Motivating Contributions to Knowledge Management Systems
Harald Kjellin
Department of Computer and Systems Sciences, Stockholm University, SE - 16440, Kista, Sweden
Department of Mathematics and Science, Kristianstad University, SE - 29188 Kristianstad, Sweden
Terese Stenfors-Hayes
Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics, Karolinska Institutet, 171 77 Stockholm, Sweden
Keywords: Personal Knowledge Management, Knowledge Management, Motivation.
Abstract: Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) includes a set of techniques that individuals can use to acquire,
create and share knowledge without relying on technical or financial support from the employer. The
purpose of this study is to find indications of detectable value from experimental implementations of PKM
systems in a number of organisations. The study includes 75 implementations of a PKM system in 75
different organisations and evaluations of them all. The results from interviewing all employees that
participated in the study showed that: 1) The implementation of PKM does not require extensive resources
2) The effects can be measured from a personal level, and 3) The employees assessed the positive value of
the descriptions of personalised knowledge.
Lack of employee motivation is a well-known
problem related to the implementation of
Knowledge Management (KM) systems. This
motivation includes both motivating employees to
contribute with knowledge and motivating
employees to use the available knowledge.
Motivation can be achieved in three ways:
1) By specifying objectives. This is done by the
management specifying visions and values, with
a focus on the knowledge processes in the
organisation and thereby inspiring the
employees who become conscious of what the
management wants from them. There are many
studies that points to problems with such an
approach (Price, 2004). If people believe that
their contribution is for the management only,
they will be less motivated to participate in the
knowledge sharing processes.
2) By reward systems. Systems range from
monetary rewards for each measured
contribution to rewarding employees by a public
recognition of their contribution. Some authors
claim that knowledge cannot be bought
(Denning, 2000), while others claim that it may
work if it is implemented the right way
(Armstrong, 1999).
3) By workspace design. The third way to motivate
employees to contribute and share knowledge is
to create work situations, which may inspire an
increase in the interchange of ideas. There exist
well known examples of how this can work
(Dixon, 2000) but it is also known that such
strategies require focused initiatives, preferably
by some kind of participating experts or
knowledge champion, before it may work.
Whichever of the three above types of motivation is
used when implementing a Knowledge Management
strategy, the common denominator for all of them is
that they all require considerable corporate resources
in order to stand a chance of success. Before the
management invests in such a KM project, they need
to be convinced that the project will provide enough
pay-off to motivate the investment. It is, however,
difficult to measure return of investments from KM.
Especially since it may take many years before the
Kjellin H. and Stenfors-Hayes T. (2007).
PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT AS AN ICEBREAKER - Motivating Contributions to Knowledge Management Systems.
In Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems - AIDSS, pages 76-81
DOI: 10.5220/0002364800760081
KM investments may provide any clearly detectable
If Knowledge Management is not implemented as a
global system in the organisation, but instead on a
personal level as a system aiming at improving and
identifying individual competence, motivation can
be created in alternative ways:
1. People are more willing to share what they
know if they get direct and personal feedback
on it (OECD 2000).
2. People get motivated if they experience that
they learn while they reflect on their own
knowledge (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995).
3. Allowing people to describe their situation from
their own perspective helps them to synchronise
their descriptions with the way they prefer to
experience their work situation. If people feel
that what they have a personal value for doing
something they will be less hesitant to
contribute with their knowledge (Jones &
Thomas, 1997).
By being implemented by one person at a time,
productivity and enthusiasm can be increased and
the technological and social barriers of top-down,
‘global’ systems can be overcome (Barth, 2000). We
further assume that it is easier to find indications of
return of investments if Knowledge Management is
implemented on a personal level. KM is believed to
work best when people themselves take the initiative
and responsibility for what they know, don’t know
and need to know. This also enhances the
intellectual capital of the organisation (Barth, 2000).
We will investigate the indications of the
participants’ motivation and the return of
investments from PKM in relation to KM. The PKM
system evaluated in this study focuses on the
individual’s knowledge concerning work processes,
personal networks, relations, self-awareness etc. The
evaluated system was presented as a general outline,
all evaluators were, after that, asked to tailor-make
the system in detail for each user. Therefore there is
a slight variation in the different systems used. This
variation shows the width, usefulness and
applicability of the general approach.
The purpose of the study is to find indications of
detectable value from experimental implementations
of PKM systems in a number of organisations. We
will not investigate to what extent PKM may be
useful for the organisation as a whole since this
would require a much larger study. We assume that
if individual employees experience their efforts with
PKM as useful and rewarding, the use of the
approach will be increased within the organisation.
