The 1st KM Conference in Hong Kong in 1999



The Hong Kong Knowledge Management Society

This is a description of the development of the HK KM Society from its early beginnings as HK Knowledge Management Forum founded in 1998 until today.

Both members and interested observers of the KM community in Hong Kong have been wondering why the HK KM Society is not more visible in the HK business community and has been stagnating since 2007, both conceptually and in membership numbers. I would like to describe the development of the Society based on documents, conversations with members including former board members, as well as annual reports from my perspective as the founder of the Society.

The idea of forming a community of professionals interested in knowledge management in public and private sector organisations as well as in the HK society as a whole started to take shape during a research project at the Poon Kam Kai Institute of Management at the University of Hong Kong in 1998, where I was conducting a pilot survey on Knowledge Management in listed companies in Hong Kong. In those years, it was still very early days for knowledge management, and not many companies were aware of KM and intellectual capital. The survey can be obtained through PKKI

My colleague at the PKKI, Associate Director Ivan Choi and I organised a first meeting of the HK Knowledge Management Forum on 5 February 1999.  It was very well attended with more than 40 participants from local and international companies in Hong Kong. Encouraged by the response I then continued organising monthly meetings with invited speakers and creating a discourse on KM. The HK KM Forum became a regular activity organized by Knowledge Enterprises, the research organisation I founded in 1997, just after the handover in Hong Kong with the aim to contribute to the territory’s development into a more knowledge-based economy.

As the interest in the activities of the Forum grew, I wanted to transform the forum into a non-profit, public professional society, and together with Regina Yu (then: PriceWaterhouseCoopers) and Anya Wong (then: J W Thompson) registered the Society under the Societies ordinance. We also invited Les Hales (then: Gartner) and Noeleen Farrell (then: Johnson, Stokes Master) to join the board.

The Hong Kong KM Society was registered as Society on 8 February 2001, and is the oldest public, non-profit organizations for professionals interested in organizational, cultural, and societal issues of managing knowledge in HK.  At that time, knowledge management in Asia was still a niche topic, largely attracting professional services firms and academic researchers; but around the year 2000, there were similar activities in some countries in the region, notably in Japan through the popularity of Ikujiro Nonaka. We established relationships with the Japanese Knowledge Management Society, which was founded in the same year as ours, and I was also one of the founding members of the Singapore Information and Knowledge Management Society ( set up in 2001, when I was visting faculty in the Information Studies programme of the Nanyang Technological University; the first university in Asia with an M.A. programme in KM.

The Society organised monthly meetings with talks and discussion, and I also continued the series of Asia Pacific KM conferences, which started back in 1999, under the umbrella of HKKMS. The international conference brought well-known knowledge management thinkers to Hong Kong, among others Dr. Karl Erik Sveiby and David Snowden.

Despite the interest in the topic, our Society remained a small group of enthusiastic people, roughly between 35 and 45 members plus varying number of guests who were attracted to individual topics. We had no office, no staff and all tasks depended on volunteers. Our idea was that once we reached 100 members we would consider employing somebody to deal with membership communications.  Our website at the time was a very simple Web 1.0 static site with no interactive features.

In 2003, the HK KM Society successfully applied for government funding for an international conference and received 117,000 HK$ to support the organisation and invitation of speakers.

The title of the conference was:

Intangible Assets – The Wealth of Knowledge-based Economies International Conference and Research on Hong Kong’s Position as a Knowledge Society, The details of the programme can be found here:

The conference was held on 18/19 November 2004 at the Intercontinental hotel in Kowloon and was very well received.

Following this event, we published a research report on ”Hong Kong’s position as Knowledge-based society”, which can be downloaded here:

The project application, including evaluation can be viewed here:

While the conference was a pioneering event in raising the topic of intellectual capital in Hong Kong, managing such an event was a big challenge for our small group of volunteers, and led to a very long and tedious process of getting the records for the conference project report and accounts in order. This issue was also addressed in the evaluation:

Under 4.2. Self-evaluation of financial and project management:

“The project received a lot of in-kind support, which helped to keep the expenses within the budget. The financial income was lower than planned due to the lower number of participants. The number of participants in the seminars was lower than planned, and for some of the post-conference seminars the income hardly covered expenses.

Overall, the project was under-staffed after the conference, which led to unplanned delays, particularly in the post-conference activities. Reliable secretarial support, particularly record keeping and document management, could not be organized due to lack of funding in the post-conference phase.”

