How Connect and Collect work within knowledge management

A reprive from the archives – an overview of Connection and Collection as dual components of KM.

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There are two main mechanisms for supporting the flow of knowledge in an organisation – Connecting the people, or Collecting the content.

 These are sometimes seen as separate strategies of codification or personalisation, but both are needed as dual components of any Knowledge Management strategy
Here is an overview of Connection and Collection, starting with the concept of knowledge suppliers and users.

Knowledge suppliers and users

Knowledge is created through experience, and through the reflection on experience in order to derive guidelines, rules, theories, heuristics and doctrines. Knowledge may be created by individuals, through reflecting on their own experience, or it may be created by teams reflecting on team experience. It may also be created by experts or communities of practice reflecting on the experience of many individuals and teams across an organisation. The individuals, teams and communities who do this reflecting can be considered as ‘knowledge suppliers’.

In business activity, knowledge is applied by individuals and teams. They can apply their own personal knowledge and experience, or they can look elsewhere for knowledge – to learn before they start, by seeking the knowledge of others. The more knowledgeable they are at the start of the activity or project, the more likely they are to avoid mistakes, repeat good practice, and avoid risk. These people are ‘knowledge users’.

Communication, Conversation, Connection

The most direct way to transfer knowledge from suppliers to users is through direct communication and dialogue. Face to face dialogue, or dialogue via an online communication system, is an extremely effective means of knowledge transfer. This method allows vast amounts of detailed knowledge to be transferred, and the context for that knowledge to be explored. It allows direct coaching, observation and demonstration. It often allows new knowledge to be created through the interaction.

However, it is very localised. The transfer takes place in one place at one time, involving only the people in the conversation. For all its effectiveness as a transfer method, it is not efficient. For direct communication and dialogue to be the only knowledge transfer mechanism within an organisation, would require a high level of travel and discussion, and may only be practical in a small team working out of a single office where travel is not an issue (for example a regional sales team that meets on a regular basis). This may be the only practical approach to the transfer of uncodifable knowledge; that knowledge that cannot be written down (that Polyani would call “tacit”). However, it should not be the only mechanism of knowledge transfer, nor should knowledge be stored only as tacit knowledge in people’s heads.

Using people’s memories as the primary place for storing knowledge is also a very risky strategy. Memories are unreliable, people forget, misremember, or post-rationalise. People leave the company, retire, or join the competition. For example, what is the staff turnover in your team? Your division? Your company? How much knowledge is leaving your organisation in the heads of the departing people? There needs to be a more secure storage mechanism for crucial knowledge, and a more efficient means of transfer than just dialogue.

Codification, capture, content, Collection.

The less direct flow of knowledge  is through codification and capture of the knowledge, storage in some sort of ‘knowledge bank’, and retrieval of the knowledge when needed. The transfer is lower bandwidth than direct communication (perhaps 14 times lower), as it is difficult to write down more than a fragment of what you know, and the written knowledge needs to be translated back into human understanding by the knowledge user (some would argue that the written knowledge has become information, and needs to be translated back into knowledge). No dialogue is possible, and demonstrations are restricted to recorded demonstrations, eg using video files.

Transfer of knowledge by this means is not very effective. However, the knowledge need only be captured once to be accessed and reused hundreds of times, so it is an efficient method of transferring knowledge widely. The knowledge is secure against memory loss, or loss of personnel. This approach is ideal for codifiable knowledge with a wide user base. For example, the widespread transfer of basic cooking knowledge is best done through publishing cookery books, rather than creating communities of chefs.

It is also ideal for knowledge that is used intermittently, such as knowledge of office moves, or knowledge of major acquisitions. These events may not happen again for a few years, by which time the individuals involved will have forgotten the details of what happened, if it has not been captured and stored.

These two approaches to knowledge transfer are the Connect and Collect approaches.  Effective Knowledge Management strategies need to address both these methods of knowledge transfer. Each has its place, each complements the other, as summarised below.

Connection

  • Advantages  – 
    • Very effective 
    • Allows transfer of non-codifiable knowledge 
    • Allows socialization 
    • Allows the knowledge user to gauge how much they trust the supplier 
    • Easy and cheap
  • Disadvantages – 
    • Risky. Human memory is an unreliable knowledge store 
    • Inefficient. People can only be in one place at one time 
    • People often don’t realize what they know until its captured
  • Type of knowledge for which this approach is suitable –  
    • Ephemeral rapidly changing knowledge, which would be out of date as soon as its written
    • Highly contextual knowledge 
    • Knowledge of continual operations, where human knowledge is contatntly being refreshed and rehearsed
    • Knowledge needed only by a few
  • Comments – One traditional approach to Knowledge Management is to leave knowledge in the heads of experts. This is a risky and inefficient strategy other than in very small organisations

Collection

  • Advantages – 
    • Allows systematic capture and development of knowledge
    • Allows synthesis of knowledge from many sources
    • Allows knowledge to be embedded in common process, in product design, or in algorithms
    • Creates a secure store for knowledge, which will therefore not be list when people leave the organisation
    • Very efficient. Knowledge can be captured once and accessed many times
  • Disadvantages –  
    • Some knowledge cannot be effectively captured and codified.  
    • Capturing requires skill and resource 
    • Captured knowledge may become impersonaland decontextualised
  • Type of knowledge for which this approach is suitable –  
    • Stable mature knowledge 
    • Knowledge of intermittent or rare events 
    • Knowledge which requires input form many sources or people
    • Knowledge with a large user-base
  • Comments –  A strategy based only on capture may miss out on the socialization that is needed for culture change, and may fail to address some of the less codifiable knowledge.

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