The most valuable and most up to date knowledge in an organisation is the collective knowledge that is contained in the heads of the individuals (tacit knowledge).
This knowledge is continually being updated with new personal learnings, experiences, insights and ideas on an individual by individual basis.
However, established ‘high performance team’ research has shown that, to the degree that individuals can better communicate and collaborate, within a team, across teams and across entire organisations and inter-organisations, even greater new knowledge, insights and ideas will be created, transferred, shared, absorbed and leveraged at a much faster rate. New software, primarily based on internet and world wide web technologies, now enables significantly expanded networks of people to communicate and collaborate ‘virtually’ across teams the entire organisation, across entire organisations and across the world, anytime and anyplace.
Knowledge Networks is the term given to different types of team or social networks and communities that are recognised, from a KM perspective, to add significant value to the creation, dissemination and application of better knowledge at a much faster rate.
Communities of Practice (COP)
The term ‘Communities of Practice’ (COP) describes what ideally should be a naturally flourishing knowledge network of people with a high interest in learning, investigating, developing and improving the knowledge subject matter and share common work goals. A COP should be self directed, although it does requires good facilitation and moderator support.
Sophisticated software has been specially designed and developed to support Communities of Practice, and/or some organisations have started the better support of an emerging Community of Practice by using simple discussion forum technologies, as a starting point.
The activities of an effective Community of Practice will result in the surfacing of much more of the hidden and locked knowledge that resides in our heads. An effective Community of Practice will enable members to more quickly leverage the knowledge that exists in this knowledge network
Communities of Interest (COI)
A Community of Interest (COI) is a Knowledge Network which is ‘looser’ than a Community of Practice. It may well be much larger in membership than a more focused Community of Practice. Nonetheless, it can significantly assist the knowledge worker in trying to obtain answers to knowledge needs. COI’s can also be effectively supported by discussion forum and community software technologies.
Knowledge Forums and Knowledge Café’s
Recognising the value of social interaction and ‘face to face’ communications, Knowledge forums and Knowledge Café’s have evolved and are social meeting techniques that can be organised within and between organisations with a special interest in creating and leveraging specialist knowledge.
In those organisations that, by the nature of their work, are highly knowledge driven and intensive, the term Knowledge Team has been developed to recognise and focus, more specifically, on the knowledge they are seeking to create, improve and more effectively apply. Such Knowledge teams tend to use tools and techniques such as the ‘Knowledge Plan’ as described in the Directory of KM Processes, Methods, Tools and Techniques. Knowledge management is seen to be ‘the primary work’ of team members.
Unstructured and Structured Discussion Forums
Most people today are familiar with participating in ‘unstructured discussion forums’ which normally take the form of a bulletin board, chat lines, simple discussion threads and forums on the web. They can be very useful, but quite unmanageable, knowledge networks.
A structured discussion forum, however, may use the same discussion forum software technology to support it, but is managed with a facilitator/moderator who ensures specific goals, actions and outputs are discussed and agreed within specific timeframes. A structured discussion forum is the virtual team equivalent and extension to structured and well managed / well chaired face to face meetings.
From times ancient, humans have discovered and realised that one of the most powerful techniques of transferring knowledge from person to groups is through the art of effective storytelling. Human beings are ‘wired for pictures and stories’ and the richer the communication is, through engaging all of our senses in the imagination to see, hear, feel, touch taste and smell, the more effectively we will transfer and remember the important information and knowledge contained in well structured stories.
Several organisations have focused and recreated the communication skills behind storytelling and built them effectively into their information and knowledge communication plans. A key example of this approach is the World Bank who engaged several professional storytellers to teach these communication skills and this resulted in the organisation more effectively disseminating its critical knowledge through improved communication processes.
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