Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Why "Knowledge for action" is better than "knowledge for storage"

Knowledge has to lead to action in order to add value. 


As the blogger Bill Wilson says (in the context of root cause analysis) "Learning without action is mere mental trickery, while action without learning is simply useless physical exercise".  If knowledge management is to deliver more than mere mental trickery and to live up to its promise of adding value, then it must lead to action.

A few years ago we worked with a client who was developing a lesson learning system from projects. The collection of lessons has been going well, but the client had the firm view that lessons should be stored in a library that future projects could review if they wanted. For them, the knowledge would be stored "for future reference".

Of course, few people have time to read through the lessons, and there are now so many lessons that reading through them is becoming more and more daunting. 

We are now helping the client to move to a different philosophy, where lessons are forwarded to the owners of the organisational processes, so they can continue to update the processes, procedures and guidance in the light of the new learning. This is "knowledge for action", and if we assume that people follow the updated guidance, it should result is less "useless physical exercise" and to more efficient ways of working.

This philosophy is that wherever possible, every piece of new knowledge should lead to an action. The action might be;


  • Fix a problem,
  • Investigate further (especially if the learning is not yet clear),
  • Document a new procedure, process or guidance document,
  • Update an existing documented procedure, process or guidance document,
  • Update a training course or other training or e-learning material,
  • Circulate the lesson for others to decide on an action.

Communities of practice, as well, should focus on creating and managing actionable knowledge. Actionable knowledge can be stored on the community wiki, and includes

  • Advice and guidance
  • Good practices
  • Improved practices
  • Solutions to problems
  • Answers to questions
  • New approaches
  • Recommendations
  • Tips and Tricks
Non-actionable knowledge is
  • Interesting articles
  • Links to interesting articles
  • Musings
  • Quotes and aphorisms
  • Descriptions of what you are doing (unless you analyse this to bring out actionable learning)
  • Descriptions of what you have done (unless you analyse this to bring out actionable learning)
  • Large document stores
Communities that circulate non-actionable knowledge, or "knowledge for interest" are classified as Communities of Interest rather than communities of practice, the clue being in the title. 

CoPs deliver more value when they focus on solving the problems of the members than when they circulate "interesting links and ideas". CoPs that operate through a Pull process - where members with problems or issues ask questions and receive recommendations and support from other members - know they are adding value.  Each answered question represents a solved problem; knowledge which the person who asked the question can immediately put into action.

So when you are sharing knowledge in a CoP, ask yourself whether you are sharing "something that others will find interesting" or "something that will help people do their job better" - something actionable.

And when you are designing lesson learning systems, make sure each lesson leads to action, rather than being retained "for interest".

We recommend "knowledge for action" rather than "knowledge for storage" as being a far more effective system.


No comments:

Blog archive