Ethical Issues in Knowledge Management (Km)

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Knowledge Management (KM) has never attained so much publicity as it has in recent years. It is a relatively new facet in organisations and also in educational institutions. Today, it is of utmost importance in the corporate world. The definition of KM has been defined and redefined by various experts through all these years. KM is defined as the tools, techniques and strategies which are essential to retain, analyse, organise improve and share business knowledge. (Groff & Jones 2003: 2)

There are many aspects of KM which include KM Strategy, KM Systems, and KM Culture etc. But, of all these constituents of KM, one important and essential ingredient is Ethical issues. According to the Webster dictionary, “Ethics is the part of philosophy that studies foundations of the morals; it is the set of moral principles which is the basis of someone’s conduct”. Ethics generally include morals that answer the questions: “what should I do?”, “is it wrong or right?”, “am I doing the right thing?” etc.

In this world of Globalisation, businesses and organisations resort to quick and illicit solutions or means of production. This is where Ethical and Legal issues arise in KM. If KM is approached rightly, it will address logical, social, organisational and ethical issues while maintaining a focus on business ethics. (Groff & Jones 2003: 143)


What do we actually mean by the term Ethical?

Ethical means certain accepted standards in terms of personal and social benefit; what we believe is right. (Velasquez 2002: 7) Ethics is also referred as making a judgement. It seeks to answers whether a certain moral standard is correct or wrong.

For example, a cashier at a departmental store gives you change as if you had given a $20 note. But, in fact you had given him a $10 note. So, based on factors like the way you are raised, your faiths and beliefs, your conscience, you are the one who should be able to determine that keeping the money from the cashier’s mistake is right or wrong. (Groff & Jones 2003: 145)

Of course, KM ethics are rarely this simple. (Groff & Jones 2003: 145) Consider this example. The Wagon Wheel Bar at Silicon Valley, USA has achieved an ill repute for the fact that employees from competing companies can indulge in an informal kind of ‘knowledge-trading’ and in many cases, the employing firm is unaware about it. In such a give and take situation, employees are able to illegally access a kind of knowledge that is generally not available within their respective organisations. The Wagon Wheel Bar offers slight purchase to priority claims or Intellectual Property Rights. The clients of the Wagon Wheel Bar conduct their knowledge trades according to logic of knowledge trading whereas; it should actually be conducted in a manner of the usual commercial exchange. Such incidents shorten the life of proprietary knowledge. The bar is now closed. (Boisot & Griffiths 2001: 211)

What we can learn from the above example is that knowledge sharing was an issue at the Wagon Wheel Bar. The process of informal knowledge trading shows us the ways in which Intellectual Property of the organisation for which they are working for can be traded or even sold.

A typical ethical decision making cycle in an organisation transpires like this (Awad & Ghaziri: 404):

Ethical Decision Cycle

KM has various ethical issues which are pertaining to Intellectual Property Rights and New Technology.

Intellectual Property Rights

“Intellectual Property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.” (WIPO 2007) The management of Intellectual Property Rights and knowledge are resolutely linked (Land et al 2007). In today’s organisations, both, employers and employers are faced by questions related to ethical behaviour. In fact, some employers may unfairly take advantage of an employee’s...
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