Every day, your organization is building valuable knowledge and experience. But how well are you capturing and sharing it? As your knowledge and information continues to grow, so does the importance of developing a knowledge management strategy. The first step as you begin to execute your strategy is to take inventory of how knowledge is used and stored. A knowledge audit is an incredibly valuable exercise for a number of reasons. Not only will you compile a thorough list of the information your company is storing, but you will be able to better evaluate the “health” of your organization’s knowledge bank.
What Is a Knowledge Audit?
A knowledge audit is the first step in any new knowledge management initiative. It requires investigating the information you have and the way you are storing and maintaining that information.
There is often confusion over the difference between a content audit and a knowledge audit. While a content audit is focused on the content your company has created, giving an overview of what exists and what doesn’t, it doesn’t provide context into how content is used. A knowledge audit, however, looks into the strengths and weaknesses of the information and what it is used for. It answers the following questions:
- What are your organization’s knowledge needs?
- What resources does your company have, and how are they managed/stored?
- What are the gaps in your company knowledge?
- How is company information transferred throughout your organization?
- What is preventing knowledge from being shared across your company?
Once you start asking these questions, more will pop up—and as you put the pieces together, you’ll start to get a much clearer picture of your current knowledge structure. But then what?
The Benefits of a Knowledge Audit
After you’ve answered all of the above questions, and the inquiries that are sure to follow, use your results to evaluate your current processes and establish new systems and frameworks that will tackle any shortcomings you found in your knowledge audit.
The benefits of a completed knowledge audit will vary by organization, but the overall results tend to remain fairly constant for everyone. Key benefits include:
- Better understanding the flow of knowledge across the organization—and where there are areas for improvement
- Identifying knowledge gaps, which will help when prioritizing content creation
- Identifying untapped knowledge that can be shared with a wider audience to increase its utility and value
- Understanding where and how knowledge is being stored, potentially leading to opportunities to consolidate or centralize repositories
- Identifying duplicate work—and preventing duplication in the future
- Keeping teams better aligned by establishing a shared view of the knowledge that exists across the company
Knowledge Audit Methodology
You can break your knowledge audit into the following steps:
Clarify Your Objectives
Before you begin your knowledge audit, it’s important to be able to articulate why you’re doing it and set some objectives. Potential objectives may include:
- Developing an effective knowledge management strategy
- Identifying wants and needs for a knowledge management platform
- Determining where you need to focus knowledge/documentation development efforts
With those objectives in mind, you’ll have a better idea of the information you need to collect during the audit.
Assemble Your Audit Team
While you will have a core team overseeing the knowledge audit, insight from a variety of stakeholders can help you develop a more accurate picture of your organization’s knowledge. If you’re conducting a company-wide knowledge audit, make sure to include representatives from any teams that contribute to and share company knowledge (which should be every team). If you’re conducting a knowledge audit within your department or team, assemble a group of 3-4 team members to help you with the next step of the process.
Inventory Existing Knowledge
One of the most critical tasks of the knowledge audit is creating an inventory of what knowledge exists in your organization (and where it lives). When preparing for this step, it’s important to think about all types of knowledge: implicit, tacit, and explicit. You’ll need to look to several different sources to complete this inventory, potentially including:
- Your company intranet
- Shared drives
- Platforms used for internal department documentation
- Questionnaires and surveys
- Subject matter expert interviews
Examine the Flow of Knowledge
Beyond identifying what knowledge exists within your organization’s people and systems, you need to know how that information is transferred between those people and systems. Consider the following questions:
- How are employees primarily accessing information?
- How do employees share information with one another?
- Who is sharing knowledge, and who are they sharing it with?
Identify Obstacles and Knowledge Gaps
As you complete your inventory, you will start to see gaps emerge. Are you lacking particular training documents? Are you unsure if the PDF you’re looking at is the “final” version of the latest white paper? Should there be a thorough process document explaining how to handle prospective customers’ objections during the sales cycle?
Beyond the obvious gaps, you should also pinpoint opportunities to make your company’s knowledge sharing process easier and more effective. Consider:
- Are there duplication issues?
- Do too many knowledge assets exist in too many different places?
- Do processes or knowledge exist that people don’t know about?
- Are there people who hoard knowledge that isn’t available to anyone else?
Creating Initiatives with a Knowledge Audit
Once you have a better understanding of the health of your company’s knowledge, you can identify appropriate next steps, whether that’s establishing more effective processes or investing in a knowledge management solution. Your knowledge audit will serve as a blueprint for creating new knowledge assets, restructuring existing knowledge systems to improve access, and optimizing information sharing so that all team members benefit.
Note: We periodically update blogs to reflect the latest trends, research, and best practices in knowledge management. This blog was most recently updated and expanded on September 2, 2021.