Thursday, 17 September 2009

Dialogue in KM

I am a firm believer in the power of Dialogue in Knowledge Management (see previous blog post here). We can assume that connecting people together can lead to better knowledge exchange, but connecting wires doesn't make a circuit. You need a way of ensuring conductivity as well as connectivity, and dialogue provides that conductivity.

What's different about Dialogue? Dialogue is a form of conversation, in which the participants are trying to reach mutual understanding. It is a process of exchange of views and of knowledge, of asking questions and of listening to the answers. It is a combination of listening, advocacy, reasoning and consensus-seeking. Dialogue is a question-and-answer process by which people exchange knowledge. It is hard to imagine effective knowledge exchange without some form of dialogue.

It differs from argument, which is all about presentation and advocacy of views. There are no winners or losers in dialogue; you can't say "I lost the dialogue with Peter”.

It differs from debate, which is all about testing the validity of a proposition rather than testing whether it is understood.

It differs from interrogation, where all the questions are one-way, and only one person stands to profit from the exchange.

It differs from discussion, which is often about analysis of detail rather than searching for common understanding.

I blogged previously about the unknown knowns. This is the unconscious knowledge, the deep knowledge of which people are unaware. Under these circumstances, the transfer of knowledge from one person to another is not an easy thing to achieve! The person who has the knowledge (the "knowledge supplier") may only be partially conscious of how much they do know. The person who needs the knowledge (the "knowledge customer") may only be partially conscious of what they need to learn. The knowledge supplier has both conscious and unconscious competence, and the knowledge customer has both conscious and unconscious incompetence. Also the knowledge supplier doesn't know what the customer needs, and the knowledge customer doesn't know what the supplier has.

Without effective dialogue, a lot of this knowledge will not be transferred at all.

Dialogue is needed, in order to

• Help the knowledge supplier understand and express what they know (moving from superficial knowledge to deep knowledge)
• Help the knowledge customer understand what they need to learn
• Transfer the knowledge from supplier to customer, and
• Check for understanding

The knowledge customer can ask the knowledge supplier for details, and this questioning will often lead them to analyse what they know and make it conscious. The knowledge supplier can tell the customer all the things they need to know, so helping them to become conscious of their lack of knowledge. As pieces of knowledge are identified, the customer and supplier question each other until they are sure that transfer has taken place.

Almost all of the effective KM processes are based on dialogue. AARs, Peer Assists, Knowledge Handovers, retrospects, Harvesting interviews, Learning Histories, Knowledge exchange - all are dialogue based.

Some of the elements of dialogue can be done remotely through Web 2.0 tools, though this is often a poor second. Blogs are 95% monologue, and although some dialogue can be sparked through blog comments, it's more often debate than dialogue. Community discussion forums can occasionally engender dialogue, but again, debate and argument are often found in there as well. Wikis allow co-creation, but not through a dialogue format, which makes them difficult for really contentious or emergent topics. In most cases, if transfer of important knowledge needs to be done well, there is nothing like the power of dialogue in conversation.

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