3.7 Knowledge Agents

3.7 Knowledge Agents

Knowledge artifacts do not perform actions and make decisions. Actions and decisions are undertaken by agents: people, organizations, or in some cases, technology. Agents carry out all the actions and exhibit all the behaviors within a knowledge flow. Newman & Kurt (1999) make the following explanation of these three types of agents:

Individual Agents: These agents sit at the center of almost every knowledge flow. For most analysts, the individual(s)(human) serves as the prototypical active force for affecting change. The individual agent is the only agent capable of performing all aspects of knowledge development, retention, transfer and utilization without the need for intervention by either of the other two agents.

                        Software individual agents are capable of working with       knowledge and knowledge     artifacts in all degrees of abstract            articulation. They are limited, however, in their ability to deal        with     artifacts that are codified in ways that fall outside the           range of human perception (radio waves, for example).

Automated AgentsThese agents can include any human construct that is capable of retaining, transferring or transforming knowledge artifacts. Automated Agents are not exclusively computerized processes, as is often assumed in discussions of knowledge management. For example, a conventional camera that encodes a representation of the visual world through chemical changes to the surface of a film could act as an automated agent, supporting knowledge creation and capture.

Organizational Agents:  These agents exist in situations in which knowledge retention and transfer cannot be fully attributed to individuals or specific automated agents. In these cases, the organization itself serves as an agent in the retention and dissemination of knowledge. As with tacit knowledge artifacts, current tools and concepts do not account very well for the roles of organizational agents in knowledge flows.

            Organizational value systems provide strong evidence for the existence of organizational agents. Much has been written about the ability of organizations and communities to establish value systems that outlive the involvement of specific individuals and the power that these value systems have to influence the behavior of individuals and groups. The principles and practices that make up these value systems are almost never codified.

            Individual, organizational and automated agents have different behavioral models. Unlike computerized agents, for example, most individuals don’t perform a given task exactly the same the way every time. If human-based knowledge transfer processes are designed to work as software processes do and the designers fail to leave sufficient room for the factor of human variability, the system is unlikely to perform as intended.

            Individual and automated agents also differ in their ability to handle implicit knowledge artifacts. For example, the ability of individuals to infer meaning of book titles usually allows them to accept a wide variety of formats and styles and even recognize titles inside streams of text (for example, The Quran). Anyone who has built filters to convert documents knows that automated agents are not skilled at supplying context.

            Agents also differ in the how well they use tacit knowledge. Individual and organizational agents can handle tacit knowledge, but because automated agents can only deal with codified artifacts, and tacit knowledge by definition defies codification, automated agents seem destined to be unable to follow suit .


More on the ways in which tacit knowledge can be addressed by knowledge management efforts can be found in The Siamese Twins: Documents and Knowledge (Newman, 1997).