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The Difference Between KM (Knowledge Management) & KMb (Knowledge Mobilization)

Anyone who carefully observes the continuing development of Knowledge Mobilization – particularly by means of social media – will recognize the difference between KM (Knowledge Management) and KMb (Knowledge Mobilization). Among knowledge mobilizers, knowledge brokers, researchers and researcher-users, the distinction is fairly clear; but for others the two terms continue to seem synonymous. They are not.

The field of Knowledge Management (KM) was established as a discipline in 1991. An important KM paper addressing what was earlier referred to as organizational knowledge was written by Ikujiro Nonaka who made the early connection between tacit knowledge (experiential) and explicit knowledge (articulated, codified, and stored) with knowledge conversion – the interaction of these forms of knowledge – particularly to enhance an organisation’s efficiency, productivity and profitability. KM places a strong emphasis on corporate knowledge culture. Nonaka used the following model to demonstrate:

The field of knowledge Mobilization (KMb) continues to emerge, roughly established within the past decade. Early-on Knowledge Mobilization also adopted KM as an abbreviated identifier, but is now using KMb to make a clear distinction. Some of the early KMb literature refers to knowledge mobilization as KM, which also causes some unfortunate confusion. For a very brief KMb history lesson click here.

I recently tweeted about the distinction between KM and KMb after thinking about ways to make the difference more concise and better understood. My tweet:

Knowledge Management (KM) is the content; Knowledge Mobilization (KMb) is the process.

Knowledge Management is about strategies and practices of organizing information to identify, create, represent, and distribute knowledge in a systematic manner within an organizational structure. It is the seemingly confined content of knowledge.

Knowledge Mobilization is the overall flow and on-going and constant input and development of knowledge. It is the open process of putting available knowledge into active service to benefit not just one particular corporate or organizational structure, but for the greater benefit of all in society.

It is the more corporate and organizationally confining factor of KM that makes it different from the socially inclusive and contributory factor of KMb.

To provide an analogy: Knowledge Management is like a cup that contains and provides structure; Knowledge Mobilization is like the liquid that can fill the cup to overflowing – always open to the multidirectional flow and input of knowledge from many sources that contributes to the constant liquid being poured for and provided by everyone. Is knowledge ever a limited source?

Both KM and KMb are important for knowledge development. But the distinction must be made between the KM content and the KMb process; the KM organizational or corporate confinement of knowledge and the KMb social or community flow of knowledge.

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2 responses to “The Difference Between KM (Knowledge Management) & KMb (Knowledge Mobilization)

  1. researchimpact January 5, 2011 at 10:18 am

    The cup analogy is interesting. My thinking about the analogy would be:

    water = knowledge (the thing we are managing or mobilizing)
    cup = IT and other systems that hold the knowledge (including the heads of people that hold tacit knowledge)
    the multi-stakeholder process of getting the water from source (ie tap) to cup to consumer = KMb

    a well hydrated consumer = social benefit

    • KMbkteam January 5, 2011 at 10:25 am

      That’s an excellent understanding and further clarification of the analogy I used to convey the differences between KM and KMb. And – of course – keeping consumers well hydrated with knowledge does create a social benefit for everyone.

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