PKM is a way to make use of the value that could be
generated if everyone made the best use of their
knowledge and also felt motivated and empowered
(Higgison, 2004). It is also a tool to help people
reflect and thereby learn; existing knowledge is
identified and can therefore be enriched and
developed. PKM includes a set of techniques that
individuals can use to acquire, create and share
knowledge without relying on technical or financial
support from the employer. The view on PKM can
in certain contexts be somewhat limited. PKM does
not only equate technology and tools, but is rather
about organising thoughts and developing individual
competencies. PKM builds partly on the idea that
KM cannot succeed unless every person takes
personal responsibility for what he or she knows and
does not know. PKM can be said to be a framework
designed for personal use that includes personal
habits, preferences, decisions and networks. Our
personal network is considered our most valuable
knowledge related asset (Grey, 2003) and “the key
to becoming an achiever is to record personal
decisions” (Drucker, 2000). PKM shifts the learning
and sharing responsibility as well as the networking
from the company to individuals and aims to help
people understand how their personal values and
goals relate to these networks and this knowledge.
People’s values and goals are part of their identity
and personal identity is an important aspect in PKM,
by using PKM unarticulated assumptions can be
made clear (Grey, 2003). PKM furthermore aims to
uncover latent potential in people and maximise
their personal effectiveness (Higgison, 2004). Just
like most KM systems, PKM systems aims to
facilitate the share of knowledge but PKM systems
also aims to make the knowledge more explicit to
the owners themselves, on the basis that knowing
yourself might be an as important focus as sharing.
There is evidence that KM implementations require
a professional ‘knowledge champion’ to be
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successful (Skyrme, 1999). By adopting the PKM
perspective and thereby make each individual
personally responsible, everyone becomes their own
champion. In order to be able to test the proposed
PKM in as many organisations as possible we gave
75 master students the task to each implement the
PKM system with one employee in one of 75
organisations. A majority of these 75 employees had
some kind of management position, which we
defined as an employee who has more than four
subordinates. We assumed that such a large
diversified population would result in enough
quantities of collected information to enable us to
draw some conclusions concerning if the proposed
PKM system could be valuable. With valuable we
mean not requiring much effort to be implemented
yet still producing useful results.
4.1 Simulation of PKM and Skills
Training for Implementers
Before implementing a PKM system in an
organisation, the students participated in some
training. The training was carried out as a simulation
of the whole process in smaller cases. The training
prepared and familiarised the students to the role as
assisting mentor, as a knowledge champion and as a
system designer. They were trained to:
1. Motivate a person to reflect on his/her
knowledge in a similar way as a therapist
motivates a patient to tell the most relevant
stories from past experiences. This includes
interview technique and listening technique.
2. Extracting the essence from provided stories
and knowledge descriptions, and from these
extractions create compact descriptions or
useful rules of thumb of for example work
processes. An important part of this process is
valuating the knowledge.
3. Standardise or generalise the rules of thumb by
translating them to domain independent words
that could be easily understood by employees
who are not used to the local ‘buzz words’
within the organisation.
4. Evaluate different implementations of PKM.
5. Evaluate the estimated availability of the
knowledge in the system by testing the
descriptions on third party subjects.
4.2 Evaluating PKM
All students were provided with templates for asking
questions for acquiring and structuring knowledge.
The template consisted of four headers where each
header was followed by large set of proposed
questions. The headers were:
1) Your present situation?
Including for
example current work processes, best
practices, core competencies, personal
network, goals, values, skills and attitudes.
2) Your preferences
? Including ideal design of
work processes, need for knowledge, how
to achieve improved control, how to
acquire personal effectiveness.
3) How can you get information?
knowledge and information providers,
incentives for receiving knowledge, how to
present a need for knowledge.
4) What kind of information/knowledge do
you have that you can share? Including
feedback and response to it from superiors,
colleagues, subordinates and preferences
for sharing knowledge.
Each of the students then adjusted this template to
the situation at the organisation where he or she
would test the system. The students were asked to
carefully consider the aim and objectives of their
PKM system, and some freedom concerning these
issues was given here. Suggested objectives included
helping people structure his or her personal
knowledge, externalise tacit knowledge, bring out
knowledge to be shared or motivate by showing the
uniqueness of that particular persons knowledge.
The template might be said to represent a view
on PKM that even more strongly emphasises
socialisation for all steps of the KM process and
focuses less on tools and technology, our template is
not especially designed for independent knowledge
workers. Before the template was provided to the
students they had received teaching concerning how
to search for knowledge, define it, classify it, name
it, evaluate it, in a similar fashion as is done in the
Anderson Edge Workshop (Frand & Hixon, 99).
4.2.1 Design
The students were to some extent free to design the
contents of their PKM systems. The systems could
be based either on a personalisation strategy and/or a
codification strategy (Hansen, Nohria & Tierney,
1999). A few systems were designed as expert
locator systems aiming to facilitate the company’s
use of existing competence rather that buying similar
services from external consultants. An expert locator
would also be useful when putting together project
groups. Most systems were designed so that some
information and knowledge could be stored in a
database and thereby be accessible to all. However,
ICEIS 2007 - International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems
several students discovered that some knowledge
could not be explicitly expressed. A concern among
the students about the risks with a too static system
was also identified, therefore some students
concluded that the system should include some kind
of personalisation strategy. The students usually
described a system with a database as well as other
activities such as seminars, discussion groups etc.
