Knowledge management in non-pro®t organizations

Emanuele Lettieri, Francesca Borga and Alberto Savoldelli

Emanuele Lettieri is a Ph.D. Student (emanuele.lettieri@polimi.it), Francesca Borga is a Researcher (francesca.borga@polimi.it), and Alberto Savoldelli is a Contracting Professor (alberto.savoldelli@ polimi.it), all in the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy.

Abstract The non-pro®t sector is at present involved in a deep renewal process. Non-pro®t organizations are required to deliver tailored and high-quality services in order to overcome environmental complexity and scarcity of resources. In this context, non-pro®t organizations are being called to reengineer their core processes and organizational paradigms. To achieve excellence, all available resources should be managed with increased effectiveness and ef®ciency, the most important of these being knowledge. This paper contributes to the literature about the role which knowledge management plays in achieving excellence in the non-pro®t sector. In particular, the main results from an explorative survey of Italian non-pro®t organizations are formalized and discussed. Keywords Knowledge management, Non-pro®t organizations

Introduction
The non-pro®t sector (also called the ``third sector'') encompasses all the organizations aimed at creating social value for society as a whole and which do not recognize as their main goal the creation of pro®t for stockholders. This sector is at present involved in a deep renewal process that is changing both the structure of the sector and its internal workings (Borzaga and Santuari, 2000; Lester, 1999; Ryan, 1999; Rifking, 1997). Non-pro®t organizations (NPOs) are required to continuously improve their performance. The demand for services that are integrated, tailored and timely, urges NPOs to follow new managerial paradigms. Although this challenge is intuitively understood, neither the implications, nor how to pursue these goals is clear (Mason and Melandri, 1999; Teebe, 1996). The heterogeneity of the nonpro®t sector makes it extremely hard to de®ne a general roadmap to achieve excellence: the de®nition of guidelines that ®t with the speci®c contingencies of an NPO is a utopian ideal; on the other hand the de®nition of broad guidelines could produce useful hints for the speci®c NPO. A possible way to solve such a dilemma is to identify which are the levers (success factors) that promote achievement of excellence. In this view, the ability to manage appropriately the available assets (knowledge in primis) is one of these factors. The creation of an organizational culture that promotes knowledge generation, sharing and exploitation

`` NPOs are knowledge-intensive organizations. ''
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JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT

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VOL. 8 NO. 6 2004, pp. 16-30, ã Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1367-3270

DOI 10.1108/13673270410567602

. In this way. 6 2004 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | PAGE 17 . the impressions that the volunteers gather day-by-day. In this context. 8 NO. some common characteristics can be identi®ed to give physiognomy and unity to the sector (Borga et al. The good practices successfully developed by some local branches of an NPO. VOL. (3) verify their position within the general cycle of KM. formalization. Their knowledge-capital is heterogeneous. The creation of a corpus of knowledge that is unique. synthesizing in each action he takes all the experience the whole organization has matured until that moment. 1998. from small local associations managed by a few volunteers to large international organizations with thousands of members and many local branches. contribute to performance improvement and achievement of excellence? J Are NPOs naturally inclined to manage knowledge? Are the different members that make up the community around NPOs naturally inclined to create and share knowledge? J Which characteristics are required to build up a strategy to support appropriately knowledge management (KM) in NPOs? J What are the key typologies of knowledge within a non-pro®t community? What is their epistemology and their ontology (Nonaka and Takeughi. 1997): J the existence of strategic goals that are not strictly linked to the creation of economic pro®t for the stockholders: to achieve positive economic/®nancial targets is a means to pursue the mission and not the key-target. State of the art in the non-pro®t sector and in knowledge management The non-pro®t sector comprises heterogeneous groups. Caselli. the laws approved by the institutions for speci®c areas of intervention.seems to be a necessary premise in order to create NPOs that are innovative. rarely formalized and unstable (because of the considerable turnover rates among volunteer workers). widespread. the following research questions were formalized: J How can strategies aimed at promoting the identi®cation. Besides this. such a corpus is rarely formalized and usable because it is split among different people. The boundaries of this ®rst piece of research are within the single NPO (including local branches). The fragmentation of knowledge (above all among the several branches of the same NPO) reduces the effectiveness of actions. 2001. and (4) identify the factors that affect the approach NPOs adopts towards KM. identifying its epistemology and ontology. excluding the external stakeholders (users. formalized and usable by all members is a challenge that the NPOs are facing at present. Four in-depth case studies have allowed us to: (1) design a tailored framework to research the impact that an adequate strategy of knowledge management (KM) has on performance. 1999. effective and ef®cient. are part of the knowledge-corpus that an NPO should be able to manage. ¯exible. can each worker operate appropriately. 1998)? Within this broad area of investigation. (2) de®ne a nature-based taxonomy of the knowledge within an NPO. Only by identifying and sharing the available knowledge spread across the whole organization. exploitation of knowledge (spread among the community of those working with an NPO). the experience of each worker (especially the ones who are involved directly in providing services) is ®ltered by the successes and failures acquired by the whole organization. the means the sponsors use to evaluate the performance of the NPO they want to fund. Fiorentini. institutions) and partners in providing social services. Area of investigation and research questions NPOs are knowledge-intensive organizations. this paper aims to discuss the main insights achieved during explorative research. At present. restricts cost-containment and makes dif®cult cross-fertilization between the individuals involved. Ambrosio and Bandini. sponsors. sharing.

