Retention of Critical Knowledge (or ROCK) is a popular concern in organisations or groups with retiring workforce or turnover of personnel.
Often initiatives to retain knowledge focus on turning the details of what people know into codified forms or documentation. This makes it more possible for others (maybe unknown today) to read (or watch) in a different place or at a different time.
Codifying knowledge affords an immutability and mobility of the knowledge. Immutability fixes the knowledge in time, preserving it across time. Mobility means it can move beyond its creator and point of creation.
Immutability and mobility are seductive notions for knowledge capture:
- An upside of immutability is that you can feel certain about codified knowledge as fixed definitive content and this can give rise to a sense of community and continuity. A downside – it probably stopped being definitive before the proverbial ink dried.
- An upside of mobility is that it can readily circulate. A downside – it needs supporting context to enable decisions about its relevance somewhere else; and if this is missing, its less usefulness is limited or non-existent.
Trying to capture a substantive portion of what a person knows in a codified form is akin to writing a book on the person. And if it gets written, will anybody have the time or motivation to read it?
How about instead writing the Table of Contents on a person’s knowledge?
Enter the Knowledge Transfer Report. A succinct document that lists all the essential important topics and points to where to get details. Those details may be explicitly in a database, website or document; or more importantly, held implicitly (or tacitly) in an individual or group of individuals.
The design of the report addresses the issue of immutability by allowing for micro details (Chapter & Verse) to change while providing macro details (Table of Contents) which are more likely fixed. The form of the report gives a vehicle for circulating the knowledge.
The Table of Contents (ToC) concept embodies an organisation structure with sequence and/or logical groupings with which to traverse a body of knowledge. It’s the map of the territory – rather than detailed step-by-step instructions. It’s scannable and doesn’t need to be ‘read’ for the user to get immediate value. Re-using the form of ToC for the report content, empowers the user of the Report the freedom to explore and discover within useful parameters.
Share with us about your experimentation with the Knowledge Transfer Report, and other practical ideas to enable retention of critical knowledge.
Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.