What’s in a knowledge environment?

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —September 21, 2007
Filed in Strategy

In 2002 I wrote a paper called Crafting a Knowledge Strategy. Its basic premise was that a knowledge strategy should be designed for emergence: it should both encourage and cope with unpredictable things happening.

Part of the framework included something I called the knowledge environment, a container of sorts that enabled knowledge to be created, shared, lost and used. Every organisation has a knowledge environment and the role of the knowledge strategy is to work with what’s there while incrementally improving it.

So what should you (ideally people within the organisation with some guidance from people like me) examine in a knowledge environment in order to make improvements? Mnemonics helps you remember lists so this is what we came up with.

Space—physical space has a significant impact on how knowledge flows

Technology—what’s there to support knowledge work?

Organisation and People—organisational structures, roles, HR processes, rewards and recognition

Routines and Rituals—important business processes, rituals people talk about

Information—can you find the good stuff?

External—external factors affecting knowledge, job markets, industry trends, competitors, clients

Support—is KM supported by the executive? what are the tangible support structures

What have we missed?

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Hiho

    The only thing I can think of is something that might be covered under ‘O’ but not specifically stated – and it is very different than what’s stated as it works outside the structure and roles of the company.

    That thing is the unofficial communication channels. I’m not thinking about the talk around the water cooler, but the ‘go to’ guys and girls who know what’s happening throughout the company. These people are the center hub of the information network. These people talk to everyone, independent of roles and structure. And most importantly, they disseminate the rumors and stories throughout the company.

    These people are the ones that make or break any organisational change.

  2. Shawn says:

    You right Michael. I would cover that in the organisation and people category. We have done social network analyses to help with this but of course it can be easier just to ask the personal assistants 🙂

  3. Dave Simmons says:

    I can think of a few things to put in a Knowledge Environment that may be implied in your other things.

    1. A way to capture brainstorming online. More particularly, a knowledge environment should encourage human dialogue, comment, and collaboration. I’m focusing not on the infrastructure (processes, platforms), but also the actual transactions between beings.
    2. A notification system (email? RSS?) of new content put in the Kn Env. People need to be reminded, sometimes, via the tools they use. Yes, hard to believe, but not everybody gravitates to a Know. Env. if they have preferred comm. systems.
    3. A lexicon. I don’t mean an index, nor do I really mean a glossary. What is needed in a Knowledge Environment is language agreement and consistent usage of terms and phrases. I see something Wiki-like that highlights terms that have definitions, and referring links somehow. Precision of language and some way to perpetuate will keep misunderstandings to a minimum.
    4. Help screens, tutorials, case studies on this site’s successful use. We are always going to be answering the “K. Env: So what?” questions for folks new to the Knowledge Env. I would seriously look at building this from the start. It’s not only a support tool, but a marketing device.
  4. Shawn says:

    Thanks Dave. Great ideas.

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