Within a non-pro®t community. Rare efforts have been made to Figure 1 Knowledge development cycles within a non-pro®t community I cycle (individual level) Use II cycle (group level) Transfer and Sharing Creation Formalisation and Diffusion IV cycle (community level) Integration III cycle (organisation level) PAGE 18 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | VOL. The ®rst cycle deals with an individual level. knowledge is generated and ¯ows through four different cycles (Quagli. 2002). 6 2004 . etc. `` Within a non-pro®tfour differentknowledge is generated and ¯ows through cycles. 2001).) of those communities make available resources of different types in order to achieve the agreed goals (Lettieri et al. high motivation.community. '' J the need to achieve a large consensus on strategy because of the associative nature of NPOs which requires agreed values and high motivation of the human resources (above all among the volunteers). often characterized by heterogeneous experience (and knowledge). non continuous presence and high rates of turnover. while the fourth cycle overcomes the boundaries of the NPO to embrace the whole community (after an effort of integration). the various members (volunteers. sponsors local authorities. State of the art in knowledge management Although KM can support NPOs in achieving excellence. knowledge is made available to the whole organization. often strictly related to emotional and intangible factors and to the speci®c person who provides the products or services. both academia and practitioners have dedicated modest efforts to understanding such an implication. Through further efforts to formalize and diffuse (third cycle). building communities around speci®c social needs/problems. The second cycle introduces the activities of transfer and sharing and explains how to shift from the individual to the group level. J the focus in the short-term on resource allocation.. where knowledge is created and exploited by the single person. J the presence of voluntary resources. shifting towards broader sharing environments (Figure 1). and J the capacity to build cooperative relationships with other stakeholders. because of the preference for activities which give immediate results. 8 NO. J the provision of products and services characterized by a signi®cant relational content. employees. rather than for long-term investments whose bene®ts are postponed and uncertain.

Then. and fewer efforts still have been dedicated to research in this ®eld. which differ depending on the object under investigation.'' emphasizing the various attributes and formalizing different taxonomies. and on the other hand the focus is on the contextual factors that enable the ¯ow. highlights that KM is a business process through which a company creates and exploits its own knowledge (both institutional and collective). 1999. In this view. On the other hand. Some factors which can boost KM are the de®nition of ¯exible targets for education. a whole organization and several organizations. The second main stream focuses on the concept of ``knowing. in which the available information is synthesized with the memory of both the individual and the organization. to codify. The ®rst stream focuses on understanding the concept of ``knowledge. procedural (know how) and causal (know why). Sarvary (1999). Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) evaluate the level of formalization (explicit vs.design and implement knowledge management systems (KMSs) for the NPOs. Nonaka (1991) chooses as a criterion the level of diffusion within a reference environment and de®nes knowledge held by individuals. 1990). focusing on consultancy companies. 6 2004 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | PAGE 19 . and the evaluation criteria to be transparent and well known. highlighting three main groups: declarative (know what). Inkpen (1996) analyses how knowledge is created and spread among a network of enterprises linked by partnerships. which should not constrained by strict controls since they only come about when people cooperate on a voluntary basis. Von Krogh (1998) highlights how important it is to take care of the informal relationships within a company to boost knowledge dissemination and sharing among the workers. the existence of a creative chaos and myopia towards pro®t-related performance. more attention has been paid to KM in the for-pro®t sector. researching the resources that are necessary to manage it. On the other hand. they introduce the concept of ``fair process'' since people want (and need): their ideas to be evaluated and managed seriously. a culture based on trust. Leonard and Sensiper (1998) commit themselves to researching the role tacit knowledge plays in team-creativity and innovation. whose meaning is understood only at a tacit level. The models present in literature focus on two different issues: on the one hand the focus is on the identi®cation of the phases that make up the knowledge ¯ow. Kim and Mauborgne (1997) recognize that both knowledge creation and sharing are intangible activities. Bhatt (2001) argues core competences grow from the symbiotic relationship between foreground knowledge (easy to get. Davenport and Prusak. Two main research streams can be highlighted.'' KM is enabled by metaphors and high levels of abstraction. Lang (2001) argues that human relationships are one of the key-enabler factors for a KM strategy and demonstrates how these relationships are strictly linked to the organizational culture (according to the concept of an entrepreneurial-administrative continuum). tacit knowledge). a tolerance of redundancy. The knowledge an individual holds is ®ltered by his mind set and the ®nal form is strictly linked to his culture and values (Nonaka and Takeuchi. and formalizing the concept of ``creative abrasion. Knowledge has been de®ned as a range of information (Zack. Knowledge is accumulated dynamically (Prahalad and Hamel. Besides formalizing the phases that build knowledge ¯ow. where in the last two decades several scholars have contributed to outlining the theoretical structure of the ®eld. Bollinger and Smith (2001) describe organizational knowledge as a keyasset that fosters the achievement of a competitive advantage. More taxonomies have been de®ned. some scholars studied the external/ internal factors that can foster or hamper that ¯ow (that is often not spontaneous) both at an individual and collective level. its generation is due to incremental processes. 8 NO. Zack (1999) focuses on the management of explicit knowledge.'' describing the process of KM. Within the ®rst group. Zack (1999) designs a taxonomy based on nature. 1995). Trussler (1998) argues that an VOL. groups. the commitment of top management. 1998) through which the single individual is able to select the most appropriate actions in order to react to external pressures. to imitate) and background knowledge (tacit and not easily transferable).

