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In the constantly morphing world of LIS careers, one of the areas that has continued to grow is knowledge management, i.e., the organization and management of, and provision of access to, an organization’s internal and external information via a technology infrastructure.

While this definition is subject to interpretation from organization to organization, the knowledge management role has generally been one of execution, especially as taught in MLIS programs. Recently, however, Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education has announced a new degree – an M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy – that takes a different approach. Knowledge management consultant and thought-leader Guy St. Clair, who’s been involved in its development, shared insights about the nature, scope, and goals of the Columbia University program.

(Guy wanted to point out that although he’s involved in the program, the following remarks are his own, and should not been thought of as “official” or “authorized” by Columbia University. He also noted that although he’s tremendously excited about the program, he’s “just one player on the team and …these are simply my observations and my own opinions.”)

How would you distinguish this degree from an MLIS?
First of all, the program isn’t really about “information skills,” not when we use the term to connect with the work of information professionals like specialist librarians. Indeed, the information and knowledge strategy program is not about librarianship any of the specific disciplines that make up what we generally think of as the components of the “knowledge domain.”

These are all important disciplines, but they are primarily about collections, including of course modern digital collections. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the information and knowledge strategy program – as my colleague Andrew Berner has pointed out – is that it is not a collection-based approach to knowledge development and knowledge sharing (what we like to call “KD/KS”). The information and knowledge strategy program is a management-based approach to KD/KS. Going even further, another SMR colleague, Dale Stanley, says the information and knowledge strategy approach goes even beyond a management approach to KD/KS, to a cultural or organizational-effectiveness perspective about how to deal with knowledge.

So the program is not about collections, or the discrete disciplines that work with collections. And once we start thinking about the management- or cultural- or effectiveness-approach to knowledge and knowledge value, we discover something about what corporate and organizational management needs. While understanding the role and value of these discrete disciplines, what the enterprise really requires is qualified leadership and management staff to pull these – and other – disciplines together, to provide an enterprise-wide approach to knowledge strategy. In doing so, the knowledge strategists – the people who graduate from the Columbia University program – are then positioned to link the corporate knowledge strategy with the organizational business strategy, thus ensuring organizational effectiveness.

How would you describe the difference between knowledge management (KM) and “information and knowledge strategy?”
KM is, as Larry Prusak once put it, is “working with knowledge.” From my perspective, once you get beyond the collection focus, if you’re working with knowledge you’re almost obligated to take into account the strategic role of knowledge in the company or the organization’s success. There are programs that teach KM, and many of the programs offer graduate programs, some from the engineering perspective and some from the information science point of view. At Columbia University, the information and knowledge strategy program is different. It’s unique. We’re taking the whole idea of KM and moving it into the leadership and management arena, educating information strategists to influence corporate and organizational success.

Who do you see as your primary target market for this degree?
At the site for the program, we describe how the program is really attractive to three groups of people: mid-career individuals looking for new challenges, those who want to expand or extend their current roles, and current or future entrepreneurs who recognize the opportunities to create new ventures in the knowledge domain.

I go beyond that. When I speak to people about the program, I ask them about their ambition, about what they want to get from their careers, from their work. In his new book, David Brooks (in The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement), talks about thumos, the Greek desire for recognition and union, which goes beyond the other drives for money and success. I think the successful knowledge strategist puts all those attributes together, for the benefit of the employing organization, and I think those are the people who are being attracted to working with information and knowledge strategy.

What types of job titles would you foresee graduates holding when they move into their new roles based on this degree?
The titles, I think, will depend primarily on their work. These people, who will probably most often be referred to as “knowledge strategist” or – if they are at a senior management level – as Director, Knowledge Strategy or VP, Knowledge Strategy or something like that – will be employed to facilitate new ways of thinking about knowledge in the organization. Their job will be to ensure an enterprise-wide flow of information and knowledge and, as I said, to connect knowledge strategy with corporate strategy. Of course they’ll look at things like ROI and performance measures, and I think they will be very much focused on systems thinking. Their primary role – as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now – is to be the organization’s change agent in terms of KD/KS. That’s why they are there.

So their titles will reflect that, and I expect in addition to “knowledge strategist” we’ll see titles like consultant, knowledge architect, information or knowledge analyst, knowledge process engineer, management engineer, knowledge specialist, collaboration specialist, KM systems manager. We’ll also see these knowledge strategists moving into the corporate CKO, CIO, CLO realm. Those titles aren’t going away anytime soon, and the graduates of the Columbia program are going to be very well qualified to take on responsibilities having to do with knowledge, information, and strategic learning.

Any specific industries or emerging growth areas where you feel this degree will be especially in demand?
From where I sit, I think these graduates are going to be everywhere. This education can be universally applied, since knowledge strategy is required in all organizations and industries, including for-profit, not-for-profit, non-profit organizations. So these knowledge strategists will be working in any of the information- and human-capital intensive industries, simply because information and knowledge strategy is all about KD/KS and human interaction and communication.

Because of this universal application, we’ve tried not to target any specific fields or disciplines, but we’re getting major responses from some specifics areas. These include healthcare, legal, corporate (that is, business and financial), business and professional services, media (entertainment, publishing, fashion, and all the “glamour” industries), education and academic institutions, science and technology, telecommunications, of certainly gratifying to me, from management consulting.

The 16-month program is described a “hybrid” approach; can you describe the benefits of this approach?
The program is built on an online platform that encourages splendid opportunities for interaction. We’re using just about every tool you can think of to enable students, faculty, and the university’s administration to work together, to communicate directly and interact in ways that will provide the students with the best education we can provide for them.

That said, there’s no getting around the value of face-to-face, personal interaction, which is why the program has three short residencies. These times spent together – working with some of the recognized leaders in KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy – will enable everyone (students, faculty, and invited visitors) to come together and explore in-depth topics, giving them a truly valuable intellectual experience. And in the residencies, not only do we all get to know one another personally, we’ll all be together in New York. As you know (says this New Yorker!), that can be fun!

What are some of the courses that feel are especially important/unique in this program, and not likely to be found in MLIS programs?
I have to be careful here, because I’m teaching two of the courses and I don’t want to seem to be promoting my own courses. The seven core courses and the electives have been very carefully chosen, as has the faculty, to provide a stimulating intellectual experience for the students while preparing them for very practical applications once they leave the program and are working as knowledge strategists.

OK. I’ll self-promote a little. Having a course in entrepreneurial knowledge services and relating the entrepreneurial focus to all the other courses is going to provide a tremendously valuable opportunity for students. Since you’re directing this interview primarily to people in the LIS community, I’ll just point out that entrepreneurial management is sometimes missing in that field. Whether providing internal consulting services within the company or going out into the external community to bring knowledge services to a wider audience, entrepreneurial thinking is critical, and I’m very excited that we’re going to be offering this kind of course.

What characteristics, attributes, or strengths do you feel would best suit students for the types of roles this degree will prepare them for?
Energy, willingness to work hard (this is a program at Columbia University, with all that that implies – the intellectual requirements are demanding), focus, enthusiasm about the role of knowledge in society and in the workplace, leadership skills – or an interest in developing leadership skills – and a commitment to moving forward in a field that is becoming more and more exciting as time goes on.
And, as I said, ambition. Our students must be ambitious about themselves and their contribution to the workplace.

If someone already has their MLIS but has been working for awhile and hit a plateau in their career, do you think this degree might be a useful way of opening up new career opportunities?

For more information:
M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy
Columbia University School of Continuing Education