7.4 Personal Knowledge Management

7.4 Personal Knowledge Management

         There is no generally accepted definition of term “personal knowledge management” (PKM). Even if there is it still mean different things to different people, depending on their own activities, priorities and background.  On his website , David Gurteen described personal knowledge management as “taking responsibility for what you know, who you know – and what they know.”  He further pointed out PKM is a smorgasbord of principles, concepts, disciplines and tools that we can all apply as knowledge workers in the new knowledge economy to help improve our ability to meet our personal and business objectives. Wikipedia defines PKM as a “collection of processes that an individual carries out to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in his/her daily activities.”

         Knowledge management has been described as a systematic attempt to create, gather, distribute, and use knowledge (Davenport & Prusak, 1998). It has been put into practice in enterprises for more than two decades and become fundamental to future success in current knowledge society. The flourishing future of knowledge management in enterprises promotes the scope of personal knowledge management (PKM). Professor Paul A. Dorsey  argues that PKM has to be considered as "a set of a problem-solving skills that have both a logical or conceptual as well as physical or hands-on component." (Pettenati et al., 2007).  The seven skills he identifies are :

  • retrieving information
  • evaluating/assessing information
  • organizing information
  • analyzing information
  • presenting information
  • securing information
  • collaborating around information

         A more detailed description of PKM was discussed by Frand and Hixon from Anderson School. They maintain, “PKM is a conceptual framework to organize and integrate information that we, as individuals, feel is important so that it becomes part of our personal knowledge base. It provides a strategy for transforming what might be random pieces of information into something that can be systematically applied and that expands our personal knowledge” (Frand & Hixon, 1999).

         Steve Barth comments that: "PKM involves a range of relatively simple and inexpensive techniques and tools that anyone can use to acquire, create and share knowledge, extend personal networks and collaborate with colleagues without having to rely on the technical or financial resources of the employer."

         Their approach covers both the skills and technological aspects. First, one has to develop a mental map to depict the working knowledge. Second, an organizational structure needs to be created to facilitate the location of both personal and professional information. At the end, appropriate technologies are needed as organic/enabling tools to organize and extend the personal memory, as well as to synergize and process ideas for effective problem solving and decision making.         

            Lilia Efimova (2005) defines, "personal KM is about being aware of conversations you engage in [...], relations that enable them, and ideas that you take from and bring into these conversations". PKM then "shifts responsibility for learning and knowledge sharing from the company to individuals, which is a challenge to both sides, and in this sense companies must create the conditions for PKM to emerge among knowledge workers."

         So, what is PKM really about? In simple words, it is a framework designed by individuals for their own personal use. It involves skills that go beyond each individual’s technological competencies; it embraces personal habits and preferences more than any predefined and standardized activity aimed at organizing information; it goes towards social networking when thinking of the power of interactions as the main source to enrich our expertise and personal knowledge.

         Frand and Hixon (1999) try to encompass techniques and tools into a general, more standardized knowledge acquisition process. They maintain, "PKM is a conceptual framework to organize and integrate information that we, as individuals, feel is important so that it becomes part of our personal knowledge base. It provides a strategy for transforming what might be random pieces of information into something that can be systematically applied and that expands our personal knowledge."

Sometimes PKM is considered as an attempt to utilize ICT to help the individual manage the information explosion in a meaningful way.  Some of the common areas PKM touches upon are:

  • Personal effectiveness and getting organized
  • Dealing with information overload
  • Using technology and the web
  • Learning and development
  • Personal networking and managing relationships
  • Making sense of an increasingly complex and fast-moving world

         When we think about PKM systems, techniques and tools which could work for us, there are some aspects worth bearing in mind. These are:

  • PKM is personal to individuals
  • A PKM “system” is never going to be perfect
  • It’s not just about technology
  • Managing relationships & flexibility are the most important aspects

         To appreciate PKM, we need to examine the concepts of knowledge and personal knowledge management in greater detail. So, we begin with data, add context to get information, add understanding to get knowledge, and add judgment (values) to get wisdom. Stephen Jones and Peter Thomas (1999) looked at personal information management tools  and noted that 60% of their study sample utilized "to do" lists, 45% used calendars, 45% used address books, 40% used personal organizers, 40% used desk diaries, 35% used pocket diaries, 15% used appointment books, and less than 10% used personal digital assistants. This shows that different people prefer different tools to manage their personal information. As discussed in above sections, the nature of knowledge is more complex than information. It makes knowledge management challenging and ask individuals to learn the usage of technology to manage the information he/she encounter and to transform it into knowledge.

         There are several conceptual strategies for managing personal knowledge that one can try: the chronological approach, the functional, and the roles-based approach. The chronological approach is very easy to set up and maintain and it works extremely well during a short time period. However, it does not have good long-term search value and it requires you to think in terms of when you acquired the information, rather than in terms of what information you need. It stores information but does help you to integrate it so that it becomes knowledge.

         The functional organizational approach brings together like kinds of material together in one category so that it could be searched easily. It works well for a small number of topics. However, the larger the number of concepts, the more difficult it is to create and maintain the categories. Also, some concepts may cross functional boundaries and be difficult to identify with only one function. The role organizational approach facilitates searching - you look for information in terms of the context in which you will use it. However, working out the roles can be difficult and the roles change over time, requiring updating and modification of categories.

          However, Steve Barth reckons that "the accusation that personal knowledge management is somehow antisocial or discounts the importance of collaborative learning and innovation is entirely inappropriate. The whole point is that collaborative work requires more of the individual - not less. And we are ill-equipped to handle those obligations and responsibilities."