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.


  1. Wow, I really like your diagram. If it's ok with you, I might adapt it for my own organization and see if it resonates with people.

    Have you gotten any feedback on it from people looking to learn about the tools in your org?

  2. Hi Patrick,

    yes, by all means feel free to use or adapt it to your own purposes under the auspices of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. In other words, please provide the attribution, no commercial uses, and please license all derivative works under the same license.

    I have received some positive feedback on the other diagram, but I know someone who has a few comments but has not been able to get them to me yet.

  3. Your graphic is interesting, but I think I'm missing something.

    When I follow the small arrows it appears that there is no flow of knowledge into the system. In a science-based policy organization we expect (and hope) that there is a region for knowledge-generation.

  4. Thanks for your comment Chris.

    While in my example I may have presented captured knowledge as that residing inside the organization, there is no reason for that to be the case. The captured knowledge base could also include knowledge outside the organization too.

    What I was thinking with this model is that as teams or individuals do their work (i.e. use knowledge) they create new knowledge that is then put into the captured knowledge base for others to use.

    Looking at it from a scientists perspective, this is how I think it would work. When a scientist decides to address a research issue, they might scour the refereed literature, attend conferences to hear the latest research on their topic of interest and talk with other scientists to gain insight (knowledge pull). Then as they do their work, they might collaborate with others with particular expertise, collect new data and make it available to collaborators and present preliminary findings at conferences to gather feedback (interactive). Finally, they might publish the results of their research in a journal article, present final findings at a conference and perhaps make their data available to others to use (knowledge push). The process then repeats with the next person or team who undertakes a related research project, except they now have the new knowledge in the knowledge base to draw from.

    I could be completely out to lunch on this, so feel free to criticize it.

  5. Hi Simon,

    I think that's a fair description of the scientific process. I might suggest there's a good deal of analysis and synthesis that goes on during between data collection and publication as well.

    A follow-up question then, most of your flows are through Web 2.0 technologies (Blogs, Wiki's, Twitter, etc..) that most of our older colleagues are loathe to adopt. (I'm also with NRCan in the CFS)

    How do you see the process of moving these staff onto these platforms, especially since the organization necessarily consults our senior science staff on policy issues?

  6. Hi Chris,

    My intent was to show how the flows could be augmented by using web 2.0 tools for collaboration because that was the question that was posed to me. That is not to say that Web 2.0 tools are the only way to transfer knowledge. In fact, I would argue that other face-to-face tools are as effective, if not more effective. For example, NRCan hosts a large forest pest management forum every year that brings together researchers from all levels of government, academia and private industry. It seems pretty humdrum compared to the exciting world of Web 2.0, but it is extremely effective. Recently, NRCan also hosted its first Knowledge Share Fair to share knowledge and expertise among communities of practice - also pretty low tech, but very effective.

    The process of how staff move on to these platforms is an interesting one that seems to have plagued many organizations. There are no shortage of examples of organizations that have built wikis, forums, blogging tools, etc. that have had no uptake among the employees. There is a great Dilbert Cartoon on this where Asok asks "who wants to share knowledge with me on our new internal collaboration software", and Wally quips, "I'm hoarding my knowledge in case I ever need it!" As this cartoon points out its as much about having a culture of sharing as it is about have technology. The tricky part is how does one foster that culture of sharing. Good question.

    I think one part of the answer to this is that before we can expect anybody to use a new tool, there has to be a clear benefit. Some of the benefits that I often hear cited for the use of collaborative tools include increasing one's reputation, tapping into collective intelligence, increasing the uptake of one's work. As you say, senior science staff are often consulted on policy issues and for them there may not be any additional value to using collaborative tools. They are already recognized as experts and their opinion is regularly sought and incorporated into policy. But for less senior staff, perhaps the value of collaborative tools will be more enticing. I think the International Strategy Shadow Team is a good example of this. This was a group of younger policy folks who thought they had something to say about NRCan's international strategy and organized themselves to make their point. They used Web 2.0 collaborative tools extensively to have an open, transparent conversation about NRCan's international strategy and they wrote all of their documents on the wiki where anyone could contribute. Now I am not in a position to say to what extent their work has been taken up by the department, but I understand that they have exerted some influence.

    Recently, I also saw a presentation by a well known technology firm that is trying to reduce the use of email and instead have its conversations in more open discussion forums. They said that having these discussions in an open forum where the conversations were captured, accessible and retrievable was essential for their innovation strategy. I am not sure if they forced employees to use their forums, or if employees did it because they found they were more productive, but they were obviously very successful.