Below is an updated version of a post which I made yesterday on the actKM listserv. It surrounds a discussion on the definition of KM in the Australian KM Standard.
I was involved in the tortuous KM Standard committee discussions that changed the definition of KM from that of a multidisciplinary approach (interim standard definition) to that of a transdisciplinary approach (final standard/guide version). I agree in many respects with Joe Firestone about whether KM is an approach or a discipline and also Kim Sbarcea’s view that the real benefits of the standard are not in its definition but in the ecosystem model and its practical guidance approach.
But I would like to comment specifically about the multi-inter-trans-meta prefix for KM.
I totally agree in the change away from multi-disciplinary. KM is an integrative discipline – taking bits and pieces from a range of management disciplines and combining them in interesting ways (rather than just keeping them in their native form). It is also more than interdisciplinary as it positively seeks to overcome many of the communication and interaction problems that arise in interdisciplinary teams. Its transdisciplinary nature occurs as it crosses and recrosses disciplinary boundaries (some would say it rides roughshod over these boundaries!), promotes interdependence and learning, and supports all involved to maximise the benefit to the whole, the individual and the client.
Some say that transdisciplinary approaches extend to where they dissolve the boundaries between disciplines. Despite repeated attempts, it would be hard for KM to say that this has happened. I think that this transcendent quality is actually more that of a metadisciplinary approach which does not just integrate but actually forms a new single systems-based discipline. Perhaps beyond this we can get into meta-meta-disciplinary approaches like futures studies (particuarly those that employ Integral thinking).
And just to throw a complete spanner in the works (or a nice juicy piece of bait on the fishing line) – perhaps KM takes a non-disciplinary approach – a conscious disregard that one should remain bounded by the subject matter or methodology of a defined discipline (a bit too postmodern for some?). Perhaps it is more like Karl Weick’s use of the term bricolage which has the following characteristics (intimate knowledge of resources, careful observation and listening, trusting one’s ideas, self-correcting structures with feedback).
Personally, I quite like the concept of a non-discipinary approach, but that is perhaps my anarchic nature. Transdisciplinary suits me fine for KM with the meaning of trans more around crossing boundaries and supporting others in the process rather than that of transformational or transcendent.