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Transforming Knowledge Into Professional Power.

"If we only knew...." Buried within that phrase is the deep frustration felt by many association executives because they know that the solution they seek lies untapped somewhere within the organization's storehouse of data, information, or best practices. This challenge--tapping the knowledge stored within the organization--is considered to be the next big imperative for associations. The evolving theory of knowledge management may hold the key.

One broad definition of this evolving management theory is "a way of creating, sharing, and using knowledge through an integrated, systematic approach across the organization." There is no absolute definition. Knowledge management focuses on how to identify, manage, share, and leverage all information assets--databases, policies and procedures, content, and staff and members' expertise and experience--to serve the organization.

Why focus on knowledge management?

One of the core reasons that associations exist is to foster knowledge sharing through articles, books, conferences, networking, and so forth. From that perspective, knowledge management appears to be almost a no-brainer (associations have been there, done that). In the for-profit business world, however, knowledge management is viewed as a strategy to leverage a firm's knowledge and best practices to serve customers and to be competitive. Associations must begin to consciously view themselves as being in the knowledge business or find themselves ceding their once unchallenged domain to new competitors--dot-com firms that see opportunities in their markets.

Adopting a knowledge-based focus

In August 1999, ASAE unveiled its long-range strategic plan. A major outcome of the process is ASAE's shift from a traditional constituency-based focus to one that is more content-driven, intended to provide members with greater access to a wider range of knowledge. The goal is to create a membership-wide learning community where members have universal access to knowledge and the ability to create the specific mix of individualized information that they each need. As articulated in the strategic plan: "ASAE will be a worldwide leader and preferred partner in creating, expanding, refining, and transferring the body of knowledge of association management."

The journey to knowledge management

Recognizing this paradigm shift to a new economy model centered on knowledge transfer and member interactivity, ASAE created the position of director of knowledge management to help design its own knowledge management strategy. The overall goal is to help ASAE assess its current knowledge assets and use of those assets, and identify opportunities, strategies, policies, and management tools to achieve the benefits outlined in the strategic plan. An initial focus will be on developing a clear picture of our internal capabilities; the next step is extending these capabilities to interactions with members and other association partners.

In 1998, ASAE initiated an information inventory, or knowledge management map, to assess the internal knowledge structure of the association and to generate some baseline data and recommendations for future action. As a result, ASAE has instituted a number of changes--which you may find useful for your own organization's strategy.

* Restructured the member service and information centers into one department to provide members with better research, registration, and sales assistance.

* Implemented a cross-divisional marketing function and centralized most ASAE marketing in one department to tailor member benefits to individual needs.

* Redesigned ASAE's Web site to be more interactive, dynamic, and able to be customized relative to personal preferences. (In the future, members will be able to create their own specialized "My ASAE" page.)

* Launched the Open Access membership initiative, which restructures ASAE membership to facilitate knowledge sharing.

* Implemented new association management software to integrate all activities into a single database and e-commerce system that allows ASAE to customize its interactions with members.

Look for these developments and more as ASAE uses the principles of knowledge management to transform its internal information treasury into powerful tools for the profession.
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Article Details
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Publication:Association Management
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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