Two to ten local branches for each NPO were studied through semi-structured interviews with both volunteers and workers. and how an adequate strategy for KM can contribute to this challenge. and (3) a grid that supports the classi®cation of the knowledge held by an NPO. 8 NO. NPOs are said to operate fully in a social system when they are aware of a community of heterogeneous actors and when they are able to catalyze the resources that these people provide in order to solve (or ameliorate) speci®c social needs.O. All these NPOs have a network of local branches that covers all the Italian territory. It is important to recognize the peculiarities of the NPOs. (2) a model that formalizes the main phases in the KM process in the non-pro®t sector. highlighting the mutual relationships among the planned improvement programs. In order to assure objectivity in the analysis. The performance of an NPO can be evaluated from ®ve main perspectives (Figure 2) that identify ®ve different capabilities an NPO should have (Lettieri et al. Three theoretical models were developed and used during this stage: (1) a model that explains how NPOs can pursue excellence. In the following lines.'' Á ``A. ± Associazione per il bambino in ospedale'') was selected. technology and continuous improvement tools. ``Fondazione IDEA. in order to map the internal/external factors that can affect that process. PAGE 20 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | VOL. A KM strategy must be coherent and integrated with a comprehensive strategy whose goal is to pursue excellence. '' effective KM strategy should be supported by top management commitment. A sample of four NPOs (``Consorzio nazionale della cooperazione sociale Gino Mattarelli'' ± consortium CGM. culture. 2002): (1) ``community'' is the ability to build and manage a committed need-driven community.'' ``Societa San Vincenzo de' Paoli. (2) ``vision and strategy'' is the ability to translate a vision into both long-term strategies and short-term activities. Together they de®ne the psycho-social ®lter. Andrews and Delahaye (2000) research the process of knowledge transfer in the bio-medical sector.I. 6 2004 . They recognize two main stages: internal knowledge sharing with others and knowledge adoption from external sources. These stages are affected by three main factors: social con®dence. 1997). perceived trust and perceived reliability. 1994).. The aim was twofold: to investigating the characteristics of KM in the non-pro®t sector. The importance of understanding in detail how NPOs work and the lack of literature on KM in NPOs meant using case studies during this explorative stage (Yin. and to design a few models for effective KM in NPOs.B. In playing this role. each model will be brie¯y described. Research methodology and theoretical models adopted The explorative stage of this research was conducted from July 2001 to June 2002.individual by his `` The knowledge an®nal form isholds is ®lteredto his mind set and the strictly linked culture and values. and understand the role each member within the community should play in order to create and manage knowledge. NPOs should aspire to excellence. The adoption of techniques (and tools) for KM is a key lever. mitigate their weaknesses and needs. which alone is not enough. The reasons behind the de®nition of such a sample were to isolate the variable ``position along the life cycle'': all the NPOs operate in the area of social services. the major difference is their maturity (Fiorentini. several triangulations were made comparing data and interviews. The models and the theoretical framework suitable for the for-pro®t sector could be a useful point from which to start developing and testing models and tools tailored for the non-pro®t sector. in order to clarify the main characteristics of this knowledge.

