Knowledge loss risk assessment

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The process used to determine the potential business impact of the loss of critical knowledge from an organization.


Knowledge loss risk assessment is a critical component of a knowledge loss risk management. It is a process used to determine the potential business impact of the loss of critical knowledge from an organization. The process for attrition based risk assessment is described in Ref. [1]. The process uses a risk assessment matrix, which focuses on two key parameters:

  • Position risk (i.e. based on the unique/critical knowledge and skills possessed by the employee and an estimate of the difficulty or level of effort required to refill the position);
  • Attrition risk (i.e. based on the expected retirement or other attrition date of an employee). Based on the combination of the two above factors, a total knowledge loss risk factor can be derived for each individual in the organization.

A suggested process of identifying knowledge loss risk consist of the following steps:

  • Identify expert incumbents who possess critical knowledge and skills;
  • Conduct a risk assessment based on two factors: time until retirement and position criticality;
  • Determine the most appropriate method(s) for addressing potential knowledge loss through attrition;
  • Establish knowledge retention plans that meet continuously changing business needs;
  • Provide a process to review results and ensure knowledge retention plans are monitored and evaluated.

A knowledge loss risk assessment is a useful starting point for establishing the priorities by which key individuals in an organization can be targeted for knowledge elicitation/harvesting or other mitigation actions. Currently the IAEA documentation considers only knowledge loss due to attrition (staff that leaves due to retirement, transfer or termination) but the methodology is readily extended to address other situations.

Organisational knowledge loss risk management

Institutional knowledge is defined as the collective knowledge of all the employees working in an organisation or institution. The necessity to maintain organisational competency for nuclear organizations has been widely recognized by Member States given the nature of the business (high hazard low risk) and the life-cycle of 100 or more years. They recognize the importance in continuing the safe and efficient operation of existing NPPs, continued support for research and development and educational institutions, as well as the need to support the expansion of nuclear power.

The three examples of China, Germany and the USA, demonstrate that different situations or life cycle stages exist that may contribute to the potential loss of knowledge and skill in the nuclear industry. However, all three share the common challenge of managing nuclear knowledge to maintain and enhance institutional knowledge.

As with specific knowledge loss threats organisations should periodically assess the risk of institutional knowledge loss. This assessment should consider both internal (e.g. loss of experienced workers) and external (business and political) factors. Other considerations include:

* Current work load: Provide an assessment of the current workload in the organisation or department. Consider current work backlogs, amount of overtime (paid and unpaid) and levels of stress in workforce. Identify core and non-core functions performed and the impact of under performance. Identify options to address any potential knowledge loss issues (e.g., process improvements, reorganisation, and elimination of non-core activities).

* Future work load: Evaluate future staffing needs on the basis of an assessment of future workload (e.g. expanding capacity, decommissioning, restart, major modifications, etc.). Incorporate contingency in recruiting, training and time until full competency.

* Areas where critical knowledge and skills are at risk: On the basis of current information identify any areas that exist where critical knowledge and skills are at risk to the organisation. These areas may be general areas (e.g., system engineering) or specific to individual experts (turbine specialist). List each area or individual and include ‘what’ is at risk. Include the cause of the threat (e.g., retirement, transfer, other). 

* Risk and impact: With reference to workload assessments, estimate what risks exist and what the impact to organisational performance will be. Consider what work can go forward and what will be deferred. Where possible, quantify the impact on safety, performance, and cost.

* Current programmes or proposed initiatives that support KM: Recognize existing programmes and processes and their contribution to the retention and enhancement of institutional knowledge. These may include: corrective action programmes, configuration of control processes, or change of management tools. Be as specific as possible and identify gaps where programmes or processes need to be improved.

On the basis of the assessment results a strategic plan can be developed to address institutional knowledge loss.


[1] Risk Management of Knowledge Loss in Nuclear Industry Organizations, IAEA Publications STI/PUB/1248, 2006

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