What is Knowledge?

| July 6, 2012

There is a great deal of emphasis on managing “knowledge” these days.

  • Organizations are striving to become “knowledge-based.”
  • Corporate mission statements are focused on “creating knowledge.”
  • Thousands, if not millions, of dollars are being spent on “knowledge management.”

This is ironic because knowledge doesn’t actually exist – at least not in any physical sense.

Knowledge is personal.  As one blog commenter put it – “Information becomes knowledge when it gets to your brain.” 

Can an organization have knowledge?

In the future, the answer may be “yes” –  if computers advance to become the independent artificial intelligence (‘brains”) of organizations.

Today, the answer is “no.”  Organizations can be filled with knowledgeable individuals.  Organizations can promote the development of knowledge.  Organizations can facilitate the sharing of knowledge.  Organizations can’t, however, be knowledgeable since they do not have what is needed for knowledge – a brain.

Can an organization create knowledge?

This is a little like asking if one can create love – or anger or fear or any other state of being or personal attribute – within another individual.  The answer is “no.”  Companies can facilitate the creation of knowledge; however, becoming knowledgeable remains a personal choice. 

One of the common excuses given by senior management to justify why they are not responsible for organizational malfeasance is, “I didn’t know.” (Consider Rupert Murdock of News Corporation and Bob Diamond of Barclays Bank).  This “I didn’t know” excuse would have no validity for avoiding liability if, in fact, organizations can create knowledge.

Why is this important for OH&S management systems?

To have an effective occupational safety & health management system, an organization must put processes in place to promote the development of personal knowledge sufficient for individuals to make the appropriate decisions – and be held accountable.

Knowledge does not exist simply because procedures have been uploaded to a corporate database.  Knowledge does not exist because an e-mail has been sent or a training program was uploaded to the intranet.  Knowledge does not exist because a report has been created.  All of these are simply the creation of information.  Knowledge only exists when information reaches an individual. 

One of the focuses of an OH&S management system is taking steps to ensure senior management becomes knowledgeable.  Personal knowledge is needed for making the decisions necessary for Management Review (see Section 4.6 of OHSAS 18001).  Personal knowledge is also needed to ensure the availability of the resources essential for maintaining and improving the management system (see Section 4.4.1 of OHSAS 18001).  One of the benefits associated with implementing an effective OHSMS is that the “I didn’t know” excuse is no longer appropriate – nor should it be necessary.

© ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc. (2012)

Category: Training & Communication

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