Preparing the final project report including the account statement took us a long time, but with the support of our board members at the time, John James O’Brien, an expert in records management, who provided a lot of guidance in the process, as well as Allan Hickey, who contributed with his accounting experience, we managed to fulfill the formal requirements of the PSDAS reporting processes. Both of them joined the board after the conference, so they were not involved in the management of the event itself.

The audited accounts were finally submitted in 2007 and we had to return 22,983 HK$ of the original funding amount of 117K, which is reflected in the statement of accounts for the year 2008/2009. Basically we did not spend enough, so that we had to return the unused portion of the already approved funding. In the end the PSDAS approved the project report and the deliverables, and despite all the problems, the conference was a great success for the Society which led to many follow up activities in the coming years, including a series of workshops on intellectual capital for the business community in Hong Kong. HKKMS-Annual Report-2008

This story clearly is an example of a lack of governance structure in a small, voluntary organisation, which as a group of people who come together to accomplish some shared purpose of benefit to the community. Lots of organisations remain at this stage, however, we decided to learn from our mistakes and help the Society develop governance structures that would enable us to grow.

With this in mind, I resigned in 2007 as president, so that a new board could develop the necessary structures. I was invited to serve as honorary advisory board member in the Society. See letter of L. Hales attached below.

At the AGM in 2007, we did not discuss the governance issues in details; the problems were only vaguely addressed in the annual report. In hindsight, I think this was a mistake, as it created a culture of non-transparency in the society. In the annual report of 2007 L. Hales, who became the interim president for the Society with the mandate to introduce better governance structure, promised “complete visibility over the Society’s income and expenditure”, as well as to develop an interactive website for the community of HKKMS members. The executive board members elected in 2007 were: Les Hales (consultant), Eric Tsui (PolyU), Ron Baillie (Cathay Pacific) Arthur Lui (OOCL) and Felicia Lee (Paul Weiss).

In the 2007 annual report our mission statement was quoted once again to reinforce our founding principles, which are to “create a strong, open, and independent Society for those interested in knowledge management in Hong Kong. We consider our Society a true community of practice and refrain from commercial accreditation, certification, standardization and other programmes to formalise knowledge management in one direction or the other. This independence is the basis for a professional society and has in the past served us well.”  Annual Report HKKMS 2007 Our mission statement as well as a strength and weakness analysis of our situation in 2006 can be found here: HKKMS-mission2006

In the following years, the development of the society went into another direction though: contrary to the mission statement, the Society financially supported private consulting initiatives such as the MAKE awards, the member-driven website was not developed, the accounts were only published upon request by members and not audited by independent certified auditors, the society still doesn’t have a treasurer, and the records of the society are not public to its members. Seminars and meetings were not or very late published on the website, and invitations were only sent out through private emails by the president.

The Society doesn’t  have a public email address or phone number, and even members don’t know how to contact it, as this email  forwarded to me by a member indicates: “I’m having problems contacting the HKKMS and I was wondering if you could help. The message below bounced back. I sent a membership application a while back but although the cheque was cashed I haven’t been able to locate anyone.”

To: ‘’
Subject: Membership for 2008-9 – request for receipt


I sent you a registration form a few weeks ago. I assume this has been processed now as the cheque has passed through my account, although I haven’t received any confirmation. Could I ask for a receipt for the membership fee to be sent to the address below as I need to claim the amount back from our finance department.  –

The growing discontent with the situation led a group of members to ask for a Special General Meeting to openly discuss the problems of governance and perceived lack of development of the Society. Prior to this decision, members had repeatedly asked questions to board members, but not received any answers. The call for a SGM was submitted to the board of the Society on 26 February 2010. Les Hales did not acknowledge our request claiming that the signatures were missing and that some of us were no longer members of the society. We therefore collected all original signatures and resent the request on 25 March 2010 SGM 2010-24-03


Further to our request for a Special General Meeting submitted by email on 26 February to the board of the HKKMS, we have sent the original letter with signatures to the president of the Hong Kong Knowledge Management Society. The attached letter was sent to PO Box 8854, Central, on 25 March.  This original letter with original signatures meets the requirements to call a Special General Meeting, SGM, of the society.  Please refer to Article 4: Meetings, paragraph (d) of the statutes of the society.  All society members need to be given 14 days notice of the SGM and the business to be discussed.  The business to be discussed is described in this letter.

Best regards,

Bill Proudfit

The board still did not call for a SGM but instead tried everything to prevent an open discussion among members on the society’s current governance and future directions. The president personally called all members who signed the request, and most of them then withdraw their signature.

The culture of secrecy has been described by former HKKMS member, Bill Proudfit in this blog:

Although the HKKMS is a very small group where an open discussion should be possible,  the current board creates an atmosphere of politics behind closed doors, doesn’t allow questions or suggestions from members, and threatens to exclude members although the statues don’t have any provision for such an action.

