Friday, 22 May 2015

Why the boffins can be the wrong knowledge providers

It is tempting to make the "boffins" (the deepest subject matter experts) a key part of the Knowledge Management chain. Sometimes this has to be approached with caution. 

We can view Knowledge Management as the mechanism or system by which we provide knowledge to the customer-facing or revenue-generating knowledge user (the vision of BP's CEO when he said that "anyone in the organization who is not directly accountable for making a profit should be involved in creating and distributing knowledge that the company can use to make a profit").

Often you find the deep technical experts are given a role in this "knowledge supply chain"; perhaps the knowledge owner role, collating and providing specialist knowledge for the front line knowledge workers.

I heard a story last week that suggested this may need to be done with caution.

In this particular organisation, they have a specialist unit providing advice in response to front line requests. However the feedback from the front line is that this advice is almost useless. Instead of simple practical advice, they get a long academic treatise saying "on the one hand this, but on the other hand that, and if we consider the work of professor X  ....". This treatise has been written by a "boffin" - an old slang term for a nerd, geek or egghead - someone who has a deep knowledge of their topic and a huge interest and affection for their topic, but does not always translate it into the simpler needs of the front line worker.  The front line worker therefore often ignores the advice, because it doesn't help them make their decision or take their action.

The knowledge supply chain has, ultimately, to inform the front line worker, in terms they can understand, of what their best courses of action may be. Knowledge has to be practical and actionable and usable, rather than theoretical and abstract.

When you design your Knowledge Management Framework, you need to ensure that the knowledge providers and knowledge owners are well versed in the context in which the knowledge will be used, so that they can translate it into pragmatic and actionable terms.

It is fantastic when the knowledge owner has a deep understanding of, and love for, their topic, but in the knowledge supply chain the knowledge product they create has to be fit for use by their customer, the knowledge worker. 

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