such a process is not spontaneous. However. 6 2004 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | PAGE 21 . J a higher operative and allocative ef®ciency. pursuing coherence between the skills/knowledge required and the skills/knowledge available. setting realistic development plans. how the processes work and which level of performance could be achieved. (4) ``asset management'' is the ability to manage all resources ± tangible and intangible (such as knowledge) ± available within the network of local branches. J an improved ability to maintain in the medium and long term coherence between the vision and the short-term programs. The model that Quagli (2001) proposed indicates how knowledge ¯ows within an NPO. J an empowered capability to create social value. pursuing a high-quality outcome. 8 NO. to achieve positive and lasting results an NPO has to steer and support it through proper KM interventions. VOL. and (5) ``economic/®nancial viability'' is the ability to survive in the medium or long term.Figure 2 The role of KM in performance improvement and in achieving excellence SOCIAL VALUE CREATION SUSTAINABILITY IN THE MID-RUN PERIOD EFFECTIVENESS & REPUTATION & IDENTITY & AWARENESS COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT ECONOMIC & FINANCIAL STRATEGY & VISION NEEDS COMMUNITY BUILDING SERVICE & PROCESS EFFICIENCY MAINTENANCE DURING THE TIME ASSET MANAGEMENT (3) ``social value creation'' is the ability to deliver social values. and J an enhanced ability to both manage and enlarge a need-driven community. According to this model. the main bene®ts that a KM strategy can address in an NPO are: J a major ``gluing'' effect on the members of the need-driven community ± a unique and usable knowledge on the part of the actors and the increased identi®cation with and awareness of the objectives of the NPO. from the single person to the whole community. because of a deeper understanding of how the NPO works. from the ability to translate into practice all the experience developed during the previous years.

8 NO. i. 1998. the following seven-step process has been designed (Figure 3).) probably need information to be presented in different ways. 1999. Nonaka and Konno.Definition of simple and efficient rules Technological Infrastucture External souces 7–Creation .Foster innovation and creativity 6–Application . community input). Bhatt. tacit knowledge can be codi®ed using speci®c formats. knowledge can be stored in proper repositories (such as databases. Value-added activities are the assessment of the individual's knowledge and its transformation into knowledge which can be used by the whole organization. or simply by creating ``yellow pages'' for indicating who knows what (Davenport et al.Matching the literature regarding the steps of the KM process (e. to collect and exploit knowledge. 1998). 1995. before being formalized and diffused to the whole organization. 6 2004 .Formalisation . or in people's minds) and then retrieved according to the users' needs.Homogeneisation 4–Retrieval Systems to store knowledge . different kinds of people (managers. such as reports. archives. imprecise exploitation and high dispersion. Once codi®ed. This step encompasses all the activities. fast and precise as possible. This activity should be kept as simple.Evaluation . success stories. A tendency of NPOs is to maintain the knowledge in an implicit format and share it through informal and personal contacts. manuals.g. The next step deals with knowledge distribution and presentation. depending on how they have to use it. professionals.standardizzazione dei formati di community PAGE 22 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | VOL. Zack. external information. This does not mean converting all available knowledge into explicit formats. Davenport and Prousak. performed both at individual and group level. Knowledge distribution means making it accessible to whoever can use it. In doing this.. The ®rst step is knowledge acquisition. This model indicates how an NPO should manage knowledge to achieve the maximum bene®ts from it and from the community context. 1998. in order to make knowledge really accessible and useful inside the organization. etc. volunteers. Considering the plurality of actors of a non-pro®t Figure 3 The cycle of knowledge management 2–Codification organisation 3–Storage 1–Acquisition Tacit Explicit knowledge . The activity of codi®cation is aimed at gathering the available knowledge using common formats. operators'/volunteers' know-how.Definition of standard procedures 5–Diffusion & Presentation . even when it could be codi®ed. knowledge should be acquired and brought into the NPO from various sources (day-to-day experience. the form of presentation is important: the de®nition of standard and easily usable formats helps people to exploit in the best possible way the knowledge present inside the organization. Moreover. Nonaka and Takeuchi. previously evaluated and approved. This behavior can cause a low level of sharing.e. 2001) with both the contingencies and needs of the non-pro®t sector analysis.definizione di canali formali per la distribuzione . sponsors.