In July 2009 the current executive board members (Les Hales, Ron Baillie, Eric Tsui, T H Lo, Arthur Lui and Felicia Lee) finally decided to do something about the completely outdated website, which has not changed since 2006. I received an email asking to transfer the DNS to a new web designer, Richard Stagg of Handshake Networking. Why the board chose this designer, who is a business friend of the president, and what the plans were for the new interactive site was not communicated to the members, nore were members invited to  contribute to the new site. Given the various options of interactive platforms for communities like ours, the question was why anybody would still need a web designer in a Web 2.0 environment.

As creator, owner and custodian of the domain I changed the DNS so that the new content could be uploaded. The following email exchange shall illustrate the different views of the executive board and me.

From: Ritter <ritter ()>
To: kristin rogers <kristinlsr ()>
Sent: Monday, 27 July, 2009 Subject: RE: Renewal Website Hosting

Dear Kristin,

I think there is confusion about the website hosting and the ownership/registration of the domain name.  The fee for hosting the site may be up for renewal, but the domain name is valid and regularly renewed.

The domain name was created and is owned by me.  As founder of the HKKMS and advisory board member I am more connected with the society than any of the secretaries or other board members who are elected every year, so the continuity and integrity of the domain is guaranteed. All the changes to the DNS etc can be done without transferring the ownership of the domain, and I should be happy to get in touch with your new web designer regarding any technical questions.


I then gave all the access rights to the new webmaster of the Society who uploaded the conference flyer of our annual KM conference on 30 March 2010 to the site, however, at the same time deleted my name from the website.

In his mail to members and friends of 4 February Mr Hales announced:

From: Les Hales <>
Date: 4 February 2010
Subject: HK Knowledge Management Society – Society News and Feb/March events


In other news, a new version of the HKKMS website is almost ready for release. A new URL will be sent to you later this month which we would like you to visit and provide feedback on before it replaces I’d like to thank Richard Stagg for the site work and Danyll Wills for the content implementation for their efforts.


Half a year later, members and the general public are still waiting to see the new site with “content implementation” by personal friends of the president who are not members of the Society and have no stake in our website.  Why are members asked to “provide feedback” ? We are waiting for an open interactive communication platform, not for content broadcasting by the board.  This announcement gave us the impression that changing  from a Web 1.0  to 2.0 mindset might take longer than expected.

On 23/02/2010 Ritter wrote:

Hi Richard,

Just wanted to let you know that I am transferring the domain back to your server, as it looks like a meeting with the board members will not take place this week and I don’t want to interrupt the conference marketing

I noticed that you had deleted my name and email from the contact page – could you reinstate my contact information? The name of the founder and founding president should be visible to visitors of the site. Please use this email: ritter [at] knowledgedialogues .com as the hkkms one is not working.

I would also like to inform you that the HK Knowledge Management Forum and Society names (including domain names) are protected under HK IP law and are owned by Knowledge Enterprises, but as founder of the Society I will of course not impose any restrictions in the usage of the domain, as long as the varying boards comply with the statutes of the Society.


The web designer did not correct the site, and I had to change the DNS since the elimination of names of key persons of an organsiation from websites violates business practice and ethics in an open economy. I didn’t want to interfere in the website administration, but this act of censorship did not leave me another option.

On 1st of April 2010, L. Hales sent an email to me saying that:

HKKMS no longer has control over the domain. You unilaterally adjusted the DNSs on the 19th Feb. On the 23rd Feb, you sent the HKKMS web master an e-mail asking him to “reinstate” you as Founder on the HKKMS web site. After this request was rejected, you set up your own “replacement” web site on on the 26th Feb or thereabouts.


In the following months, I tried to arrange a meeting with some of the executive board members to set up a simple agreement regarding the domain usage, so that in the future there would not be any problems between any of the current executive boards and the founder of the Society, and met on 10 June 2010 with Ron Baillie, Debbie Lange, and T H Lo. Following a rather difficult conversation with arguments about whether I am an honorary board member or not (the newer board members did not know about the agreement of 2007), we did reach a decision which I was asked to confirm in writing the next day (11 June 2010):

Dear all,

Despite our different views on various governance issues of the society, I am glad we reached an agreement regarding the HKKMS website.

As discussed I will return the full control of the website to you so that the new website content can be uploaded. Please send me the technical details necessary for the transfer as soon as possible.

The custody of the domain will be transferred to the new board (secretary? – Kindly confirm) after the next AGM.  We discussed that neither Les nor I will be members of the new board in order to avoid personal tensions interfering with the development of the society.

