Tuesday 19 February 2013

OILs - Observations, Insights and Lessons

Observation Post Oullette Taken from this presentation from the Australian Army (slide 12), here's a useful distinction between three types of knowledge - Observations, Insights and Lessons, collectively referred to as OILs (content in brackets are my own commentary)

  • Observations. Observations are what we capture from sources, whether they be people or things. Observations are the basic building blocks for lessons but they often offer very limited or biased perspective on their won. You cannot browse observations (in the Australian system), except through the links contained in insights or lessons.
  • Insights. These are really good sources of knowledge due to their objectivity. Insights are conclusions drawn from patterns we find looking at groups of observations. For the standard soldier, these are as good as lessons. Insights contain links to all supporting observations. (These are what I refer to as Lessons Identified).
  • Lessons. Lessons are insights that have specific authorised actions attached. Insights that get lessons status have been directed to Army authorities to implement the stated action.
OILs are the most concentrated nuggets of knowledge we possess, so they tend to be the most helpful  especially if you are in a rush. You can browse or search them at any time.

What is useful here is to see the progression in knowledge, as it passes through the three stages that the Australian Army refer to as observation, insight and lesson. In some organisations, all three stages are discussed in one session, and the Retrospect format provides a structured discussion format to allow this progression.

In other organisations, the Retrospect derives the insight, then an authoritative body adds the action and turns the insights into lessons.

Many military or emergency-service organisations collect observations, then have dedicated teams of Analysts to turn these into insights and then lessons (see my blog on the NATO system, for example).

However you split up the steps, all lessons still need to go through these stages.

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