What is a knowledge map and why do I need one?

What is a knowledge map and why do I need one?

A knowledge map identifies the knowledge areas an organization needs to compete in the current landscape and what they will need to remain competitive in the future. A simple SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) can be a helpful prompt to start identifying a company’s knowledge landscape and any gaps in this knowledge. It should capture both the domain knowledge areas (think of this like the more explicit, concrete, technical subject areas) and the enabling competencies (think of this like the more implicit abilities often referred to as the soft skills).  

Let’s look at a case study to see how this could apply to a utility that has identified a need to enhance their regulatory acumen. For example, a high-level knowledge map for regulatory acumen is depicted in the table below.

The specific boundaries for what will be defined as in-scope and out-of-scope related to regulatory acumen should be set by the organization in a way that is fit for purpose with their future goals. The objective is to deconstruct what might sound like an elusive term (i.e. what does regulatory acumen actually mean?) and establish a unified and tangible goal about the specific competency the organization is setting out to acquire and develop.

The knowledge map provides a good visual of the agreed upon breadth of knowledge the organization has identified as critical for employees to have as a foundational level of understanding of the business.

The utility may than want to go a layer further to outline the depth of knowledge that should be expected across the employee base. The depth of regulatory knowledge a manager in regulatory affairs has will obviously differ from that of an IT manager so you want to think of this as the common denominator. What key concepts would you want your people to grasp so they equipped as well-informed company ambassadors when talking about your utility with family, friends and members of the broader community.

There are several risks an organization faces when they isolate core knowledge to only a handful of people. For a utility that keeps regulatory knowledge in the hands of only a very small number of people, they will find themselves vulnerable not only to slower performance pulling together rate applications but are also exposed to risks of unintended errors and adverse consequences when 90%+ of the company fails to understand the larger regulatory implications of their actions.

 For organizations looking to take it even further, the next stage is to add in a velocity score. What is a velocity score? Essentially a velocity score allows you to evaluate the knowledge on a permanency continuum. What are long standing principles versus what changes every few months (or even more frequently as we move into a tweet driven world with rapidly changing current news).

A velocity assessment is even more important in 2021 and beyond because of how dynamically practices can change in any given domain area. The best organizations will adapt to anticipated knowledge needed over the coming years and adapt to ensure they are keeping on top of things. For any hockey loving readers, you can think of this like skating not to where the puck currently is, but to where the puck will be.    

his article is an excerpt based on a much larger project I completed as part of my master’s degree. If anyone is interested in discussing how they might create a knowledge map for their own organization, feel free to reach out (Use this link to schedule a meeting time). For those interested in better understanding the academic evidence supporting knowledge maps, an excellent in-depth research paper to start with is Zack M. H.’s knowledge strategy framework (1999). [Reference details:   Zack, M. H. (1999). Developing a knowledge strategy. California management review, 41(3), 125-145.]

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