Why beginners and experts behave differently in KM

Experts and beginners behave differently in Knowledge Management systems. Here’s why.

Great Meadows Fishing Day 2010
Great Meadows Fishing Day by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on Flickr

Confucius said “Shall I tell you what true knowledge is? When you know, to know that you know, and when you do not know, to know that you do not know—that is true knowledge”. So the true expert is the person who knows what they know, and what they don’t know.

Before you get that true knowledge, before you become an expert, you don’t know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know.  That’s a description of a beginner, or a novice; beginners do not yet know the level of their ignorance.

In knowledge management terms, that means you have to treat the beginners and the experts differently. Experts, and budding experts, will become fully involved in Communities of Practice – gaining knowledge through discussions and through questions., When they need knowledge, they will ask for it and receive answers. Their questions are clear and focused, because they know what they don’t know. They won’t tend to use the Knowledge Base so much, as they already know what they know, and are looking to “fill in the gaps” in their knowledge that probable aren’t in the knowledge base.

The novices, on the other hand, will not take part in the community discussions, although they may “lurk” – read the conversations but without taking part. Because they don’t know what they don’t know, they don’t know what questions to ask. When they do ask questions, they tend to be general and basic rather than specific and targeted. However the beginner will find the knowledge base – the wikis, the FAQs – very useful, because it gives them the full picture. It shows them all aspects of the knowledge, so they can understand the full range of the things they don’t know.

The demographics of the workforce determines which knowledge management tools to focus on. A company with large numbers of experienced staff will get huge value from communities of practice, and from question-led discussions among the experts and budding experts. A company with large numbers of new staff and inexperienced staff may get more benefit from building FAQs, knowledge bases and wikis. 

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

What is the KM role of the Company Experts?

In a fully developed Knowledge Management framework, the company experts have a key part to play.

talk to the experts
The experts are one of your core stakeholder groups in KM, and your change management approach needs to explicity address these people.  For many years they may have acted as sole sources of much of the knowledge, and their personal status may be tied up with their own knowledge. KM needs to offer them a new role, which can be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat.

The technical experts in many knowledge management organisations tend to have a three-fold role:

  • Acting as a source of expert opinion for others, and for the identification and development of technical practices and procedures;
  • Maintaining guidelines and best practices, and validating lessons;
  • Building effective learning communities.

In other words, they are accountable for:

  • Developing and sharing their own tacit knowledge;
  • Ownership or stewardship of the explicit knowledge in their subject matter area;
  • Creation of the network that stewards the tacit knowledge in their subject matter area.
These new roles allow the Experts to become the stewards of knowledge, rather than the sole holders. Make sure these new roles are made explicit and built into their job descriptions.

View Original Source Here.

Finding an answer in the Long Tail of Knowledge

When looking for knowledge, let’s not just rely on finding the experts.

We know that actually only a small percentage of knowledge in an organisation can be accessed through documents, and that most of it is in the heads of people. We know that if we can “find the people who know”, then we can access that tacit knowledge through asking them questions.

One common approach to “finding the people that know” is to build an Expert Locator System. You think – “Who are the experts in the organisation? Can we make an index of the experts, so that people can find them, and ask them for advice?”

However Expertise is not always synonymous with Expert, and certainly Experience is not synonymous with Expert.  The Experts hold only a small percentage of teh organisational knowledge and experience.

Much knowledge lies in the Long Tail

Consider the graph above – a plot of the years experience in an imaginary company. We see red bars and blue bars – the red bars are the Experts, who have 35, 32, 28, 27 and 25 years of experience – a total of 17 years. The blue bars are the workers. They individually have fewer years of experience, but there are a lot of them, and their collective experience adds up to 1187 years of experience – 8 times more than the experts. So if you need an answer to a problem, and if you want to tap into the experience of others, where is that relevant experience likely to sit? 8 times out of 9 (in this example) it will sit it the Long Tail of experience, not in the Short Head of the Experts.

Does this happen in practice? Do we get answers from less experienced workers rather than from more experienced experts? I think in real life – where knowledge exists in context, where contexts vary widely, and where many staff see knowledge in many contexts, then this happens quite a lot. Here is a story from a real company.

“I had written a report on the success of a particular operation in my business in the USA, and I made this report because one of my managers asked me to do this to support a decision. I was able to document some of our information from the last 4 year to help this decision. This is was a significant thing for my team, but it turned out to be significant for other teams as well. I saw a question through the web system asking “what has been the success of this operation in the company?”. This was a question from a team in Africa, and it was a close enough scenario to the scenario for which I had written my report. You feel the Power – you feel the power of knowledge and the value that it might represent when you receive a response “Thank you very much for your reply, because this actually helped us to make a decision”. It was an incredible experience to answer a question in the forum, with only 2 1/2 years experience in the company, and already being able to advice the whole world on the things we do and how we do it”. 

The answer was in the Long Tail, with a junior engineer. The context was similar, the knowledge was transferred, and time and money were saved.

So when you create your systems for tapping into tacit knowledge – your Expertise Locators, your “Ask a question” functionality – do not fall into the trap of involving only the few Company Experts. Remember the long tail, which may contain nearly 90% of the experience and knowledge, and include those guys as well.

View Original Source Here.

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