In doing so. Zack. different members of the NPO's community could participate. that is to say transformed into action and used for NPO activities. knowledge can ®nally be applied. employees and managers) inside an NPO ± all the other members of the NPO's community which are outside of the NPO's boundaries are rejected. The speci®c position within the grid clari®es the main characteristics of the different knowledge typologies within an NPO. explicit knowledge (the latter split into codi®ed or not). 1999). recognizing three main clusters (volunteers. highlighting the core knowledge and its critical attributes. distinguishing between whether the knowledge is held by individuals or groups (Nonaka. as de®ned in the previous paragraph. The ideal con®guration is when knowledge is mainly held at group level and is codi®ed. In this sense. storing and retrieving) are managed at organizational level. codi®cation. application and creation should involve all the members of the community. A key issue is to map the knowledge spread within an NPO. it is able to create new knowledge for nourishing and restarting the whole process. On the whole. distinguishing tacit vs. while the activities of diffusion.and `` A KM strategy must be coherentgoal isintegrated with a comprehensive strategy whose to pursue excellence. in order to reduce as much as possible the dependence on speci®c Figure 4 Knowledge map within an NPO Codified Knowledge Nature (Ontology) Explicit TARGET Tacit Non Codified TARGET Main Main from from managers employees At an individual level Holders Main from volunteers Main from volunteers Main from employees Main from managers Shared among groups Knowledge Level of Diffusion (Epistemology) VOL. the creation activity includes also knowledge integration. being out of the scope of this research. '' community. the knowledge path is indeed a cyclical process that activates and nourishes itself. 1993). and (3) the holders of knowledge. interacts with other subjects and generates new ideas and. 1995. 8 NO. through this. the organization accumulates new experiences. (2) the level of diffusion. After that. (Nonaka and Takeuchi. 6 2004 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | PAGE 23 . matching three orthogonal dimensions (Figure 4): (1) the nature. it is easy to note that ¯exibility is another important characteristic of a KM system for NPOs. but normally the ``operative'' activities (knowledge acquisition. To achieve this goal a speci®c grid was de®ned. In each step of this path.

'' ``A.e. 8 NO. 2-10 local branches for each NPO were interviewed.000 Mainly employees 5 trusts and 900 cooperatives Maturity Fondation IDEA Social services Research-aimed foundation Support. which is owned by the employees in CGM and ABIO and by the volunteers in Saint Vincenzo and IDEA.I. or the dimensions of the organization ± impact the behavior of NPOs more than the place of origin. involving a panel of employees. Findings from the case studies The models described in the previous section were utilized to structure an in-depth analysis of four case studies. helping the NPO to codify the available knowledge and to transfer the knowledge from an individual level to a group one. nevertheless.B. depression 1993 About 300 Mainly volunteers 7 local branches Creation Saint Vincenzo Social services Association of volunteers Help for families and the needy 1842 About 19. it is explicit and shared in all the Table I The sample of NPOs included in the research ABIO Sector of activity Status Main activities Year of foundation No.921 local branches Maturity PAGE 24 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | VOL. volunteers and managers. the knowledge required to manage an NPO from the economic-legal perspective. it is explicit in all the four NPOs at an individual level. the presence of tacit knowledge which cannot be made explicit is inevitable. (2) Managerial/organizational knowledge: i. In particular. The data was collected during semi-structured interviews. of persons Persons typology No. ± Associazione per il Á bambino in ospedale'').O. ``Fondazione IDEA. Although the sample of the analysis was composed only by Italian organizations. the sector of activity. However it has to be noted that the typical structure of NPOs varies in the different geographical area. six main groups can be de®ned according to their nature: (1) Accounting/administrative knowledge: i. An adequate KM strategy should favor these results. but are characterized by a different status. the results of the study seem not to be affected by country-speci®c issues.000 Mainly volunteers 52 local branches Development Consortium CGM Social services Trust of trusts ?? of cooperatives Coordination and support of the trusts of cooperatives 1987 About 23. thus the considered sample is probably representative of the more common organizations in Italy and in the South of Europe. research sensitivity towards anxiety. Due to the network nature of the NPOs. collecting 20 panel interviews. a different position in their life-cycle.600 Only volunteers 1. All the information was cross-checked (mainly with documents like strategic plans and annual reports) in order to increase the average reliability of the data collecting process. that are present in the whole Italian territory as a network of local branches (``Consorzio nazionale della cooperazione sociale Gino Mattarelli'' ± consortium CGM. The sample includes large-sized Italian NPOs (for funds raised and volunteers involved). the knowledge required to both coordinate and manage the human resources and activities/processes.'' ``Societa San Vincenzo de' Paoli.individuals (above all on the volunteers who have high turnover rates). while in other areas they represent just a minority of existing NPOs. Knowledge-taxonomy within the NPOs The case study analysis highlighted some common and speci®c clusters of knowledge within the NPOs. and a different service-mix (Table I). other factors ± as the juridical form. All the NPOs operate in the social services ®eld. 6 2004 . this knowledge can be codi®ed and managed. except for CGM. According to authors' experience. of branches Life cycle position Social services Association of volunteers Nursing and entertainment for children in hospital 1978 About 4.e. In accordance with Zack (1999).

