Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Facilitating a culture of innovation through NRCan communities of practice and employee networks

Originally posted on an internal blog on 03/03/2011

There's a Dilbert cartoon I like in which Asok, the naive, Indian intern asks, "Who wants to share knowledge with me via our new intranet collaboration software?" After Dilbert dismisses Asok with a quip about his not having any knowledge to share, Wally, the completely shameless employee with no sense of loyalty confides, "I'm hoarding my knowledge in case I ever need it."

The cartoon points to the importance of organizational culture and trust in knowledge sharing – the activity through which knowledge (i.e., information, skills or expertise) is exchanged among colleagues, a community or an organization.
Photo credit: Roberta Gal

Organizations have recognized that knowledge constitutes a valuable intangible asset for creating and sustaining competitive advantage, and companies and governments have made considerable investments in IT infrastructure to promote knowledge sharing. In Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), we have a wiki, blogs, forums, SharePoint, and other tools. But, as Dilbert and Wally point out, technology constitutes only one of many factors that affect the sharing of knowledge in organizations.
Photo credit: Roberta Gal

That’s why I assembled a small, but ambitious, team of like-minded volunteers (link internal to GoC) to organize NRCan’s first Knowledge Share Fair (link internal to GoC), held on January 20, 2011, in Ottawa.  I wanted to explore ways to enhance the culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing in NRCan. In particular, I was interested in the role that communities of practice and employee networks play in fostering a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Communities of practice are groups of individuals who share a common interest in a specific area of competence and are willing to work together. Communities tend to be made up of employees who, unlike Wally and Dilbert, are passionate about a subject and who often work off the side of their desks to make a contribution. These employees are engaged in the sense that they are using their discretionary time to contribute to results that benefit the organization. But communities are hard to maintain. As a member of several communities of practice, I felt that there was value to be gained from just bringing communities together to share experiences in how they formed, sustained themselves and, in some cases, dissolved.
Photo credit: Roberta Gal

Based on feedback we received, the Share Fair was a resounding success, bringing together 80 registered participants, 16 diverse communities and networks active in NRCan, and four guest experts. Through presentations, panel discussions, training sessions, and a “community marketplace,” participants had the opportunity to find and connect with communities and networks to share their knowledge and experience about being in a CoP or network, and to better understand the relevance of CoPs and networks to NRCan.

The bilingual morning session, which was also webcasted, featured a keynote presentation by Dr. Kimiz Dalkir – an expert in knowledge management from McGill University – and a panel discussion featuring three leaders from CoPs active in NRCan:  Philippe Dauphin (Learning Organization CoP), Mark Kennedy (Managers’ Community) and Douglas Bastien (Web 2.0 Practitioners CoP). These speakers touched on the short-term and long-term value of CoPs and networks to both the organization and individual members – values that include improving business outcomes, developing organizational capabilities, improving the experience of work, and fostering professional development.

In the afternoon, participants broke into focused discussion groups to identify “quick wins” to maximize the value of CoPs and networks for both the department and the individual members. Quick wins were defined as things that could be done right away, with existing resources and that would have an impact in the next 6 months. Dozens of ideas were generated such as using collaborative tools and Share Fairs to share, learn and grow; incorporating CoP membership into learning plans; and telling success stories via our internal newsletter, at the management table, or via social media. Of particular note was the call by CoPs for senior managers to more explicitly recognize the successes of CoPs and networks and support practitioners’ participation – in essence, to create the space for CoPs and networks to flourish.
Photo Credit: Bruno Blanchard-Pillon

On the last point, it appears that the message has been heard at the most senior levels. Both the Share Fair and CoPs and employee networks were cited for their contribution to creating a collaborative and innovative workplace in the recently released Deputy Minister’s Report to the Clerk of the Privy Council on Natural Resources Canada’s 2010-11 Public Service Renewal Action Plan Achievements.  

For me, the discussions and outcomes from the Share Fair reinforced a view that despite all the technological tools at our fingertips, public servants are, more than ever, clamouring to be connected to one another in meaningful ways. This, for me, is the longer term legacy of CoPs and employee networks. They help foster a culture of collaboration by forging relationships that produce results and that integrate a diversity of experience and perspectives. They help engage employees by connecting people’s passions to their work and by fostering professional development and leadership experiences beyond the sector level. And they strengthen knowledge management by enhancing and deepening skills and expertise in the workforce and strengthening a culture of sharing that complements our wiki, blogs, forums and other tools that facilitate sharing.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Three behaviours exhibited by knowledge users and how collaborative tools can help them

I have made a couple of updates to my map of collaborative tools available in my workplace, but I still welcome any comments.

Part of the impetus for creating this map was that I have been asked to provide input on the ways that collaborative tools can be used to engage employees. Now, I am not sure what specifically is meant by this, but since I work in a science-based policy organization, it's probably fair to assume that this is about either engaging scientists more in the policy development process, or in bringing the two sides together to co-create policy solutions.
Either way, it caused me to think about how people use knowledge while doing their work and how they might use collaborative tools to help them.

As I stumbled my way through this thought experiment, I came upon a knowledge management framework presented by Chris Collison in a slide show on knowledge transfer. I've adapted his framework to describe the types of behaviours knowledge users exhibit before, during and after working on a problem as well as the specific actions they could take with the collaborative tools available in my workplace.

Collison's framework is pretty straightforward; individuals or teams start with a goal, they then apply knowledge to work on the issue, ultimately arriving at some result. As they move toward realizing their intended outcome, they have opportunities to learn before, during and after the process of using their knowledge to address the issue. The behaviours associated with learning before, during and after using the knowledge, I have called "knowledge pull", "interactive" and "knowledge push" to represent the principle way that knowledge flows between the person or team doing the work and the captured knowledge base. The specific actions I have listed are from the perspective of a policy analyst working in my organization with the online collaborative tools at their disposal. All this is of course qualified by the caveat that online collaborative tools are not the only way to interact with the knowledge contained in people and networks. One could, after all, walk down the corridor and talk with one's colleagues. However, since I have been asked to provide input on the ways collaborative tools could help engage employees in my workplace, that is where I have focused my thoughts. As usual, any comments or questions are welcome as this is still very early in its draft stage.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What can collaborative tools help me do?

I've occasionally heard people comment that they feel overwhelmed by all the different online collaborative tools now available in the workplace. More specifically, I think they mean that with so many different tools available, they don't know what they would use each tool for. Without understanding the purpose of a tool, or the task that it could help them accomplish, they are unlikely to invest the time to learn about it.

So, I tried to organize the tools available in my workplace into themes with a specific emphasis on some of the tasks each tool can help you accomplish.

This is still draft, but let me know if I have forgotten anything or if it could be arranged in a different way.