Tacit Knowledge: Knowledge Management Briefs

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TACIT KNOWLEDGEK NOWLEDGE M ANAGEMENT B RIEFSThese briefs are written tosupport USAID andpartners with Collaborating,Learning, and Adapting(CLA) throughout theProgram Cycle. They utilizeexperience from theKDMD project to sharegood practices, how-tos,and lessons learned aboutconcepts and activitiesrelated to knowledgemanagement and learning.ABOUT TACIT KNOWLEDGEAddressing tacit knowledge is critical for effective organizational learning.Although tacit knowledge can be challenging to identify and manage,creating processes and practices that facilitate its capture and transfer canallow organizations to create efficiencies and improve their learningpractice. This document provides guidance on methods for identifying,capturing, and transferring tacit knowledge based on experiences from theUSAID-funded Knowledge-Driven Microenterprise Development(KDMD) project.What is tacit knowledge?The USAID Knowledge-DrivenMicroenterprise Development(KDMD) project designs andimplements state-of-the-art knowledgemanagement (KM), learning, andcollaboration tools and approachesand promotes collaboration amongpractitioners to speed innovation andadoption. KDMD seeks to maximizethe impact of USAID’s knowledgeand learning investments, andimplements strategies and processesto coordinate learning and knowledgesharing across the full range ofinvestments and activities for ourUSAID programs.Tacit knowledge is intuitive and personalized knowledge about how to dosomething, accumulated through experience. It includes the beliefs,attitudes, skills, capabilities, and expertise that an individual uses toperform an activity . Tacit knowledge can be difficult to transfer, as it isdeeply rooted within a specific individual and the way that the individualperforms specific tasks.Explicit knowledge, on the other hand, is formalized knowledge andinformation that can be documented (in documents, databases, books,etc.) and replicated. The majority of knowledge is thought to be tacitwhile only a small portion is explicit. However, knowledge is rarely eitherfully tacit or explicit, usually falling somewhere in between.SEPTEMBER 2013This document was produced for review by the support of the U.S. Agency forInternational Development (USAID) under the Knowledge-Driven MicroenterpriseDevelopment (KDMD) project, implemented by the QED Group, LLC. The views andopinions expressed by the participants in the discussion and in this report were their ownand may not necessarily reflect the views of USAID.

What are the steps thatyou go through tocomplete your task/activity? Why doeseach step matter? What are the most common mistakes youor others have made? Who do you have to talk to in order tocomplete the task/activity? What knowledge and skills are essentialfor your project or activity to operatesuccessfully?How do you know when you’re over yourhead? Are any of the knowledge and skills at riskof being lost if key personnel stopperforming the activity?How do you know when to ask for help?What’s the appropriate way to ask forhelp? What are the rules and which ones canyou ignore?If so, how would you prioritize theseknowledge and skills? Who knows how to do this activity? Whoare the experts? Who would you ideallylike to clone in this area of expertise?How do you know if the task/activity iscompleted and if it has been completedsatisfactorily?HOW-TOSIdentifying Tacit KnowledgeFirst, determine what types of knowledge or skillsets are most critical for your project or activity.What would someone new to the activity need tobe able to do? Consider the following questions tohelp identify critical tacit knowledge 1: Who needs to know how to do thisactivity?Capturing Tacit KnowledgeOnce you have determined the type of tacitknowledge you would like to document and whocan provide it, consider interviewing those whopossess the tacit knowledge. Some questions toask include:1Trautman, Steve. “Knowledge Transfer: Preserving YourThe following tools, activities, and practices canalso facilitate knowledge capture:After Action Reviews (AARs) are assessmentsconducted after a project or activity that allowteam members to discuss what they learned,review successes and challenges, and identifyaction items to improve the next iteration of theactivity. During an AAR, a facilitator typicallyshapes and guides the discussion while adesignated note taker ensures detaileddocumentation of the discussion. After ActionReviews help promote continuous learning andimprovement among staff. For more informationon After Action Reviews, please read the AARKnowledge Management Brief in USAID’sLearning Lab library.Secret Sauce.” www.stevetrautman.com. October 2011.Knowledge Management Briefs: Tacit Knowledge2

The KDMD WikiHosted by Wikispaces, KDMD used itswiki to capture and share the project’sapproach to knowledge managementand accumulated experience. TheKDMD wiki: Served as the project's informalknowledge base Documented and identified bestpractices for the project Fostered collaborative andeffective work across individuals,teams, and activities Enabled KDMD to continuouslyimprove products, services, andprocessesKDMD’s wiki was structured accordingto the four key areas in the knowledgecycle – knowledge generation,knowledge capture, knowledge sharing,and knowledge application. All pageswere tagged with key terms to helpnavigation between pages. Keydocuments and resources wereuploaded to the wiki and severaltemplates are available for the creationof new pages to standardize informationacross the site.KDMD team members wereencouraged by project managers tocontribute to the wiki. Topcontributors were rewarded withformal recognition and small incentivesduring monthly, project-wide meetings.Knowledge Management Briefs: Tacit KnowledgeExit interviews or staff“downloads” help capture anindividual’s tacit knowledge before they leave anorganization or project. Consider utilizing thequestions listed above during an exit interview.The format of exit interviews can range frominformal discussions to video interviews.Documentation may take the form of meetingnotes to more formal handover documents. Allowdeviations from set interview questions during anexit interview since these conversations are oftenthe ones that result in unexpected but valuableinformation and feedback.Wikis are websites that allow members tocollaboratively add, modify, or delete content.Many wikis can be set as private to protectinternal learning and information, and they canbe housed on community websites or intranets.Many companies provide both free and paidsubscriptions to online wikis includingWikispaces, Docuwiki, Twiki, and Wikkawiki.Transferring Tacit KnowledgeThese tools and activities can help facilitateknowledge transfer:Mentoring can be an effective method oftransferring tacit knowledge from one teammember to another. Mentoring can be as formalor informal as desired, but expectations should bediscussed between both parties prior to the start ofthe activity. Shadowing is one approach tomentoring that allows one staff member toobserve how another staff member implements anactivity from beginning to end. USAID hasshown its commitment to mentoring by making itone of the USAID Forward progress indicators—measured by the number of people each mid-to senior level manager actively mentors.3

