Posted by: gavinstokes | August 24, 2011

Knowing What We Know: Supporting Knowledge Creation and Sharing in Social Networks

This a summary of a white paper by IBM Institute for Knowledge Management

Four characteristics of relationships important for knowledge creation in networks:

1)      knowing what others know;

2)      having access to other people’s thinking;

3)      having people willing to actively engage in problem solving;

4)      having a safe relationship to promote learning and creativity.

Who you know has a significant impact on what you come to know, as relationships are critical for obtaining information.

Improving efficiency and effectiveness in knowledge-intensive work demands more than sophisticated technologies, it requires attending to the often idiosyncratic ways that people seek out knowledge and solve problems in organizations.

Little research has been carried out into the characteristics of relationships within organisations. Traditional means of mapping an information or advice network has been based on who helped whom with current or past tasks rather than who might be helpful in tomorrow’s opportunities.

It is often the case that people know of and are able to tap into a much broader network of relationships for information or knowledge beyond whom they have interacted with in the recent past for a given task.

Some people are often sought out for the specific knowledge they could contribute to some problem, often skilled in technical domains. Others are often sought out for their ability to help think through a tough issue either defining or refining complex problems.

Gaining access to someone else’s thinking requires an understanding of a person’s response style and what medium is effective.

A person who is tapped for knowledge would should first ensure that they understand the other person’s problem and then actively shape what they knew to the problem at hand. In the past the perspective of the acquirer of knowledge rather than the sender is looked at this study shows that this dynamic should be reversed.

Results in people being more willing to take risks with their ideas, with this often resulting in more creative solutions.

Assessing a Network’s Potential to Share and Create Knowledge
If we have mapped a communication network and find that certain people are not as connected as they should be it is difficult to tell what to do. Simply proposing more or better communication is the oldest consulting recommendation in the book.

Analyzing the networks (K.A.E.S) individually provides more precise means of improving a network’s ability to share and create knowledge than implementing a broad cultural intervention or distributed technology.

If we discover that people are central in these networks for legitimate reasons, management has an opportunity to begin acknowledging the work that these people do for the group. For those on the periphery it would be beneficial to provide them with opportunities to know what other people know in the organization. Developing practices that teach the group what other individuals know would also help deal with this. People are usually brought into the centre of the network primarily as a result of what other people understand about their knowledge and skills.

If we are interested in promoting an organization’s ability to react to new opportunities, we need to account for the ways in which people in network are able to leverage each other’s knowledge.

Promoting Knowledge Creation and Transfer
Understanding how knowledge flows (or more frequently does not flow) across various boundaries within an organization can yield critical insight. Possible restrictions to this flow might be, (based on organisational acquisitions)

1)      Not understanding what other divisions do

2)      Cultural Barriers

3)      Presumption of division offering being complimentary but not materialising

Once a critical collective of departments or groups has been targeted, the study found that applying network analysis based on the four dimensions of knowledge, access, engagement and safety can improve a network’s knowledge creation and sharing potential.

Knowledge Dimension: How do we know what we know?
Other people can only be useful to us in solving problems if to some degree we know what they know. Studies consistently show that when work groups form to engage in a task they experience what is called the unshared knowledge problem (e.g., Stasser, 1992 & 1995). Rather than engaging in discussions that help them to learn the unique backgrounds of individual members, they tend to focus on some domain that people have in common. Understanding of other skill sets usually comes at a much later date.

Possible solutions might be.

1)      Technical interventions (skill profiling system)

2)      Thematic groups that have Help Desks

3)      Knowledge Fairs

Access Dimension: How do we improve access to our collective knowledge?
Relationships accessible in twenty-four hours were by and large considered valuable relationships and ones that the person interviewed felt was worth maintaining. Alternatives to typical technical intervention such as email and phone might be.

1)      Knowledge sharing within the company’s code of ethics

2)      Associates empowered to speak with any associate at any level

3)      Centralise work groups

4)      Personal I think web 2.0 platforms are perfect for this.

Engagement Dimension: How do we improve engagement in problem solving?

A two-stage process of first ensuring one understands another’s problem and then actively shaping what one knows to generate a solution. Possible soloutions

1)      Peer review input to group, makes others more aware of unique skills and abilities others can bring to projects.

2)      Develops reciprocity and trust.

3)      Technologies such as VP Buddy at IBM, Same Time at Lotus or white boarding applications that allow for dispersed engagement in a common problem.

4)      Videoconferencing

Safety Dimension: How do we ensure that learning and creativity occurs

1)      Face to face interactions between people.

2)      Monthly meetings between various groups, show and tell.

3)      Code of ethics


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