®rms and local authorities. but in IDEA.). Knowledge about KM itself belongs to this cluster. the knowledge utilized in daily activities. although it is often ignored and its exploitation is neglected.e. the knowledge continually acquired from external sources ± above all from the volunteers ± and related to the life/background of each operator. hospital groups. it can foster the achievement of radical performance improvements through innovative solutions. (4) Fund raising/public relation management (PRM)/marketing knowledge: i. like partners. the knowledge required to both de®ne and manage relationships with the providers of ®nancial resources. using the previous taxonomy. 8 NO. Blacler. This knowledge is critical for the NPOs characterized by a high-level of volunteer-turnover rates. hobbies. So the NPOs are able to Table II Knowledge taxonomy within the sample of analyzed NPOs Knowledge Accounting/ administrative Managerial/ organisational ABIO J Accounting J Administrative J Ward management J Coordination of volunteers. while they spend a large part developing other knowledge in other activities (related to their job.NPOs. This knowledge is a creative mean for the NPOs. (6) Miscellaneous. private sponsors. (3) Teaching/training knowledge: i. where it is individually-held. 1995). 1999. laws J Behavioural skills J Entertainment skills J Previous experience in teaching J Marketing J Fund raising J Call center management J Behavioural skills J Previous experience in pharmacy J PR management J Consultancy skills J Know-how on social tourism J Know about laws J Teaching ± organisational J Socio ± psychological J Know-how about religions Miscellaneous non-characteristic VOL. The above taxonomy is speci®c for the non-pro®t sector and is related to the taxonomies proposed in the literature (Zack. The value of this knowledge is that people spend only a small part of their spare time working in the NPOs. 6 2004 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | PAGE 25 . recreation time.e. The latter typology ± miscellaneous and non-characteristic knowledge ± is different from the previous ones. non-characteristic knowledge: i. The full set of knowledge found in the four NPOs is synthesized in Table II. (5) Operational knowledge: i. It is usually formalized and held at group level.e. The proposed categories cover with adequate precision the spectrum of knowledge spread over the whole network of NPOs. the knowledge about how to train and update the skills of both employees and volunteers. from ways of re-introducing (disagiate) disadvantaged workers (like ex-prisoners) into the labor market to techniques to support and entertain children that are in hospital for long periods. local branches J HR recruiting J J J J Teaching Educational Organisational Training Consortium CGM J Accounting J Budgeting J Managerial ± consultancy J Social tourism J Know-how for information management J Teaching J Educational J Training J PR management Fondation IDEA J Accounting J Administrative J Managerial ± organisational J Coordination local branches Saint Vincenzo J Accounting J Administrative J Organisational ± motivational J Organisational ± managerial Teaching/training J J J J Teaching Educational Training Coaching J Coaching Fund raising/PRM/ marketing Operational J Marketing J Fund raising J PR management J Know-how on safety. It is always in a non-explicit format and it is often neglected. it is heterogeneous and speci®c to the single NPO: it varies between socio-healthcare notions to the understanding of the issues of deprived-areas. etc. It collects all the knowledge held by each individual that are not directly linked to the activities of a speci®c NPO.e.

the accounting/administrative knowledge is normally well managed and all the steps are covered. 6 2004 . 8 NO. The key challenge is the evaluation. stored and retrieved by the previous owners. the knowledge included in the clusters accounting/ administrative. V = San Vincenzo 1 = accounting/administrative K. the knowledge regarding managerial/organizational and fund raising/PMR/marketing knowledge issues is usually codi®ed. is always codi®ed and shared among the operators. to a modest commitment of the NPO to make that knowledge accessible and visible to the whole organization. C = Consorzio CGM . Differently. the knowledge ¯ow (Figure 6) con®rms that not all the typologies of knowledge complete the full-cycle and each of them covers that cycle to a different degree. In this view. For instance. In particular. Knowledge ¯ow in the NPOs analyzed The case study analysis clearly highlighted the tendency of NPOs to maintain knowledge at an implicit and individual level. even when the knowledge could be codi®ed and shared within the network (Figure 5). this knowledge could be a distinct advantage for the NPOs. spread and updated. in order to reduce organizational dependence on single people. the high turnover rate of volunteers increases the acquisition of this heterogeneous knowledge more than in the for-pro®t companies and assures new knowledge acquired seamlessly. the level Figure 5 Knowledge characteristics in the analyzed organizations Codified A (2-3) I (1) V(1) A (2) I (2-4) A (2) Tacit C (3-6) I (6) V (2-6) Main from volunteers Main from employees C (2) I (6) V (6) Main from managers Main from volunteers Main from employees Main from managers A (1) A (3) A (5) C (1-2-3-5) I (5) A (3) C (2-5) I (5) V (5) C (2-3) I (3) V (2-3-5) A (2-4) C (5) I (3) V (2-4) Knowledge Nature (Ontology) Explicit Holders Non Codified At an individual level Shared among groups Knowledge Level of Diffusion (Epistemology) Key: A = ABIO . in some cases. organizational/managerial and fund raising/PMR/marketing is often encountered at an individual level. I = Fondazione Idea . 3 = teaching/training K 4 = fund raising/PRM/marketing K. Among NPOs. non-characteristic K PAGE 26 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | VOL. Operative knowledge. 2 = managerial/organisational K. This apparent contradiction is due to the characteristics of the sample. to more easily organize training courses and to provide higher quality and standards for the services provided. in the NPOs analyzed. while it is rarely shared. If well exploited and stored. This ®nding is opposite to the general wisdom that NPOs work mainly with implicit knowledge due to the intangible nature of their services. This knowledge is normally well managed and the NPOs clearly require precise and formal procedures and guidelines for operators. 6 = miscellanea. formalization and storage of this hidden knowledge. 5 = operational K.exploit the miscellaneous knowledge their operators have. In fact. Thus. This can be due. but it is often related also to a limited interest on the part of the volunteers in organizational and administrative aspects. the reason why that knowledge is modestly shared within the network is probably due to cultural barriers and not to technical issues.

