Driver D

Knowledge Management

Enable everyone to develop, spread, and apply knowledge

​​To achieve equity at scale, learning leaders treat the development of knowledge as an ongoing cycle whose explicit function is to solve both novel and entrenched organizational challenges. They manage knowledge by developing processes and systems that answer the question: How will this knowledge be used?

To achieve this, learning leaders need knowledge-management practices that harness individual and collective learning to bring forward the organization’s expertise when meeting the needs of every student, family, and community.

The knowledge-management framework described in this section offers learning leaders a way to organize Drivers A to C—learning strategies, stakeholder engagement, and measurement—into a set of practices and routines that allow your organization to use a vital resource (knowledge) to accelerate progress toward its vision.

Dig in below to learn more about Knowledge Management, explore learning leadership in practice, and reflect and take action to improve your own work!

An effective knowledge-management strategy begins with the goal: application of knowledge to advance high-quality, equitable service provision. Working backward from the system’s ambitious goals, learning leaders set, maintain, and enact the vision for how the data and information generated in learning spaces turns into knowledge that can be used to achieve organizational goals. 

This work is grounded in a key equity principle: All knowledge is democratic. Learning leaders decentralize knowledge ownership. They engage all stakeholders, particularly those closest to the work, in the generation, consolidation, sharing, and application of knowledge. All stakeholders—including staff, students, parents, and community members—have the opportunity to not only give input but also meaningfully contribute to decisions about which ideas are worth capturing and scaling. Democratic participation strengthens knowledge generation and builds buy-in and capacity for knowledge application, yielding better and more efficient outcomes. 

Learning leaders act on three knowledge-management drivers to advance transformation at scale. They:

Knowledge management is the set of processes used to create, organize, share, and use knowledge in an organization. Learning leaders use a knowledge-management framework1A number of knowledge-management frameworks conceive of knowledge management as a process (e.g., Knowledge management: Systems and processes, 2nd ed., by I. Becerra-Fernandez & R. Sabherwal, 2010, Routledge. Copyright 2010 by Routledge. ) consisting of four interconnected phases to make use of learning at all levels in order to continually improve. These phases include:  

  • Knowledge generation: Data and information are uncovered or generated.

  • Knowledge consolidation and capture: Generated data and information are turned into knowledge.

  • Knowledge sharing: Captured knowledge is communicated to others.

  • Knowledge application: Shared knowledge is applied to make decisions and improve practice. 
Dig into each of these phases in the full chapter.

With a strong understanding of the characteristics of each phase of the knowledge management cycle, learning leaders design and refine the processes and routines that make up their knowledge-management system. Many components of the system may already be in place. Usually these include the learning spaces where knowledge generation happens (e.g., short-cycle testing routines) and the repositories that store captured knowledge. The challenge facing most learning leaders is how to create a comprehensive system that links the knowledge-management phases so that the improved knowledge of each individual and organization is applied consistently.

To architect a comprehensive knowledge-management system, learning leaders revisit the overall structure of their system, ensuring it is set up like a dynamic network and coordinated learning community. They minimize silos and organize individuals in teams and clusters that are bridged through high- and low-density ties that support knowledge spread and application. They also devise processes to detect and act on deficiencies in their existing knowledge-management systems and to embed knowledge-management routines and structures into daily operation. 

The cycles of a mature knowledge-management system look like waves when captured in a process map, with each knowledge-generation activity followed by aligned consolidation, capture, sharing, and application processes. Full and linked knowledge-management “waves” accelerate improvements at scale. 

Designing and implementing the infrastructure to move knowledge through a system so that it advances more equitable outcomes is critical, but it cannot be sustained without a set of shared conditions and organizational commitments.

As they cultivate these conditions and set these commitments, leaders commit to democratic principles. They actively engage diverse stakeholders in the practice of learning, and in doing so they ensure that knowledge identification is the responsibility of every community member. This commitment to democratizing knowledge differs from other organizational structures in that it rejects the notion that knowledge belongs to those with positional authority or recognized expertise. A robust knowledge-management cycle can uncover tacit knowledge from those closest to the work and encourage innovation and buy-in to the development of novel solutions.

In systems with strong knowledge management strategies, leaders support all members of the organization in generating, capturing, spreading, and applying new learning. Bank Street Education Center’s approach to learning in their improvement networks exemplifies this practice.

Learning leaders commit to ongoing reflection and iteration on system design and leadership practice in order to support continuous improvement in service of equity.

The following activities support consideration of and action to improve your own leadership practice related to knoweldge management.

This self-assessment includes guidance on the structures, routines, and behaviors key to effective knowledge management practice in teams, networks, and organizations. 

Complete the assessment with members of your team, indicating the degree to which each structure, routine, or practice is present in your system. Once complete, use the self-assessment to identify areas of strength and growth and to measure your progress over time.

Download a PDF or an editable copy of the assessment.

As a leader, how do you support the development and application of knowledge in your organization?

  • How does your organization define knowledge?
    • Do you have a shared definition(s)? 
    • Does that definition align with the four knowledge-management steps (generation, consolidation and capture, sharing, and application) outlined earlier in this section?

  • Does your organization consistently engage in all four steps? If not, what barriers have prevented you from doing so?

Map your knowledge-management system by identifying one or more knowledge application goals and then developing a process map to: 

  • articulate a blueprint for knowledge management; 
  • identify strengths and potential gaps or breakdowns in the existing or planned knowledge-management system; and
  • recognize areas where additional supports, tools, and templates will be needed to engage in effective knowledge-management practices.

With a clear sense of existing structures across all phases of the knowledge-management framework, reflect on the strengths in the system and any gaps that might exist. Keeping in mind that the goal is to create a coherent and comprehensive knowledge-management strategy that helps the organization move toward shared goals, answer the following questions: 

  • After mapping, what parts of the knowledge-management cycle are not being attended to?
    • Why do those gaps exist? 
    • What new activities, supports, or tools are needed to mitigate gaps in the cycle?  

  • Which stakeholder groups need to be engaged at which stages of the cycle?

  • What support and resources do those groups need?

Learning leaders ensure the strength of knowledge-management processes through the support and preservation of democratic processes and a commonly understood definition of knowledge.

  • When do members of your community feel equally valued in the knowledge generation, consolidation and capture, sharing, and application routines? When do they not?

  • To what extent do members of your community share a definition of knowledge? Are there different standards for what constitutes success? If so, why?

What's next?

Driver A Treat every strategy as learning

Driver B Foster democratic participation

Driver C Measure process and results to drive equity and improvement

Companion GuideDevelop Your Theory of Leadership