The key to getting sense from any networking and collaboration platform is to embed good behaviours of users rather than force templates or processes through technology.
As people gain more experience they will see the benefit of how they need to relate groups or content and begin to adopt good behaviours rather than mandate too much at the beginning which I believes restrict the desire to engage.
I firmly believe that if you alter that level of ‘control’ to an extent where you mandate to much, much of that implicit knowledge is lost due to people’s lack of engagement. I’m sure everyone has seen systems that deal with every workflow, scenario and linkage, with lovely metadata and taxonomies but they remain graveyards. I would also stress that we are not discussing a ‘heavy duty’ document management system here but a networking and collaboration platform where we are looking for people to share their knowledge.
One of the most interesting studies on knowledge sharing was conducted by Constant, Kiesler and Sproull.* One of their findings was that employees differentiated two kinds of knowledge sharing. One type was sharing products, for example, equipment manuals, or reports they had written. The second type of knowledge was what employees had learned from their own experience, for example, how to get around a certain bottle-neck in the system, or how to deal with a particularly tricky bug in a program. This second type of knowledge they regard as part of their identity – part of who they were as professionals.
They were willing to share both kinds of knowledge, but the motivation for sharing each differed greatly. The documents and programs they shared because they considered them the property of the company. But the second kind, their experiential knowledge, they shared because they gained some personal benefit from doing so. The personal benefit, however, was not money or the promise of a promotion. According to the study, “Experts will want to contribute to coworkers who need them, who will hear them, who will respect them and who may even thank them.”
As this study shows, the primary driver for sharing experiential knowledge is the respect and recognition of peers. It is hard to overestimate the psychic value peer recognition. How does this relate to controls and mandates? The less freedom a user has over the ‘platform’ (whether this was a technology or a physical environment) the less they would share their own experiential knowledge.
Organisations that have created great engagement and value from collaboration technologies have done so because they have reduced many of the controls that you would find in their more structured channels such as intranets and document management systems.
It may not always be neat and tidy but it generates this ‘experiential’ / implicit knowledge that organisations have tried to tap into since KM programmes first started. If we initially focus on getting the engagement, input and desire for folk to share then the quicker it is to make sense of the noise that social collaboration platforms can bring.