If you have to make a choice between codifying knowledge and connecting people, choose the latter


Some organisations invest heavily in knowledge management systems that aim to codify knowledge in the hope that colleagues can readily find answers to the challenges they face in their work. In my experience this can run the risk of creating expensive to set up and maintain database systems that provide answers to questions that no-one is asking. When resources are tight (and when is that not the case?) an organisation is likely to get a better return on its investment if it focuses on facilitating connections between colleagues, and less on trying to ‘capture’ knowledge – especially in written form. There are a number of reasons why an investment in connecting people gives good returns. Firstly, it is through dialogue that the nuanced exchange necessary to address the challenge of context is more likely to occur. Secondly, connecting people doesn’t just help one person to find an answer to their question it encourages the emergence of ideas that may be new to both colleagues. Thirdly, engaging in dialogue builds relationships that strengthen the organisation as a whole and help to create a culture of openness, exchange and mutual support.

There is, of course, value in codifying knowledge and making it available in a recorded (written, audio, video) form that can be accessed widely.  But in reality codifying knowledge is very difficult, so what tends to get recorded and managed is not knowledge but information. Codifying information is important – especially if it provides a springboard to making connections. For example, colleagues need to know who to look to for the kind of expertise they seek, and their search can be accelerated by creating something as simple as a staff directory – or what is often called an ‘organisational yellow pages’. But information has limitations. Information doesn’t carry with it the richness of analysis that knowledge implies. A staff directory can point us in the right direction, but it is the conversations we have, the often unique questions we ask, the considered answers we receive, and the experiences we share through person-to-person connections that provide the most valuable return on investment when it comes to learning in organisations.

The illustration in this post is by Tamsin Haggis. You can find more of her wonderful work at http://tamsinhaggis.blogspot.co.uk