be clear about what the purpose of knowledge management is, and it must be possible to determine that the requirements of each component have been met. For instance how has it been determined that the policies and processes developed and deployed ARE appropriate and feasible? Has there been consultation in the development, review of best practice, piloting and testing etc?
Due to the need to focus on both tacit and explicit aspects of knowledge, KM governance requires involvement from, and with, a number of business areas, especially HR. For KM to be effective, staff need to willingly engage in the practice of sharing and contributing information and knowledge. Components of the KM system have affinity with HR processes such as personnel selection, training, motivation, exiting.
IT is also an important partner in KM governance. Where IT is viewed as a cost centre, it might be considered rather narrowly from a corporate governance point of view, but it is a key enabler and organisation capability, and needs to be considered within the overall KM and corporate governance framework.
One of the purposes of KM governance is to ensure the corporate “memory” and capabilities are preserved, expanded, protected and functioning effectively in order to perform and achieve its objectives. An organisation without a memory is like a person who has lost his/her memory. Another purpose is to ensure that corporate assets and resources are exploited efficiently and effectively, reducing wastage and duplication of effort in recreating information or knowledge resources. Another is to ensure that the organisation learns from its experience and can adapt as the environment around it changes.
KM governance should fit within, and align with, the overall corporate governance requirements in the organisation. If the organisation’s corporate governance model is high level and tends to delegate responsibilities loosely, then a highly engaged governance model for KM might not be so feasible – although as we’ve explained, it is highly desirable.
KM governance is usually undertaken by a high level management committee. It should have senior representatives from across the organisation as well as KM champions and the manager with KM responsibility overall. It is not much help to have committee members who do not understand the role of governance, or do not understand KM, or who do not want to be on it.
If the active engagement model of governance that we have spoken about is deployed, then it is possible there will be sub committees (or nominated persons) to “actively engage” in some aspects of the governance from time to time and to conduct the improvement oriented “deep dives”.
It takes a long time to embed KM in an organisation and that embedding never really ceases - people change, projects come and go, processes change etc. The governance methodology might need to change as well. Weakness in governance comes through:
- failure to actively review all aspects of the KM system regularly and
- failure to keep membership of the KM governance committee at the level of seniority it commenced with
- failure to keep those members sufficiently engaged and informed.
In addition to reviewing the KM system, KM governance oversight needs to evaluate the contribution of the KM system to the business outcomes – it is not just about compliance. Cross business consultation needs to be undertaken as part of this process and it should also include tests of “what if ……(e.g. project after action reviews) did NOT happen” or “what if ….. (e.g. collaborative software) was not deployed” – what would that do to our business outcomes? That is to say, evaluation should not just consider actual outcomes, but also the risk of adverse outcomes if particular measures are not in place.