Thursday, 24 September 2015

FAQs in KM - a form of pseudo-dialogue

I have often posted here about the power of dialogue in knowledge sharing. But how can you have dialogue with written knowledge?

Dialogue is a form of conversation in which the participants are trying to reach mutual understanding. It is a process of exchange of views and of knowledge, of both sides asking questions and of listening to the answers. It is a combination of listening, advocacy, reasoning and consensus-seeking. Dialogue means "talking it through."

It is hard to imagine effective knowledge exchange without some form of dialogue. What really differentiates dialogue from other forms of communication such as debate, argument or briefing is that both parties are seeking to understand, and asking questions.

And when you ask a question, your mind is open to the answer.

That's not true when you are debating or arguing, or even listening to a briefing, The very act of questioning opens the mind.

So what about written knowledge, where you can't engage in dialogue?

Enter the FAQ - the Frequently Asked Questions list.

You see these everywhere (see for example our Knowledge Management FAQ). They are popular ways of offering knowledge, by producing a list of questions (sometimes "frequently asked", sometimes "most important" questions) and providing the answers. Some people argue that they should be caled "Frequently Given Answers".

FAQs are like pseudo-dialogue. 

Although you cannot question a document or a webpage, the FAQ provides the next best thing. It allows the learner to scan the list of questions to find the ones they would have asked in a conversation. Although reading the answer to a listed question is not as mind-opening as asking the question directly, it is a step in the right direction. They give the reader at least one small way of influencing the way they learn, and finding teh answer they are most interested in.

In fact the FAQ list has an advantage over face to face dialogue, as they provide the learner with questions they might not have thought of asking, and therefore answers to the things they didn't know that they didn't know.

There are some cases where dialogue is not needed and FAQ is not appropriate, for example when the context of the knowledge is very clear, or the nature of the knowledge is limited. See for example this blog post from the government digital service.

If you are in doubt about whether to package your knowledge asset as an FAQ or a set of instructions, then ask yourself this question....

Will people come to your knowledge asset be told, or to find out?

If the former, then give them instructions. If the latter, then use an FAQ.

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