How to build a "body of knowledge"

For any tasks or activities or conceptual frameworks which have to last beyond the limits of the reliability of human memory, you need to start to build a documented Body of Knowledge. 

Image from wikimedia commons

Using human memory as a long term store of knowledge is a risky strategy. Unless that knowledge is frequently refreshed and discussed within a community of practice, you run the risk of falling foul of the illusion of memory, the illusion of confidence, and the illusion of knowledge. To avoid these risks, an organisation needs to build a shared and documented body of knowledge, to manage the explicit component of this knowledge (the community of practice will look after the tacit component).

Wikipedia describes a Body of Knowledge as “the complete set of concepts, terms and activities that make up a professional domain, as defined by the relevant learned society or professional association.”  As an example of this, the Project Management Institute looks after the Project Management book of knowledge; the PMI being the relevant professional association.

Within an organisation, the “relevant learned society or professional association” is usually the relevant community of practice or community of technical experts that cover that particular professional domain. The community of engineers looks after the body of engineering knowledge, the marketing community looks after the body of marketing knowledge, and the community of people working on pandemic diseases looks after the body of knowledge on pandemics.
This body of knowledge will be hosted in a particular place, on a particular platform.

  • In Shell, the Body of Knowledge is represented by the Shell Wiki and the documents linked from the wiki. 
  • In Pfizer, the Body of Knowledge is summarised and indexed by the Pfizerpedia wiki
  • In DaimlerChrysler it was the EBOK – the Engineering Book of Knowledge
  • In BP it was the Engineering Technical Practices and the accompanying Guidance Notes on the BP Intranet.

One of the better online examples is the NASA body of knowledge. In fact every technical discipline within NASA has its own body of knowledge. We can see for example

and so on. 

A Body of Knowledge is what we in Knoco call a “Knowledge Asset“, and needs to have the following attributes:

  • An owner/editor/custodian or group of such people;
  • A community of practice acting as contributors and users;
  • A way to synthesise existing knowledge into “the body” (we discussed last week that a body of knowledge is more likely to be a synthesis than a curated collection);
  • A means, and the desire, to constantly test the body of knowledge against its application in practice, lest it become stale and outdated;
  • A mechanism for continuous update with new experiences and lessons;
  • A “host space” for the Body of Knowledge which means it can be very easily found and updated;
  • A way of tracking usage. 

If you feel your organisation needs to build a Body of Knowledge, contact us for help and advice. 

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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