I hope this solution will help us to move on.


Waltraut Ritter

Founding President, HKKMS

On 30 June 2010, Ron Baillie, answered:

Dear Waltraut,

Thank you again for your emails in regard to our meeting.

Attached, please find the formal record of the meeting as agreed by the three Board members who took part with you.

Although we acknowledge that there was some agreement for you to transfer control of the website domain name to the Society, we did not get an agreement from you to transfer the registration and legal ownership of the domain name.

The Board has decided to call a Special General Meeting of the Society in order for us to present the current situation to the membership, and to seek their views on the next course of action. Having taken some legal advice we believe it will be possible for the Society to recover the domain name ownership through a dispute procedure, and we will be putting forward this option together with others at this SGM.

I will be out of the office and travelling for the next three weeks.

Should you need to contact the Society’s Board members during this time please do so directly.



Ron further stated that since I was “no longer a Board member, or society member, or in any way affiliated to the HKKMS, that [I] should transfer this domain name legal ownership and control to the HKKMS immediately”.

Although I gave him a copy of the letter stating my position as honorary board member, he chose to ignore this. No argument is possible in a situation where one side chooses to ignore written agreements.

On 4 August 2010 I answered:

Open letter to the HKKMS board

Dear Ron,

Many weeks have passed again, and the HKKMS still doesn’t have a proper website. It’s now nearly 4 years since the current board promised to create a member-driven, open and collaborative website. Since then, tools have constantly been improved and made it easier for communities such as ours to create content without being dependent on web designers.

All along I have offered to transfer the website domain to the person in charge of administering the site and suggested to set up a simple agreement on the usage of the domain. The domain name was created and is owned by Knowledge Dialogues, and as founder and current paid member of the HKKMS I have offered to collaborate with any of the current and future board members and continue to do so. Therefore, the domain name ownership is not an issue, the content is.

In February 2010, several members including myself requested a special general meeting, and the website was one of the key concerns of the members. If you consider calling for a SGM now from your side, we should also discuss the accounts which still do not comply with the societies’ ordinance.

Instead of a formal SGM, why don’t you invite interested members to discuss the content and management of the website and perhaps set up a working team of those who are interested to contribute to a new website? Some of the current members are already experimenting with the site and the response it quite promising.

W. Ritter

For more than four years  this communication deadlock and unwillingness to find a solution has created an atmosphere of distrust and frustration among members. Many members don’t want to be bothered with internal politics; others feel something is wrong in the Society, but don’t care as long as they can attend a few interesting seminars and talks, and quite a number simply left.

We even invited a board member of the Singapore KM society, Patrick Lambe, to help mediate the internal conflicts within the board. He later on wrote how KM societies and associations, who seem to be prone to such conflicts, could handle such situations better in the future. His article on “Money, Testosterone and KM” from 2005 gives us some guidelines to consider: Money-Testosterone-and-Km

Four basic guidelines:

Commercial Activity: No professional membership society should have a commercial interest in selling specific products

Conflict of Interest: Society board members should declare all commercial interests related to the society’s activities, and be willing to step down if these interests are considered by a majority of the board to be in conflict with the interests of the society

Practice Focus: Society boards should have a balance of working practitioners against commercial providers in KM, with the President’s position preferably belonging to a practitioner

Testosterone Control: Society boards should have a balance of male and female members – and the female members should get a casting vote (judging from the KMPro and KMCI controversies, the women are less prone to fight, and usually weigh in to seek resolution, while the men continue to fluff their feathers and fight for a pre-defined victory).

More broadly, the KM societies of Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines have recently agreed to open discussions on drafting a common governance charter that will facilitate collaboration and cooperation between societies across the region. Let’s see if we can do that without a fight. © Patrick

If the current executive board would stick to these basic guidelines as well as follow the statues of the Society, perhaps we could move forward?

The Singapore KM Society has built a communication structure and created a good governance system over the past years. As a result, they now have nearly 300 members, whereas the HKKMS has less than 40.

Not attracting members and growing the community, that is the real cost of non-collaboration and internal disputes. By publishing these documents I hope that members can get a better understanding of the conflict and see how it damages our community.  The president continues to threaten me and other outspoken members of the Society, but creating disputes does not solve the problem.

As founder of the Society, I am concerned about this development and hope that the active involvement of members can help to renew our community, leave personal differences behind,  and develop the Society into an open, interactive forum for leading-edge ideas and practices on managing knowledge.

Waltraut Ritter

August 2010

First meeting of HK KM Forum in 1998

HK KM Society registration from 2001

Letter L. Hales June 2007


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