• David Griffiths

Mode 1 or Mode 2 KM: What is the future of Knowledge Management?


I have written a lot about KM over the last 12 years, but, given the current state of Knowledge Management, this article is probably the most important of them all.


I want to share ideas with you on Mode 1 and Mode 2 KM, and the choices you are making that will influence the future of our field. I hope that, together, we can shed the burden of KM past to seize the wealth of opportunities the future offers.

Mode 1 KM or Mode 2 KM | The state of play today


While Knowledge Management still exists, it can hardly be said to be thriving in comparison with its heyday in the period between 2000 and 2012. However, even at the peak of its power, KM has always struggled with defining purpose and reporting value.


In the mid-1990s, Knowledge Management was struggling to define its purpose, its outputs and its contribution to organisational value. This year, Deloitte's Global Human Capital Trends Survey reported that 82% of participants struggled to tie knowledge to action in their organisations.


"Our research this year shows that many organisations remain focused on - and struggle with - the basics of Knowledge Management." - Deloitte 2020

Knowledge Management, for better or worse, is a product of all the decisions taken to this point. There is no doubt that knowledge is critical to the value creation process in organisations. However, Knowledge management, as the function charged with the acquisition, sharing, application and development of knowledge, has repeatedly failed to create a satisfactory impact in and for organisations.

The keyword I want you to hold onto here is impact. Since Knowledge Management hit its peak, the field has suffered reputational damage created by a lack of tangible value creation.


At its heart, this damage is the product of rigid thinking that harks back to the very beginnings of Knowledge Management in the early 1940s (Industrial Efficiency Engineers), through to the late 1960s (Science of Knowledge Utilisation). Dig through KM's past, and you cannot fail to notice that the field has generally taken a hard, engineered, machine-driven approach to the management of, what is by nature, a human condition. 


After 30+ years of dissatisfaction and decline, it is your time to seize the opportunity to become something better. It is an opportunity for Knowledge managers to get off the hamster wheel powered by ailing approaches, such as lessons learned and Communities of Practice, and, in doing so, take on the uncomfortable task of questioning our founding assumptions of what passes for good Knowledge Management practice.


Instead of looking in the rearview mirror of KM past and expending energy on protecting a flawed history, take the time to embrace new opportunities afforded by decisions you will make from this point on.


You are at a fork in the road - to your left Mode 1 KM, to your right Mode 2 KM - which direction will you choose?

Mode 1 KM and Mode 2 KM | A few founding assumptions to consider before moving forward:


  1. Knowledge is a human condition and, therefore, the management of knowledge encompasses people, the artefacts they create, and the technology that accelerates the acquisition, sharing, application and development of knowledge.

  2. People have agency and are self-determining entities.

  3. People are motivated when they have goals, freedom of choice (autonomy), they feel connected - relatedness - to their environment, feel their needs are being met, and feel competent operating in a given context bound by time and place.

Mode 1 | Hard Knowledge Management

  • The Knowledge Manager is a siloed specialist 

  • Governing principles for the context - purpose - of KM is widely known and beyond question.

  • The Knowledge Manager determines the direction of KM, and, in turn, develops solutions in search of problems.

  • The Knowledge Manager is an observer of the organisational network - KMers engineer system solutions using an external, detached, perspective with little engagement with network participants - the assumption being that KM experts know best.

  • Knowledge Management is about systems interventions engineered to either create new outputs or optimise existing ones.

  • KM builds on tried and tested methods supported by case studies.

  • KM deploys a linear, recipe led approach to design, delivery and development of services.

  • KM value is about the measurement of outputs form engineered solutions.

Mode 2 | Soft Knowledge Management


  • The Knowledge Manager is a boundary-spanning generalist that connects network nodes (e.g. HR, IT Operations).

  • The governing principles for Knowledge Management are revealed by engaging and involving the network - the context - that KM seeks to influence: KM develops network enquiries that enables the permissions for the creation of influence and impact.

  • The network determines the purpose of KM; the Knowledge Manager monitors the network, anticipating and rapidly responding to, emergent need.

  • The Knowledge Manager embeds - immerses - themselves in the organisational network, developing fast feedback loops to understand observer and participant perspectives of the Knowledge Management context (e.g. defining purpose).

  • Knowledge Management is about network influence.

  • KM is a networked node generating energy through the power of agile learning.

  • KM value is derived from impact, a change in network behaviour.

Mode 2 KM Insights | The KM Immersion Framework


For Knowledge Management to create impact, it is necessary to develop purpose-led influence, created by understanding starting or governing conditions (e.g. legal constraints of a given time and place), and the conscious engagement and involvement of network participants, both passive and active.

Mode 1 KM Thinking
Mode 2 KM Thinking

Mode 2 KM Insights | Network View is people + objects


Knowledge is a human condition, and humans seek immortality - artefacts that extend our presence both in time and place. What this means is that networks nodes are not only people but the objects they create, and they exist on a single plain as opposed to a hierarchy with people at the top.

UK KM Summit 2020 Network View

No person learns alone. You are reading this blog, and though we might not have met, this page is an artefact, an externalisation of my thoughts, that is attempting to influence you. As such, if you accept my views, this artefact has become an influencing node within your network. Therefore, for Knowledge Management to consciously affect a network, it needs to look through a lens that sees technology, people and objects on a single plain. 

Mode 2 KM Insights | Fast Feedback Loops 6 Vs of data-to-knowledge


Knowledge management needs fast feedback loops that accelerate data to knowledge, creating influence for impact. To achieve this, KM needs to engage and involve the network to monitor the performance of the 6 Vs of data-to-knowledge (D2K):


  • Visibility

  • Volume

  • Variety

  • Veracity

  • Velocity

  • Value

Mode 2 KM Insights | FAIR Value


If Knowledge Management has influence, it can report impact - impact being a positive or negative change to the network state. If KM can report impact, it can report results and even ROI (read the full details here).

To be able to report impact and results, you need to start with feelings - what does a good Knowledge management programme look and feel like to the organisational network?


To answer this question, KM needs to be embedded - immersed - in the organisation network, where it is continuously monitoring and evaluating actions against expectations to amplify influence and, therefore, impact.

Knowledge Management Future


Back to you, standing at that fork in the road. What future will you create for Knowledge Management because it is you who will help to influence what happens next? 


If you are interested in Mode 2 Knowledge Management or our principles for high-impact Knowledge management, drop me a line and start a conversation (david@k3cubed.com)

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