Wednesday 12 August 2020

Don't lead the witness (the objectivity of the km professional)

Very often the Knowledge Management professional (especially the Knowledge Engineer) will get involved in the mechanics of Knowledge Capture. This is where they need to be fully objective, and avoid "leading the witness". 

Image from Wikimedia

If you, as Knowledge Manager, are involved in a Knowledge Capture service, the purpose of the exercise is to work with an individual or group so that they can become aware of, and express in some way (verbal or non-verbal), the knowledge they hold in their head.

The key point is that it is the knowledge they hold in THEIR head, and it is not to be confused with the knowledge you hold in YOUR head. Therefore your questioning style, in interviews, after action reviews and retrospects, needs to be objective, and based on Open questions.

Open questions are those where no answer or type of answer is presupposed, and which cannot be answered with a single word or short phrase. The following question is an open question -
"What were the reasons behind your choice of action?"
The following question is not an open question - it is a classic closed question -
"Did you choose that action because you thought it was the best thing to do?
You get a lot more response and detail from the interviewee through an open question. In the example above they might give you three or four reasons why they took that course of action. In the closed question example they might just reply "Yes", or they might amplify on the Yes answer, but you have already closed down several of their potential lines of response.

Even worse than the closed question is the leading question.

A leading question is one where you, as the facilitator, suggest the answer or provide an answer that you want the interviewee or group to confirm.  For example;

"I would have thought that the correct course of action would have been X, don't you?"
"You must have known at the time that this was wrong?"
"Were you as appalled as I was at that decision? 
"What you are telling me is that this was all Y's fault, isn't that right?" 

 Leading questions are tempting, because they not only allow the interviewer some status in the process (Interviewers have opinions too!) but also promote social bonding through expressing shared or similar opinion. However they have two main problems in Knowledge Management;

Firstly they begin to confuse the opinion of the interviewer with the opinion of the interviewee, so the knowledge which is captured then becomes mixed or diluted. There is a place in KM for validating captured knowledge, but that place comes after the knowledge is captured and not as part of the capturing process.

Secondly leading questions or suggestive questions have been shown to have the potential to implant false memories.  Asking questions like "how fast was the car going when it passed the stop sign?" have led people to recall there being a stop sign in a video, when in reality there was no such sign.

Next time you conduct an interview, check through the interview transcript to see how many of your questions were open, how many were closed, and how many were leading questions.

Asking leading questions is outlawed in many legal systems, and is often referred to as "leading the witness". I think we should also try to avoid it within Knowledge Management processes.

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