Knowledge management is an area of research in the fields of computer science/information technology, business management, and the social sciences. It is concerned with managing the creation, capture, distribution, application, and retention of knowledge produced or acquired within or by the firm through its internal operations and external relations with suppliers, clients and other parties.
In the early 2000s, knowledge management (KM) achieved buzzword status, finding its way into the marketing materials of a large number of software providers. Today, some of the buzz has subsided, but the aims and objectives of KM are still part of many software development initiatives, sometimes embedded implicitly in programs and projects, sometimes explicitly. Position titles also continue to reflect an ongoing interest in KM, even if chief knowledge officer positions have not proliferated.
Whether KM lives on with fanfare or works quietly in the background, KM objectives will be realized to various degrees in the future. Since KM will have an impact on the working lives of many people, particularly “knowledge workers” as they are often called, it is important to explore the ethical implications of KM. Is KM a threat to the financial and intellectual well being of knowledge workers, or will it enrich them intellectually and financially? For some, KM promises to carry on the process of deskilling and devaluing workers by offloading thought and judgment and converting human knowledge into machine based intellectual property. For others KM provides an opportunity to accelerate learning, forester collaboration, and enhance the stature of knowledge workers. This issue will be explored here.
Conflict of Interest
Conflict of interest is an issue that arises for professionals because of the nature of professional work. Professionals typically stand in a fiduciary relationship to certain parties. A fiduciary relationship is a relationship based in trust in which the fiduciary is given the responsibility to act on the other’s behalf or interest in some specific area (financial, legal, medical). Professionals play this role because of their expertise. Laypersons entrust them with protecting their interests because the professional is an expert in the specific area of interest. Information and records professionals, as professionals with specialized skills and trust-based responsibilities, have an obligation to avoid or manage conflicts just as do other professionals.
In addition to having moral responsibilities themselves, information professionals often are in a position to help their organizations avoid and manage conflicts of interest. This is because information systems and records programs are a key part of addressing conflict of interest issues. Information systems can provide transparency in decision making and business processes. They can also provide auditable records of these processes and transactions. It is important that information and records professionals understand the ethical and legal issues in the area of conflict interest so that they can build systems and programs that mitigate the risk of unethical or illegal behavior.