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Is KM a Science?

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Is KM a Science?

Jan 12, 2016   |  By
Lesley Crane, PhD

It comes as no great surprise that a recent investigation of C-Suite respondents finds creativity and innovation, and creating a truly service culture to be top priorities. To this wish list we could easily add sustainability, managing change in a disruptive VUCA environment, and responding to the volatility of consumer demands. All of these issues share one thing in common – they position knowledge and knowledge workers front and centre.  Easy to say, not so easy to do.

It cannot have escaped the interested reader that Knowledge Management (KM) continues to be tarnished by stories of failure: the academic literature variously apportions failure to up to 70% of KM implementations, particularly those with a strongly IT focus. 70%! Beyond academia, public forums like LinkedIn also carry their share of KM misery. There is also the matter of how KM relates to Big Data, and the issue of whether KM remains relevant in its wake.  Something is needed.

The argument here is that addressing the question of whether KM is a science might just hold the clue to how KM can finally emerge as a singular discipline, the importance and potential success of which can, at last, be cast beyond doubt.  

How could a scientific status offer a way out of the doldrums? Is it a science – could it be a science? Would it matter, particularly to KM practitioners? What would be the implications for KM practice, and how would this help KM’s case? However, addressing the core question is no straightforward matter!

Quite simply, to forensically examine the question of whether KM is a science or not requires at least some consensus on what we mean by three concepts: (1) science, (2) KM, and (3) knowledge.  Such a consensus does not exist on any account. For each, there are countless books and articles, and any number of (often heated) forums. In fact, the question over the scientific status of KM has itself a lengthy history in the academic literature. It would be impossible to encapsulate all of these perspectives here, but one cannot simply avoid the question. So, at the risk of further simplicity, I propose some common sense criteria for ‘what is science’, leaving the reader to apply their own definition for KM and knowledge.

Science is the accumulative practice in which new knowledge, acquired through rigorous observation (empiricism) and experimental research, builds on the foundation of existing knowledge. So, science is defined by its research, both in terms of accumulated knowledge, and its methods. Without wishing to become lost in the maze of debates over the currency and value of ‘experimental methods’ and ‘the empirical approach’, the fundamental perception of science is that it deals with the facts.  Most importantly, science posits that facts can be repeated or falsified through testing whereby theory is supported or discarded. Science proceeds either from a position of a theory of a state of affairs which is tested, or it conducts tests then formulates a theory to explain the test results in the most parsimonious way possible. But the key thing is that science deals in facts – knowledge. Now that statement in and of itself is the topic of considerable debate, but for the purposes here, it is an adequate proposition.  (click here for Part 2)

What is Your Opinion?  Please take our survey and let us know:  Is KM a Science?

Part Two of this article will be published next week, along with the survey results . . . stay tuned!

About the author: 

Lesley Crane PhD, MA, BSc Hons is a consultant and author specialising in organizational knowledge and learning. Her publications include reports of original empirical research in international peer-reviewed journals, and her book “Knowledge and Discourse Matters” is published this year by J Wiley & Sons. Lesley is also a reviewer for the Journal of Knowledge Management, and conference speaker.  Her track record as a consultant stretches back more than 20 years with the primary emphasis on blended learning, and organizational knowledge sharing behaviours. To find out more about Lesley’s work, please visit:


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