The two chambers of the KM heart

The heart of KM keeps knowledge flowing, and that heart has two chambers. 

Image from wikipedia

You can think of the organisation as a body, and knowledge flowing round the organisation like blood flows round a body.  But what is at the heart of KM? Is it knowledge sharing? Is it communities of practice? Is it knowledge creation?

The answer is that if there is a heart, it is not a single thing, but two chambers working together.  The two chambers are our old friends Connection and Collection; the Connect and Collect routes for knowledge transmission through Conversation and Content respectively. 


Connection refers to connecting people so that they can share knowledge between them; through discussion and conversation. 


Collection supports knowledge transfer through collecting documented knowledge, synthesising it, sharing it and making it findable.

  • In the Collect route, Knowledge is transferred through documentation (“Knowledge capture”), through organisation and synthesis of that documentation, and through connecting the user with the documents, through search or through push.
  • It can be supported by processes such as Retrospect, Lesson Learning, Interview, creation of Knowledge Assets, and Knowledge Synthesis. 
  • It can be supported by technologies such as portals, lessons management systems, search, semantic search, blogs and wikis

You Need both routes!

In the past, Connect and Collect have been positioned as opposites, for example in the rival Personalisation vs Codification strategies described by HBR.

However they are not opposites; they are two sides of the same heart.  The two different approaches address different sorts of knowledge, both of which exist in your organisation. 

  • The Collect route is ideal for relatively simple non-contextual knowledge which needs to reach a large audience, for knowledge that needs shelf life, for knowledge where no immediate user is available, and for knowledge which needs compiling and processing (such as lessons). 
  • The Connect route is necessary for complex knowledge, advanced knowledge, deep skills, and highly contextual knowledge. 
  • Collection without connection results in bland knowledge bases which answer basic questions, but often lack nuance and context.
  • Connection without collection preserves no corporate memory, and runs the risk of overloading the experts with basic questions, and of loss of knowledge as the experts retire.
In reality, the two chambers of the heart work together. 
People can unite around collections of knowledge, connected people can collect what they collectively know. Conversation is where content is born, and content is something to talk about. In combination, both Connect and Collect drive the engine that makes knowledge flow. 

Keep the two chambers of Connection and Collection at the heart of your Knowledge Management strategy  if you want to succeed!

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The four contexts for Knowledge Transfer

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for knowledge transfer, because not every transfer context is the same.  However we can look at four main classes or types of knowledge transfer, by looking at the dimensions of TIME and LOCATION.

There are other dimensions as well, such as whether the transfer is Expert/Expert, Expert/Novice etc, but let’s stick with 2 dimensions at a time, as that helps build a Boston Square, as shown here. 
This particular Boston Square, based on location and time, allows us to identify 4 contexts for knowledge transfer, described below. 

OTJ (On The Job) Transfer

The transfer of knowledge between people or teams who are co-located – doing the same sort of work at the same time in the same place – can be done on the job. This is the sort of context you see within a project team. The knowledge does not need to be documented in order to be transferred, and because everyone is working with the knowledge every day, then your focus should be more on conversations about knowledge rather than building knowledge bases. Knowledge can be transferred through embedding processes like mentoring, coaching, and particularly After Action Reviews, as well as through numerous informal conversations. 

Serial transfer

The transfer of knowledge within a series of projects in the same location, one after the other (and often with the same team) is called serial transfer. Much serial transfer can be accomplished by the transfer of project plans, designs, basis of design documents, and so on, as well as by transferring lessons learned, and transferring core team members. Project knowledge handover meetings can also be useful – sometimes known as baton-passing. The focus here is less on conversation, and more on transfer and continuous improvement of artefacts. This can results in excellent examples of steep learning curves.

Knowledge transfer between individuals working in the same place but at different times is accomplished by personal knowledge handover – a planned set of conversations, and compilation of a set of key documents, contacts, lessons and tips and hints. This can be part of a Knowledge Retention Strategy.

Parallel transfer

The transfer of knowledge between a series of projects running simultaneously but in different locations, or between many individuals doing the same work in different parts of the business, is called parallel transfer. This can rely heavily on face-to-face activities such as peer assist, and knowledge visits, as well as real-time transfer of knowledge through communities of practice, online forums and enterprise social media. Because operations are simultaneous and continuous, much knowledge can remain tacit, and the focus is on conversation rather than content.

Far Transfer

The transfer of knowledge between projects running in different times and different places, or from person to person separated by time and distance, is called far transfer (a term coined by Nancy Dixon). Far transfer cannot rely on real-time conversations, or on simply transferring project plans, as the next project may take place in a completely different country in several years time. Knowledge will need to be transferred in written form as a knowledge asset, or as a series of Lessons Learned. Far Transfer relies on captured knowledge, the development of knowledge assets, and careful attention to well written and easily findable advisory and instructional content.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to Knowledge Transfer; it depends on the specific context, which may  be one of the four described here. 

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Why "Knowledge Sharing" doesn’t work as an alternative title for KM

Many people prefer to use the term “Knowledge Sharing” instead of “Knowledge Management”. However as a synonym “Knowledge Sharing” is inadequate and misleading. 

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