Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to introduce the JKM 2010 annual special issue on knowledge based development (KBD) with reference to the multi-level analysis characteristic of the field. ----- ----- Design/methodology/approach – A description of the knowledge management approach at ESOC (European Space Operations Centre of the European Space Agency) is provided first. At the core of this approach is the breakdown of knowledge in individual technical domains followed by coverage analysis and criticality assessment. Such a framework becomes the reference for best knowledge acquisition, transfer and storage locus identification and subsequent knowledge management practices and guidelines. ----- ----- Findings – KBD provides an integrated framework to account for multidisciplinary analyses and multilevel practices in knowledge capital generation, distribution and utilization. ----- ----- Originality/value – The collection of papers included in the annual special issue on KBD provides a representative, composite view of the research topics and applications concerns in the field. Involving a number of disciplines and levels of analysis, issues ranging from the technological gatekeeper to global knowledge flows show the interdependence of KBD concepts and tools.