Peer-to-peer learning (which can includelearning networks, communities of practice, andworking groups) is a way for individuals with acommon interest to come together to shareknowledge, learning, and experiences in aparticular topic area. ning networks are small, structured,time-bound groups, focused on a specificlearning outcome or deliverable.Facilitation among the learning networkmembers as well as creation of a learningagenda and deliverables is recommendedto ensure maximum knowledge exchangeand capture. For more information onlearning networks, please visit theLearning Networks Resource Center onUSAID’s Learning Lab at Communities of practice are larger groupsof individuals interested in a specific topicor technical area. Their structure andfocus will depend on the groups’ interests.Communities of practice are oftencomprised of “core members,” whomanage and facilitate the network’sactivities as well as an “outer circle” ofindividuals, who contribute occasionally. Working groups are similar tocommunities of practice but are usuallysmaller and formed to produce an agreedupon deliverable within a specified time.The GROOVE Market Facilitation Mentoring ProgramThe GROOVE Market Facilitation MentoringProgram (MFMP) was developed and pilotedby the GROOVE Learning Network, aUSAID-funded learning network comprisedof CARE, CHF International, ConservationInternational and Practical Action. Designedto increase staff capacity to act as marketfacilitators and manage sustainable, pro-poorvalue chain development initiatives, thisprogram provided structured mentoringguidance to emerging market facilitatorswithin their organizations. Below are a few ofthelessonslearnedfromformalmentor/mentee programs: Obtain executive buy-in with a projector organizationKnowledge Management Briefs: Tacit Knowledge Coordinate quarterly reviews withmentors/mentees to share goodpractices and challenges Monitor and evaluate the program’soverall performance and share data withkey stakeholders Match mentors and mentees carefully,looking at the knowledge andinformation the parties are interested insharing, their motivations, and theresources required.To learn more about the GROOVE MarketFacilitation Mentoring Program, please visithttp://microlinks.kdid.org/library/groove market-facilitation-mentoring-program overview4

Spatial arrangements can play an influential rolein facilitating the transfer of tacit knowledge.Designating communal work spaces physicallyencourage team members to interact and shareexperiences. This should, of course, be balancedwith available private spaces for individualizedwork and more formal meetings.KDMD’s “Q” ZoneFive team members of the KDMDCommunications Portfolio sat closetogether in open cubicles in what wasnamed the “Q Zone” (after the “Q” inQED Group). This spatial arrangementencouraged spontaneous and immediateinteraction and allowed the team tocollaborate easily and provide each otherwith quick feedback. This ongoing dialoguehelped promote sharing as well as creativeand innovative thinking.LESSONS LEARNEDThe KDMD project found that a number ofprinciples facilitate the capture and transfer oftacit knowledge. These include: Adaptability and creativity: Tacitknowledge is based on experience whichtypically requires trial and error. Allowindividuals the chance to explore differentapproaches and tools to determine the bestways that they learn and share knowledge. Team dynamics: A strong, close, and openteam is invaluable to tacit knowledgesharing. Trust in team members and respectfor their work creates an environment ofKnowledge Management Briefs: Tacit Knowledgeopen collaboration andlearning. Considerinvesting time and resources into teambuilding activities if possible. Incentives: Make knowledge sharing a partof everyone’s job by including it in jobdescriptions and rewarding positivebehavior. Incentives can range from theinformal (an acknowledgement in ameeting) to more formal (a certificate orplaque), but all reinforce the idea thatsharing knowledge is beneficial for theindividual, the project, and theorganization. Q&A: One of the best ways to learn howsomeone does something is to ask them.This can be done informally (in the hallway)or formally (through a mentor/menteeprogram). Allowing the time and space toask questions not only helps the personasking the questions but also those whoprovide the answers by prompting them tothink through their response. Openness to discussing failure: Just as it isimportant to document success, it is alsoimportant to acknowledge and documentchallenges. To encourage the capture andtransfer of tacit knowledge, an organizationand project staff should be open to sharingboth sides of the coin.The adage ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’ isespecially true when it comes to tacit knowledge.By creating supportive environments andemploying some of the tools and processesdescribed above, organizations will improve theirlearning practice and encourage the exchange ofthis valuable, but often overlooked, knowledge.5

ResourcesBotha, Anthon P. et al, Knowledge: Living and Working With it, Juta and Company, Ltd, 2008Cortada, James and John Woods. The Knowledge Management Yearbook 2000-2001. Routledge,2000.Hagel III, John, John Seely Brown and Lang Davidson. The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, SmartlyMade, Can Set Big Things in Motion. Deloitte Development LLC, 2010.Polanyi, Michael. The Tacit Dimension. Doubleday & Company Inc, 1966.Trautman, Steve. “Knowledge Transfer: Preserving Your Secret Sauce.” www.stevetrautman.com.October 2011. Retrieved from dfKnowledge Management Briefs: Tacit Knowledge6