Knowledge vs. Learning vs. Information vs. transfer

I just recently received an email about disaster preparedness, it contained a scan of a document that the person who sent it to me had received. What does this have to do with KM?

Nothing and everything.

The point the person who sent me the scanned document was making was that he had received this document in the middle of summer, while people were away on vacation, it was poorly produced, there didn’t seem to be an electronic version available, and he believed that if any of these floods, fires, earthquakes etc. ever happened (or maybe that should be when they happen), he wouldn’t be able to remember the information in the document (which was about 10 pages long), and if he remembered that he had received this document, he wouldn’t be able to find it again.

Again, so what you say? What does this have to do with KM or learning or information or anything at all?

Well, if we are doing knowledge management, or learning management or information management we need to be concerned about how knowledge/information gets transferred and shared. How do the users want to receive it? What is their environment like? What circumstances will they be using this information/knowledge in? Who is going to be using this knowledge/information.

If we don’t design our systems and processes with the users in mind, all of the users, not just some of the users, they won’t use the knowledge/information and then what good is all the effort we put into implementing our KM/Learning/Information program?

Notes from KM Legal Europe January 2015

I attended KM Legal Europe last week in Amsterdam; I enjoyed the conference very much. I got to talk with many of the speakers and attendees and learn more about what the law firms and corporate legal departments in Europe are doing in the KM space. I was impressed by their thoughtfulness and recognition of the fact that KM can bring them efficiencies and effectiveness as well as innovations and competitive advantage. They were a passionate group of practitioners.

While KM in law tends to focus on documented knowledge because of the nature of the sector and the need to track matters and precedents, there were discussions of lessons learned and sharing tacit knowledge too.

One of the things that (pleasantly) surprised me, was the discussion of automated document creation, when I have spoken with other organizations (not just law firms) about this technology they haven’t even known what it was, so to sit in a room where many were enthusiastic users was refreshing.

Other things that I found refreshing were the discussion of continuous improvement, six sigma, and process re-engineering. Again, all things that utilize an organization’s knowledge and especially, at least in my mind, the use of lessons learned processes and activities. This probably deserves its own blog post, as the participants were quite interested in this area and unfortunately we ran out of time.

One final thing that I found gratifying was the group’s willingness to not only share and learn from each other, but the interest in my experience working in other industries and sectors. They seemed to recognize that KM is KM and that they were behind many other sectors, so there were many things that they could learn from those who have gone before them.

All-in-all a wonderful few days with wonderful people, so glad I was able to take part.

KM in Law Firms: compare and contrast

(this is a slightly longer version of an article that I published in the Knoco March 2013 newsletter, one of 5 flavours of KM that were discussed)

In many law firms knowledge management starts in the IT department, and in a few cases, the library and like in many other organizations is focused on document management and technology. Also in common with other organizations law firms are dealing with pressure to reduce costs, be more efficient and effective for their clients, address issues of an aging workforce, and the technology demands of freshly minted lawyers who expect near instant access to knowledge.

There are also differences in KM inside a law firm. While in many organizations KM focuses on not just access to information/knowledge but on learning from mistakes, e.g. after action reviews and lessons learned processes and databases, this seems almost totally absent in law firms.

As I prepared to write this article, I wondered if I had just been missing something because of my limited exposure to KM in law firms. Maybe there really was a learning focus that I was missing out on; but in the research scan I did to supplement my experience, I didn’t find what I was looking for.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there is KM being done in law firms, but it focuses on documented knowledge. A fine activity, and definitely about connecting people to the knowledge they need to do their jobs, but not specifically learning focused and not focused on innovation as is often the case in other organizations.

It seems lawyers see knowledge management as a way to:

  • Give the firm a competitive advantage since the firm’s know-how becomes more easily accessible
  • Increase productivity: lawyers don’t waste time searching for information
  • Improve practice support by fostering collaboration
  • Speed response time to client requests
  • Provide an on-ramp for junior lawyers to get up to (billable) speed more quickly
  • Help integrate the “practice of law” and the “business of law”[1]

Now, I have done work with Steven Lastres, the author of this work I’ve just cited, and have the highest regard for what he is doing in his firm, which is leading the way for KM in law firms, but by not including the learning aspect of KM it seems to me that law firms are missing something.

One of the presentations that I attended at KM World 2012 was Eric Hunter’s, “Innovation, Change Management, & Business Optimization.” Eric Hunter is another leader in the law firm KM sector. What they are doing at his firm is moving towards that learning objective through collaboration and social technologies[2].

If law firms are lagging behind other organizations, the question that comes to my mind is why? In my experience law firms are conservative and risk adverse. They believe that only a lawyer understands their business, which has resulted in people with a CKO (Chief Knowledge Officer) type title at law firms being lawyers, and the main people on their teams are other lawyers and librarians. This lack of diversity on their teams and lack KM specialists specifically, I believe, has led to the focus on documented knowledge.

There is a shift happening, however. Law firms are starting to look outside their industry to see what lessons they can learn from other industries and from KM specialists. I have been doing a series of workshops and webinars for law librarians. The participants in these sessions have been engaged and interested to learn the lessons that I have to share from my experience in other industries. And I have been glad to share my experience and let them know that they are not alone, that the challenges they face are the same challenges that any KM leader faces; somehow there’s comfort in that knowledge.

Note: Connie Crosby and I have also just launched a KM Strategy assessment service for law firms, feel free to get in touch if you’re interested in learning more.

[1] Lastres, Steven, “Knowledge Management in Law Libraries: The Role for Legal Information Professionals” presentation at CALL ACBD Conference, from, February 28, 2013.

[2] Hunter, Eric, “Law Firms of the Future: Driving Intranet Evolution with Google+”  from on February 28, 2013.

LawTech Camp, KM Technology discussion

A few weeks ago, I participated in LawTech Camp in Toronto. Connie Crosby and I were launching our beta-test for our Law Firm KM assessment tool, so we had an opportunity to do a demo presentation and talk about KM, I’ve posted the slides on SlideShare, click on the <demo presentation> or <about KM> links to see the slides.

There was a lot of discussion both during and after the presentation about one of the slides, so Connie wrote a blog post about it, which you can see here:


KM helps you be lazy!*

Imagine this scenario: you’re working hard on a project or task, you’ve got a deadline you’ve got to meet, but you’re stuck, you don’t know how to finish.

What do you do?

Well, if you are experienced in the ways of knowledge management you:

  • ask your colleagues,
  • ask the Community of Practice you’re a member of,
  • search in your expertise location system or yellow pages at peoples profiles,
  • post something on your internal Q&A or social media application,
  • you search your corporate document management system, ECM system, or other such repository/repositories to find the answer.

And you find the answer, doing considerably less work than creating the solution yourself and you meet your deadline. With all that time you saved you take a couple of minutes to post the solution, so that someone in your shoes days/weeks/months/years from now can find your solution and be lazy too!

*Thanks to Kathleen Wilson for the idea for this post.

The Difference Between KM and IM

Check out this exchange about the difference between KM and IM