Vincenzo ABIO Cons. the introduction of adequate tools and procedures for KM could be an opportunity.Figure 6 The knowledge management process in the organizations analyzed ABIO Cons. If this is not done it is due to a choice of the organization or to contingent conditions. Nevertheless. since the volunteers require a coaching approach and neglect to use their ability to focus too soon on the operative activity. IDEA S. The teaching/training knowledge shows different patterns within the sample. CGM Managerial/ Organisational Fond. IDEA S. an adequate KM strategy for the non-pro®t sector should face the translation of this hidden tacit knowledge into a usable and practical knowledge. Vincenzo ABIO Cons. not to superior. where it is still not codi®ed. Vincenzo Codification Distribution Presentation Acquisition Utilisation Retrieval Creation of formalization of the KM process is strictly linked to some contingencies. the training process is modestly ef®cient. 6 2004 | Storage JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | PAGE 27 . CGM Public Relation Mgmt Fond. IDEA Marketing S. Vincenzo ABIO Cons. the reasons are exogenous to the nature of knowledge and are to be linked to the modest commitment of the governing board. The need to assure homogeneous services across the whole network means moving beyond the simple sharing of a set of moral values and obliges NPOs to seek standardization procedures (involving KM issues). CGM Accounting/ Administrative Fond. 8 NO. CGM Operational Fond. the excessive focus on the short-term and the absence of a long-term strategy to achieve excellence. IDEA S. CGM Teaching/ Training Fond. IDEA S. The miscellaneous and noncharacteristic knowledge seems not to be valued at present within the NPOs. The sample includes only large-size NPOs. Vincenzo ABIO Fund Raising/ Cons. which are rarely aware of its possibilities. Anyway this result demonstrates that the knowledge at the basis of NPOs activities can be explicated and formalized. IDEA S. VOL. intrinsic reasons related to the sector. In all the four NPOs analyzed. the operational knowledge seems to be codi®able in a large part. Usually the holders of this knowledge are the volunteers and it is codi®ed. Vincenzo ABIO Cons. such as the closeness to the for-pro®t paradigms and the size. In this view. They are strictly related to their owners and are in non-codi®ed formats. CGM Miscellanea Non-characteristic Fond. In all the NPOs. organized as a network of local branches.

Table III Most frequent problems and suggested actions for organizations analyzed Knowledge Accounting/administrative knowledge Problem J J J J Risk of loss Mainly paper documents High workload Low ef®ciency Action J Increased use of IT instruments J Creation of electronic databases J Increased use of IT tools J Creation of an organisation memory J Formalisation of and support to internal communication J Creation of formal and single archive J Introduction of training activities evaluation J Team working J Centralisation of training activities J Identi®cation of people responsible J Long period strategy de®nition J Archive creation for operative data and case history J Formalised training paths J Yellow pages and/or knowledge map de®nition J Team working Expected results J Better and more ef®cient document management J Workload reduction. but studies focused on the KM process are still missing. to growth.The case study analysis has also allowed the identi®cation of the ``as is'' status of KM within the non-pro®t sector and to design both ``should be'' con®gurations and the actions necessary to get there. 1997). it seems to be related to the maturity an NPO shows in both management and operations. the more aware it seems to be of KM issues and more favorable to the introduction of ad-hoc procedures for KM. The literature highlights some variables to describe the status of an NPO (Fiorentini. maturity and then (rarely) decline (Fiorentini. six main contingencies have been recognized: (1) Position in the life cycle: it is possible to recognize four different phases in the life cycle of an NPO. These results are summarized in Table III. 8 NO. saved time J Knowledge sharing J Information ¯ow rationalisation J Reduction of experience repetition J Higher ef®ciency and instruction effectiveness J Uniform and coherent training and awareness activities J Customised and improved training activities J Increased ef®ciency in course organisation J Increased fund raising ability J Increased reliability on FR activities J Best practices codi®cation and diffusion J Higher operators' autonomy and ef®ciency J Increased availability of personal knowledge J Cross-fertilization Organisational knowledge J Error repetition J Re-invention of already existing solutions J Low accessibility of data and information J Inef®cient links between operative base and board J Training needs analysis J Risk of loss of past experiences J Insuf®cient coordination of training activities Teaching/training knowledge Fund raising/PRM/marketing knowledge J Only partial explanations J Absence of speci®c roles Operational knowledge J Best practices not explained J Lack of job enrichment J High turnover of volunteers J Completely individual J Not easily found Miscellaneous/non-characteristic knowledge PAGE 28 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | VOL. The more mature an organization is. In particular. like knowledge. 1997. The small size of the sample (four NPOs) is not representative of the Italian non-pro®t sector and does not allow statistical-based conclusions. as a more ef®cient use of the available resources. The contingencies that affect KM in the non-pro®t sector The case study analysis aims also at investigating what the contingencies are that mainly in¯uence the design and implementation of an adequate KM strategy in NPOs. nevertheless interesting insights have been gathered. A possible explanation is that the younger NPOs pay more attention to how to create a committed need-driven community: only in a second stage (after the set of values related to their mission have been established) do they begin to solve managerial issues. from the creation/introduction. The position on a life cycle curve is not strictly related to the NPO's age. 6 2004 . Merlo. 1997).

