Thursday, 5 January 2017

Near and far knowledge transfer - it's all about context

Some weeks ago, I was invited to the offices of a potential client and 'pitched' to the senior leadership team.  I explained knowledge management (KM), its benefits and how it might help them in their work.

Before I had finished, the CEO questioned the relevance of KM to their line of work since, in his view, much of it was 'bespoke' and not easy to replicate.  Indeed, when faced with a new problem, selecting options for a client required judgement and experience that couldn't simply be 'captured' and 're-packaged'.

In response, I mentioned high-level enduring principles and concepts and then, on the train home, thought of dozens of things that I wished I had said as well.

Of course, I could have referred to Nancy Dixon's concepts of 'near' and 'far' knowledge transfer thus:
  • Near transfer - this is used for relatively simple knowledge transferred between teams doing the same tasks in the same context (i.e. same region, market or, in the military, operational theatre).  It covers things like procedures, processes, tips, hints and 'how to' guides.  Think of a recipe book, as examined in this post here.
  • Far transfer - this relates to more subtle knowledge and/or where it is transferred between teams doing the same (or similar) tasks but working in different contexts (i.e. new markets).  Consequently, this includes stories, 'rules of thumb', examples, case-studies etc.
Crucially, whilst all knowledge transfer needs to be credible, in far transfer the need is greater, in order for teams to have faith in applying the guidance in their own context.  This means the advice, lessons or overarching principles need to be attributed to established and respected experts, or to have come from a well-known and authoritative synthesis process (Note: Wikipedia's initial USP was that anyone could update it; well-known errors and/or malicious edits ensued, so assurance processes were introduced to aid quality control).

This attribution also enables the readers of a 'far transfer' knowledge asset (a project team, for example) to follow up with the author(s) with queries or suggested edits.  Alternatively, it might enable the initiation of another KM process, such as a Peer Assist, to address a specific problem that the project team is facing where direct input from a team that has faced similar challenges in the past would help.

Far transfer and the specific issue of anonymity vs. attribution will be examined in future posts.

For a chat about knowledge transfer, near or far, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

1 comment:

  1. Two thoughts come to me from reading this post:

    A) I thought that Geography was dead as a result of the Digital Age... and I don't make that remark purely in response to the the terms 'near' and 'far'. What I mean is that the conveyance on knowledge from one domain to another should not be an issue.

    B) The relevance of 'far' contexts applies mostly to 'push' strategies, where there might be concerns about the relevance of knowledge from one domain being 'pushed' into another. Knowledge consumption is at the discretion of the consumer... and access to knowledge is far, far more important than KMers pre-digesting knowledge for other people to consume.

    People are not stupid and, if there was less focus on pushing knowledge to knowledge workers and more focus on facilitating knowledge flows, I think you'd find that the 'near' and 'far' concepts pale into insignificance.