One of the biggest challenges in Knowledge Management is the invisible and intangible nature of Knowledge. How can we make knowledge, and knowledge gaps, visible to others?
You can’t see knowledge, you can’t measure it, you can’t tell when it’s missing, other than by observing it’s effects. This makes it difficult to identify opportunities for knowledge transfer, from someone how has knowledge, to someone who needs it.
If you could see knowledge, and you could see it’s absence, then you would be in a much better position to set up the knowledge transfers that need to happen. You could say “Look, Susie needs some Red knowledge, Peter has lots of Red knowledge, let’s introduce Peter to Susie”.
But because knowledge is invisible you can’t see what Susie needs or Peter has, unless you ask them. How can a supplier of knowledge get in touch with a needer of knowledge if both the supply and the need can’t be seen?
Here are four easy ways to make Knowledge visible, and to set up Knowledge Transfer opportunities.
The Seekers exercise
Seekers is a simple exercise, suitable for groups of 40 or 50 or more, and runs during a coffee break in a training session, or as part of a Brown Bag lunch. It requires blank name badges, so either buy a supply of badges, or if you are in a badged event such as a conference, ask people to turn their badges to the blank side. Ask them to write on the blank badge, in large clear letters, a question to which they would like an answer.
Ideally it should be a real work question rather than a home-life question, and a question where an answer would be really useful. Make sure it’s a practical question! It should be “How do I best plan a program of data collection” rather than “How do I become the next CEO”.
During the exercise, if people see a question they can help answer – either giving good advice, or pointing people to a source of advice – then they go and introduce themselves and offer help. After 20 to 30 minutes of pairing up and discussion, ask for a show of hands for “Who has received an answer?”. You should see between a third and half the people raise their hands. You can then lead a discussion on motivation – What motivated people to help? What would motivate you to ask questions of others? – on the power of Asking as a driver for knowledge transfer, on “how we can make our questions visible to others as part of our work”, and on KM approaches such as community forums and peer assist.
A Knowledge Market is a meeting to match up people who need learning, with people who can provide their learning. It is a way of connecting people to stimulate knowledge, make new connections, and identify new collaborative relationships, it is for connecting those who have problems with those that can potentially solve the problem in a very simple way. Knowledge Markets are commonly used within Communities of Practice.
At a Knowledge Market, you ask people to write (on post-it notes, or (better) on a large poster) two or three “Knowledge Offers”, and two or three “Knowledge Needs”. These should be real business issues – either an issue for which they have found a solution (a knowledge offer), or a business issue which they are currently facing, where they need access to more knowledge to help them make the correct decision. Then you display these posters or notes, and ask people to walk around and identify
- A knowledge need they think they can help with
- A knowledge offer which they want to hear more about, because it will help solve a business issue for them.
Once these “matches” have been identified, then you set up follow-on conversations (either at the same event, or later) to transfer the knowledge.
An online (or physical) Knowledge Wants and Offers board
“Wants and offers” forums are popular as a way for people to sell and buy items (see this example). In the UK you see this in physical form in supermarkets, where someone looking for accommodation, or with a bed for sale, puts a card up on a notice board.
You can do the same for Knowledge, and provide an online site, or (in a shared office) a notice board (with pens, pins and cards) where people can post questions and offer solutions. Online of course is easier, as you can click on a question to email an answer. Community of Practice discussion forums often become Wants and Offers forums, with people raising questions and offering solutions.
The Yellow Pages/People Directory
You may have some system of personal pages, where people identify their skills. Why not extend this to “knowledge needs” as well?
All of these methods make Knowledge, and the need for knowledge, visible, allowing matches to be made between Knowledge Suppliers and Knowledge Customers.