Thursday 5 September 2019

The four contexts for Knowledge Transfer

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for knowledge transfer, because not every transfer context is the same.  However we can look at four main classes or types of knowledge transfer, by looking at the dimensions of TIME and LOCATION.

There are other dimensions as well, such as whether the transfer is Expert/Expert, Expert/Novice etc, but let's stick with 2 dimensions at a time, as that helps build a Boston Square, as shown here. 

This particular Boston Square, based on location and time, allows us to identify 4 contexts for knowledge transfer, described below. 

OTJ (On The Job) Transfer

The transfer of knowledge between people or teams who are co-located - doing the same sort of work at the same time in the same place - can be done on the job. This is the sort of context you see within a project team. The knowledge does not need to be documented in order to be transferred, and because everyone is working with the knowledge every day, then your focus should be more on conversations about knowledge rather than building knowledge bases. Knowledge can be transferred through embedding processes like mentoring, coaching, and particularly After Action Reviews, as well as through numerous informal conversations. 

Serial transfer

The transfer of knowledge within a series of projects in the same location, one after the other (and often with the same team) is called serial transfer. Much serial transfer can be accomplished by the transfer of project plans, designs, basis of design documents, and so on, as well as by transferring lessons learned, and transferring core team members. Project knowledge handover meetings can also be useful - sometimes known as baton-passing. The focus here is less on conversation, and more on transfer and continuous improvement of artefacts. This can results in excellent examples of steep learning curves.

Knowledge transfer between individuals working in the same place but at different times is accomplished by personal knowledge handover - a planned set of conversations, and compilation of a set of key documents, contacts, lessons and tips and hints. This can be part of a Knowledge Retention Strategy.

Parallel transfer

The transfer of knowledge between a series of projects running simultaneously but in different locations, or between many individuals doing the same work in different parts of the business, is called parallel transfer. This can rely heavily on face-to-face activities such as peer assist, and knowledge visits, as well as real-time transfer of knowledge through communities of practice, online forums and enterprise social media. Because operations are simultaneous and continuous, much knowledge can remain tacit, and the focus is on conversation rather than content.

Far Transfer

The transfer of knowledge between projects running in different times and different places, or from person to person separated by time and distance, is called far transfer (a term coined by Nancy Dixon). Far transfer cannot rely on real-time conversations, or on simply transferring project plans, as the next project may take place in a completely different country in several years time. Knowledge will need to be transferred in written form as a knowledge asset, or as a series of Lessons Learned. Far Transfer relies on captured knowledge, the development of knowledge assets, and careful attention to well written and easily findable advisory and instructional content.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to Knowledge Transfer; it depends on the specific context, which may  be one of the four described here. 

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