knowledge communities

When most of my clients think about deploying a software solution, they may not realize that technical solutions can help improve “human” aspects of an organization—not just be useful in automating processes. When expertise needs to be shared in order to enhance communication and performance in a company, knowledge communities offer a technical solution to a very human problem.

The problem being that one type of knowledge, explicit knowledge, is easy to share—that’s the information that’s easy to document and therefore easy to share. But tacit knowledge can stay locked up inside your employees’ heads because it isn’t the type of knowledge that is not easy to express. If not shared, you lose that expertise should the person leave the company. That could hurt your organization in more ways than one; it forces you to reinvent a process (and hope the new one works), it can decrease productivity and lower revenue, too.

Knowing the differences between explicit and tacit knowledge is key to understanding how knowledge is shared—and how to deploy a truly successful software solution.

Explicit Knowledge vs. Tacit Knowledge

Explicit knowledge is searchable information that can be easily found. Users can collaborate on the value and use of the knowledge. On the other hand, 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. In the knowledge communities I have worked to implement, the goal is to help people better articulate their tacit knowledge.

After all, it’s easy to conduct a search in a knowledge community and find the company’s standard procedures or rules on a topic, but it’s not as simple to understand specifically how someone worked through the process or overcame challenges that arose. Not every knowledge community shares the nuances of working through a process, though they can provide the communication forum to explore it. That’s why understanding and working to better articulate tacit knowledge is critical. Knowledge communities are only just starting to facilitate the exchange of tacit knowledge.

Software solutions can be useful tools to share knowledge, but there is a component of sharing knowledge that software simply can’t fully fulfill—sharing knowledge is a very human process.

When working with a client, educating them on the two types of knowledge is vital so they understand the need of a solution to exchange explicit knowledge and realize that a knowledge community is critical to cultivate sharing tacit knowledge as well. Without some sort of system in place, organizations may never have access to—or be able to harness—valuable tacit knowledge.