What is Organisational Knowledge and why is it important?

What is Organisational Knowledge and why is it important?

An interesting development in ISO 9001 emerged with the 2015 revision of the standard, specifically Clause 7.1.6, which focuses on organisational knowledge. In previous versions, ‘knowledge’ was partially addressed in the documentation section. ISO 9001:2015, however, highlights and better acknowledges the significance of organisational knowledge and its ability to influence future success factors of the organisation.

The requirements around organisational knowledge aim to safeguard organisations from any loss of knowledge due to staff turnover or failure to capture and share information. They encourage identifying and acquiring knowledge through experience and mentoring.

Organisational knowledge is a significant business resource, although Knowledge Management itself is not an auditable requirement. Emphasised attention should be given to it, as it ensures quality outputs and promotes sustainable business practices.

Potential challenges include capturing organisational knowledge, ensuring compliance with Clause 7.1.6, effectively auditing knowledge management, and finding additional guidance for organisations and auditors.

What is Organisational Knowledge?

“Organizational Knowledge is the specific knowledge of the organization, coming either from its collective experience or from the individual experience of its persons. In an explicit or implicit way this knowledge is, or can be, used to attain the organization’s objectives.”

Auditing Practices Group Guidance on: Organisational Knowledge, ISO & IAF (2016)

Importance of Knowledge

  1. Knowledge is crucial for supporting QMS processes and ensuring conformity of outputs.
  2. Organisational knowledge provides a competitive advantage, aligning with Clause 7.1.6 under section 7 (Resources).

Types of Organisational Knowledge

Organisational Knowledge comes in various forms. Within a business, it can be broadly classified into two types: tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge.

Tacit Knowledge

Tacit knowledge, often referred to as ‘know-how’, is embedded in the minds of human stakeholders and is largely experience-based. It is considered the most valuable source of knowledge, rooted in action and commitment, and often requires specific individuals or groups.

Examples: Skills acquired through tradition, common understanding, etc.

Explicit Knowledge

Explicit knowledge, or ‘know-what’, is formalised and documented. It is easy to identify, store, and retrieve, requiring careful management to ensure stakeholders have access. Processes must be in place for its review, update, or discard.

Examples: Databases, memos, notes, documents, etc.

Other Types of Knowledge

  • Implicit Knowledge: Knowledge that can be articulated but has not yet been.
  • Procedural Knowledge: Knowledge that manifests through an activity.
  • Declarative Knowledge: Knowledge consisting of descriptions of facts, things, methods, and procedures.
  • Strategic Knowledge: Knowledge of when and why to do something.

To explore this topic further and manage your organisational knowledge effectively, download our free guide:FOUR PHASES OF HANDLING ORGANISATIONAL KNOWLEDGE

What Does ISO 9001:2015 Say About Organisational Knowledge?

“Determine the knowledge necessary for the operation of its processes and to achieve conformity of products and services. This knowledge shall be maintained and made available to the extent necessary. When addressing changing needs and trends, the organization shall consider its current knowledge and determine how to acquire or access any necessary additional knowledge and required updates.

NOTE 1: Organizational knowledge is knowledge specific to the organization; it is generally gained by experience. It is information that is used and shared to achieve the organization’s objectives.

NOTE 2: Organizational knowledge can be based on: a) Internal Sources (e.g., intellectual property, knowledge gained from experience, lessons learned from failures and successful projects, capturing and sharing undocumented knowledge and experience; the results of improvements in processes, products and services); b) External Sources (e.g., standards, academia, conferences, gathering knowledge from customers or external providers).”

Clause 7.1.6. Knowledge, ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Systems — Requirements

Clause 7.1.6 of ISO 9001:2015 requires organisations to determine the knowledge necessary for their processes and to achieve product and service conformity. This knowledge must be maintained and made available as necessary. Organisations should consider current knowledge and determine how to acquire additional knowledge to address changing needs and trends.

Internal and External Sources

  • Internal Sources: Intellectual property, experience, lessons learned, improvements in processes, products, and services.
  • External Sources: Standards, academia, conferences, customer and provider insights.

Interpreting Clause 7.1.6 Knowledge

Organisations must determine the knowledge needed to operate processes effectively. Although formalised Knowledge Management isn’t required, organisations must ensure compliance with QMS requirements. This involves acquiring and maintaining knowledge to deliver consistent outputs and outcomes.

Clause 7.1.6 connects with management review activities, planning changes (Clause 6.3), and communication (Clause 7.4). Decisions should be evidence-based to ensure objective and confident decision-making.

Organisational Knowledge and the QMS

“The balance between knowledge held by competent people and knowledge made available by other means is at the discretion of the organisation, provided that conformity of products and services can be achieved.” – ISO 9001:2015 Organisational Knowledge, Pretesh Biswas (APB Consultant)

The requirements of ‘7.1.6 Knowledge’ cannot be read in isolation. This would remove it from the context of ISO 9001:2015 and minimise the usefulness of this part of the standard.

Knowledge management should be integrated with QMS, considering the context of the organisation, stakeholder needs, and strategic factors (Clause 4). These elements influence the definition of objectives and processes (Clause 6).

Since “The organization shall establish quality objectives at relevant functions, levels and processes” (Clause 6.2.1), those who are accountable for achieving these objectives require the full ‘know-how’ to fulfil their obligations, or they may miss the mark.

Communication and Organisational Knowledge

Communication (Clause 7.4) is crucial for meeting Organisational Knowledge requirements. Knowledge must be determined, current, and accessible to those who need it. Organisations should compare existing knowledge with required knowledge, acquire new ‘know-how’, and deploy it strategically across all levels.

Synergy through Organisational Knowledge Management

Although notes associated with Clause 7.1.6 aren’t auditable, they suggest sourcing knowledge widely. Knowledge gained by experience is often lost with staff turnover, so gathering such knowledge is essential. Effective knowledge management relies on leadership, culture, and tools. Developing a learning culture where experienced individuals mentor others is vital.

How Do We Audit Knowledge Management?

Auditing Clause 7.1.6 involves evaluating whether the organisation has identified necessary knowledge for process functioning. This includes maintaining knowledge, updating it with changes, and securely storing and distributing it. Auditors may look for:

  • Scans of key knowledge topics
  • Lists of critical knowledge topics
  • Assigned topic owners
  • Knowledge maintenance procedures
  • Knowledge sourcing strategies
  • Strategic knowledge plans with actions to fill gaps
  • Systems for learning from experience
  • Knowledge retention and transfer programs

“Organizational knowledge is, in the end, key to the ability of a business to deliver within its organizational context.” – Andrew Holt is Technical Content Executive at the CQI.

Organisational Knowledge in Other Standards

ISO 30401:2018 Knowledge management systems — Requirements, support organisations in developing systems that promote value creation through knowledge. It sets principles and requirements for effective knowledge management, serving as a basis for auditing and certification.


Organisational Knowledge management is essential for ISO 9001:2015 compliance and business continuity. Stakeholders must adopt a culture of knowledge sharing and learning, with plans to ensure Clause 7.1.6 requirements are met.

Individuals need to be open to the concept and should be clear on how this sub-clause impacts the organisation; plans need to be in place to ensure that the requirements of Clause 7.1.6 are in place.

Next Steps

To explore this topic further and manage your organisational knowledge effectively, download our free guide:FOUR PHASES OF HANDLING ORGANISATIONAL KNOWLEDGE

Get A Quote
close slider
Scroll to Top
× Chat to us on WhatsApp