Friday, 7 May 2010

The push/pull gap in Knowledge Transfer

push pull
Originally uploaded by Robert S. Donovan
I have blogged before about push and pull in KM - push being the transfer of knowledge driven by supply (eg speculative publishing, or loading material to a database or wiki), and pull being the transfer of knowledge driven by demand (eg asking a question on a forum, or searching an Intranet).

The ideal KM system runs push and pull in parallel - both supply and demand as valid ways of transferring knowledge. However you often find systems which require push and pull to operate in series - ie knowledge is pushed halfway, and then needs to be pulled the rest of the way.

For example, the bog-standard lessons learned database.

People identify lessons, and post them to the database (push). The lessons then sit in the database until someone comes along and searches for them (pull). Both push and pull need to operate for transfer to happen - without one or the other, the system fails. And what generally happens is that (if the push part works), the lessons pile up in the database, gathering dust as it were, often never reaching the people who need to see them. This is the push pull gap.

But why not push the lessons all the way? Why can't your database have an RSS feature, or some other publish-and-subscribe, or be set to push the lessons to the people who need them? Why can the knowledge come looking for the user, rather than the user needing to go look for the knowledge? That way there is no gap.

In BP, the drillers had a lessons database that did just this. All lessons entered into the database were characterised, and automatically forwarded to teams working with similarly characterised contexts. I recall one engineer telling me about receiving a notification of a new lesson, a new piece of knowledge, and realising that a) it came from a team working in the same building, on the floor above him, and b) up to that point he had not realised this other team was working on that issue. He was able to take a short walk upstairs, and gathered some really useful knowledge. This was because the Push system pushed the knowledge all the way to his desktop, instead of relying on him to pull it part of the way.

Also you can't pull things, if you don't know they are there. You don't search for the things you don't know that you don't know. This is a situation where pull breaks down, and "pushing all the way" is the only answer.

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