A wise man once said, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” This is most true in information governance with regards to reference materials. Reference materials can cover a wide spectrum from articles and catalogs to copies of records that you are keeping as a point of reference for future decisions on related materials. These are often viewed as non-records and should be deleted when no longer needed for reference purposes or to be kept indefinitely. The problem with viewing them as non-records is because they still need to be managed like records due to the fact they are eligible for discovery, but that is beside the point and goes down a rabbit hole that others have covered so much better then I.*

When it comes to reference materials, if an information governance worker takes off their records manager hat and puts on a knowledge manager hat they can take major strides in bringing peace to content chaos. No one holds onto reference material because they want to bring content chaos into the organization, but it is because they can derive value from that information. In most instances that value is not at an organizational level, but it is usually not just one person who wants access to that information. Instead of asking the question how can we stop people from holding onto this stuff that we are not required to retain, the better question might be, “we have all this information, how can it be leveraged to benefit our workforce as a whole and not just scattered without control.”

Knowledge management, according to the CIP(Certified Information Professional from AIIM) study guide, is “the practice of systematically – and continually capturing, controlling, and disseminating organizational intelligence among its workers.” When knowledge management is done right people do not need to hoard information out of fear of not being able to find it again or gaining access in a timely manner. The goal of knowledge management is to add convenience to finding knowledge so that people do not have to over-retain reference materials and also to educate them on all why all knowledge cannot be retained indefinitely.

Picture this scenario; Suzy Staffer has a copy of a troubleshooting guide for the fax machine. Wally Worker is trying to send a fax and is having trouble sending it and spends half an hour of lost productivity searching online for tips or a troubleshooting guide. Imagine if on your intranet, portal, etc. there was a collaborative workspace or shared bookmarks for other such information that multiple people might all need access to.

Another example which often leads to unnecessarily reinventing the wheel is when a decision is made on a project and someone documents what went into the decision so they can retrace their steps, but does not get around to transferring that information to others. This often leads to the runaround exhibited in the following dialogue:

Octavious Overachiever: I am working on integrating our RIM software with SharePoint and need background information on the SharePoint documentation. I thought you worked on that project and was hoping you could explain the taxonomy and why we did what we did?

Sally Slacker: I only played a minimal part; you might want to touch base with Tony Techie.

This leads to poor Octavious running around the office from person to person because the knowledge of who worked on what and their notes are not centralized. At the time Tony Techie might have assumed that information would have value only to him, but it turns out that it has value to others, so it needs to be in a place where it is easily shareable. Having it in a place where it is easily shareable facilitates control over the documentation and it also ensures people are looking at the right version.

No man is an island and the power of sharing knowledge allows other people to weigh in and collaborate about how work can be improved upon. The beauty of knowledge management is that Tony Techie does not have to be the gatekeeper of this information and Octavious Overachiever does not have to go to Sally Slacker, but if knowledge is centralized then it can be stored in one location that Octavious knows to go to. This allows Octavious to find other related information that Tony might not be aware of which others created.

One of the biggest bonuses to knowledge management is that it allows one to recognize patterns of where there is a knowledge deficiency in your organization and people are constantly searching for more information, whether it is from journals or other co-workers. The patterns that emerge from finding out what information people need to know can tell your organization where to invest in training. It can also empower employees to make valuable contributions to the organization by sharing their tacit knowledge and making the whole of the organization greater than the sum of its parts.

If you’ve used knowledge management to manage reference materials and reduce content chaos I’d love to hear how it has worked in your organization and what you’ve learned from it.

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest – Ben Franklin

*Please see “Records Are Not The Center of the Universe”