VOL. This is probably due to the major experience of these managers in such issues. These roots in¯uence the KM process. but a generalization was not possible due to the small size of the sample. 6 2004 | JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT | PAGE 29 .e. and (3) the de®nition of a comprehensive framework for the assessment of knowledge. thanks to the contribution of other research into KM in the non-pro®t sector. Conclusions and further research The case study analysis has con®rmed the initial consideration that KM in an average Italian NPO can be exploited to cope with the challenge of excellence achievement. it in¯uences the sensibility of the governing board towards KM issues. in order to avoid an a critical and useless storage and management. with a centralized power structure. (5) Governing board background and operators' average age: KM methods are more common in NPOs with more managers coming from the for-pro®t sector than in others. and. The quest for high degrees of effectiveness and ef®ciency can be supported and fostered by the introduction of ad-hoc KM solutions. pay more attention to KM (in particular to sharing good practices). However. (2) making explicit the levers that can enhance the process of knowing. knowledge map. Their explicative and normative capacities should be tested. The next steps should include re®nement of the proposed models. speci®c models that support the design and implementation of KM systems within the non-pro®t landscape are still missing because this research stream has only recently been de®ned.(2) Set of values: according to the case study. while the NPOs characterized by a network of peer branches. creating a culture more or less favorable to the introduction of ad-hoc KM solutions. but also to a minor suspicion towards solutions coming from the for-pro®t context. formalizing its epistemology. Coherently with the research being carried out at present in the for-pro®t sector. For instance. as a consequence. 8 NO. users and volunteers are moving NPOs towards the acquisition of all the skills and resources necessary for adequate KM strategies and actions. the set of values behind San Vincenzo obliges anonymity and secrecy among the volunteers: such a mind-set is surely an insuperable barrier to knowledge sharing. This paper contributes to the debate: contextualizing the problem of KM in NPOs (de®ning a model that links KM and performance improvement). scholars involved in research into KM in the non-pro®t sector should investigate three parallel research streams: (1) the understanding of the main attributes of knowledge. NPOs seem to be in¯uenced by the ethical or cultural way of thinking of the particular historical-social context in which they were created and operate. where the value-added activities are managed directly by the headquarters. Increasing pressure from local authorities. The NPOs which operate in a context nearer to the for-pro®t one (such as social cooperatives) seem to be better disposed to design and develop speci®c KM strategies than NPOs operating in contexts farther away from the rules typical of the pro®t sector (such as volunteers' associations). with a high level of autonomy. NPOs characterized by low levels of autonomy. (6) Operators average age and turnover: these factors in¯uence mainly the attitude to change of a NPO. are less interested in KM issues. knowledge taxonomy. (3) Judicial status and context of activity: the NPO judicial status de®nes the boundaries of its range of action. The in-depth analysis of the four case studies allowed an understanding of both the dif®culties and potentialities KM could have for the NPOs. knowledge ¯ow). being more sensitive to communication ef®ciency and effectiveness. especially if relevant changes on procedures and new IT infrastructure are required. and de®ning operative models for the ``as is'' analysis of how an NPO manages the knowledge spread among the network of local branches (i. clarifying its ontology. All the previous models support the process of design and introduction of ad-hoc KM systems. (4) Hierarchical network structure and level of autonomy: KM depends also on the internal structure of the network of branches. The introduction of KM solutions is more dif®cult when the age of the operators is older or their permanence in the organization is longer.

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