Friday 22 February 2013

Mutual benefit in the Peer Assist

Helping Hands The Peer Assist (the "Killer App" of KM) is unusual in KM in that it delivers value both to the givers and the receivers of Knowledge.

Nancy Dixon gives a great example of this in her book "Common Knowledge", and I have seen it myself many times in various Peer Assists around the world.

In theory, the transfer should be one-way. A team has a challenge - they invite others with experience to con and discuss with them and share their experience - they develop a new way to approach the challenge. It looks like a clear example of one-way knowledge flow.

However what happens when the conversation starts, is that the participants quickly discover that the experience if the visiting team was developed in a different context from the challenge of the host team. Sometimes there is a large contextual difference, sometimes small, but always there is some difference. The conversation goes something like this .....

  • "You should try this"
  • "No, that won't work here"
  • "Well it worked for us"
  • "But it won't work here"
  • "Why not?"

It's in the discussion that follows the "Why Not" that both teams begin to learn. The visiting team needs to re-examine their solution, and understand the root causes of why it worked for them, and to separate out those root causes that were situation-specific and those which were generic. The host team needs to examine their challenge, and understand the root causes behind the challenge, and see which ones of these are generic enough that the visitors' knowledge can help. By collectively deconstructing both the solution and the problem, they collectively come up with something new.

That's why peer assists can take a long time - it can take an hour to do this deconstruction (and it doesn't need to be particularly structured either - the deconstruction happens through mutual exploration of the challenge in the light of the visitors experience). That's also why Peer Assists are far more effective face to face. That's also why both teams benefit. The host team learns a new solution to their challenge, and the visiting team understands their own solution much better.

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