Knowledge communities are a useful tool to help members of an organization connect and collaborate. Many people may focus on the technologies that power a knowledge community, but it’s the behavior of the people that truly impacts the creation and sharing of knowledge.

The first rule of thumb is that users must adopt the right behaviors to get the most out of a knowledge community. Whether that’s responding to discussion forum topics regularly, adding lessons learned to a wiki or filling in a personal profile to support people search, it’s how users behave that will have the most significant impact on the knowledge community’s effectiveness.

Understanding the concept of knowledge

To understand how people impact a knowledge community, it’s important to comprehend the two types of knowledge:

  • Explicit knowledge is searchable information that can be easily found. Users can collaborate on the value and use of the knowledge.
  • Tacit knowledge is knowledge found in people’s heads and is often difficult to share with another person by writing it down or verbalizing it. One goal of knowledge communities is to make more tacit knowledge explicit, or to articulate it.

Why knowledge doesn’t get shared—and why collaboration behaviors must be encouraged

Often times, people do not share because they either aren’t accustomed or encouraged to do so, don’t have the technologies that support sharing information or don’t see the value of sharing.

For example, a scientist may share his reasoning behind an experiment, but will not incorporate other background knowledge that led to the decisions within the experiment. A knowledge community can potentially help capture that type of tacit knowledge.

Here’s another example: The regulatory guidelines that govern a pharmaceutical trial can be posted in a knowledge community, but it’s the corresponding commentary from others that can help the team clarify how the ruling should be interpreted. Often times, this commentary is shared in hallways or via email or a messenger application. Social technologies leveraged in a knowledge community are a way to capture these conversations so that the knowledge itself can be found, read and shared with an extended audience.

Behaviors for community success

A methodical approach is essential to guide a group on how to behave as a community. Before knowledge is harnessed, users must first understand the desired outcomes of the group, the behaviors that will support achieving those outcomes and the technologies that support these behaviors. Then, users have to adopt habits that encourage them to share knowledge. After all, it’s easy to complete a task and do well at it—but if you then can share how you excelled it can impact others in the organization.

When people actively work to make knowledge explicit, connect with other members and recognize the value of these activities, they are more likely to influence others to share knowledge and contribute. Active knowledge community membership is key to contributing to its success.

When the expectations are set from the start, users can better understand why it’s important to share explicit and tacit knowledge. Then they can incorporate behaviors that help to meet the ideal outcomes identified, acknowledged and supported by community members.

What do you do to get users to utilize your knowledge community?