The design of the implementation of the system built
on individuals together in pairs, to mentor each other
in their championship. Having a critical friend that
supports the reflective process by for example
asking questions can be a great support in a person’s
professional development (Dahlgren et al, 2006,
Handal, 1999).
4.2.2 Evaluation
The following evaluation criteria were proposed for
evaluating the implemented PKM system, but the
students were given some freedom to adjust these
criteria to the individual organisations.
1. Personal experience of PKM
1.1. Do you find answering the PKM questions
and using the PKM approach useful to
1.2. Have you learned or realised something
new about your professional situation
through these interviews?
1.3. Would you recommend the PKM approach
or a similar system to your colleagues or
2. The general usage
2.1. How could these interviews and the
answers be used?
2.2. To what extent could the PKM be
practically used by other employees?
3. Cost and benefits, i.e., how do the costs relate to
assumed benefits from using the PKM
3.1. How can the system be implemented?
3.2. What resources are needed?
In all 75 organisations the students asked a number
of questions about the aspects above. The summary
of all answers was interpreted and conclusions were
drawn for each of the categories.
We used the results from the 75 evaluations in order
to determine to what extent the estimated benefits
were greater than the needed resources for
implementing the PKM system. We interpreted the
results from each evaluation according to if it
claimed that the evaluation criteria above were
satisfied, and then we added all results in order to
determine the general trend for each criterion. There
was much variation among the results. In 27 of the
75 reports we had to discuss the results with the
authors in order to clarify the validity of their
classifications. This also provided us with an
opportunity to probe deeper into their reported
experiences. Finally we summed up all positive and
all negative answers concerning the interpretation to
what extent the criteria were satisfied
5.1 Personal Experience of PKM
In all evaluations the reactions of the employees
were positive to the PKM system. Some experienced
an increased awareness concerning their competence
after having participated. Participation also led to
reflection of the current state of things. Most
employees stated that they enjoyed the actual
5.2 The General Usage
The evaluations showed that the respondents found
it easy to produce the type of knowledge
descriptions that were used in the PKM systems,
although some kind of introduction or ‘warm-up’
could be recommended. Most evaluations showed
that the respondents would read their colleagues
knowledge descriptions and that the system thereby
would be used. The classic KM problem that all
people might not be as willing to share their
knowledge with others is still valid here, but with
the personal approach, the responsibility put on each
employee increases the sharing. An implemented
system provides an overview over how knowledge
and information is used and made available for the
organisation. This is most useful according to some
of the interviewed managers. The systems also
showed possible critical knowledge gaps or
redundancy in the organisation.
5.3 Cost and Benefits
The evaluations showed that due to the personal
approach the implementation of the system can be
made gradually and therefore no major disturbance
to the normal activities in the company are
necessary. The evaluations also showed that the
employees claimed that they would benefit from
having similar types of descriptions accessible. One
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of the implementation was based on four steps:
Gathering, organising, refining and disseminating
information. Several respondents found the system
so beneficial that the students presenting it to them
have been called back for discussions about running
an implementation on a larger scale in the company.
5.4 The Validity of the Evaluation
The weakness of the evaluation is that it is based on
personal estimations of the subject. However,
several or even a majority of the participants were
knowledge workers and many of them where well
familiar with KM and had earlier tried other
approaches to knowledge sharing and learning.
The list below illustrates how the PKM system
relates to conventional KM concerning planning,
motivation, costs and risks.
Planning needed before the system can be
KM: Long time
PKM: Short time
The need for extrinsic motivation
KM: High, since the individual employee cannot
relate the knowledge to his/her own needs
PKM: Low, since more personal satisfaction
when discussing knowledge related topics from a
personal perspective
Implementation Costs
KM: Requires extensive resources, similar to what
is needed for implementing any large system in an
PKM: Requires less resources since the
implementation is done as an addition to existing
report routines
KM: High, since the whole project requires
extensive resources before it can be implemented
PKM: Low, since it can be tested on a small scale
and successively enlarged
The results indicate that employees approve of the
proposed PKM system and are willing to use it. The
results also shows that the proposed PKM system
can be implemented incrementally in an organisation
with limited costs which in turn shows that the
proposed PKM system could produce enough return
of investments to motivate an implementation in the
daily routines of an organisation. A PKM system can
be used not only to share knowledge but also to help
people verbalise and validate unarticulated
assumptions, tacit knowledge, core competencies,
goals, visions etc. This will support the user’s
personal as well as professional development and
thereby their lifelong learning. By working in pairs
as mentors/mentees or critical friends during the
implementation process this development is further
supported and personal networks strengthened.
Since the PKM activities that are described here
are closely related to the type of educational and
development sessions that are common in most
organisations today, we assume that this will make
them even less resource demanding than other types
of KM activities. However, we have not yet done
any extensive calculations concerning the demand
for resources to implement a global PKM project as
proposed in this paper.
The basic findings presented in this paper are
part of the findings for a licentiate thesis (Stenfors-
Hayes, 2005) presented at Stockholm University.
In the future the authors intend to evaluate to
what extent the proposed PKM system could be used
in larger implementations including the routines of
planning work tasks and stating objectives for
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