Knowledge Exchange

A knowledge exchange is a meeting where people from several teams (but usually from within the same community of practice) come together to share knowledge on a key operational topic. These can be very high-powered creative meetings, often pivotal in the development of an organisation's knowledge base. They can help launch a community of practice, or can be a regular community event.

Invite a group of experienced people who are involved in the topic area, and who belong to the same community of practice (if one exists). These may be mostly people with experience to share, but you can also invite people starting work in this topic area who want access to the knowledge. Everyone invited to the event will be a potential knowledge customer, and many of the people will also be knowledge suppliers. Choose people from a wide geographical spread - preferably one or more people from each business unit involved in the topic. Aim for between 15 and 50 people. Select people who are peers.

Choose an offsite location somewhere quiet. Don't try and hold a knowledge exchange at the office - people will be distracted, and you will lose the opportunities for socialisation which will be important in communitybuilding. Book a main room and several smaller rooms for group work sessions. Choose somewhere easy of access - either with rail and motorway access (if everyone is in the same country), or with an international hub airport (for international travelers).

It is good to kick off the formal part of the knowledge exchange with an explanation of why it has been called, what its objectives and deliverables are, why it is important to the business, how it will be conducted, what the purpose of the recording is, and what end product will be produced. Go through the agenda, discuss roles, make sure everyone understands what they are there to do. It can be useful to start the knowledge exchange with an introduction from the business sponsor In person or by video) describing the importance of the exchange, and the business need.

Determining themes and issues. You need some way to divide up the entire topic under discussion, into meaningful chunks. There are a number of ways to do this, for example:

Dialogue. The dialogue session is where the bulk of the knowledge will come from. Divide the attendees into small groups of 8 to 20. Each group needs a facilitator and a scribe. These individuals need to be identified and briefed. The facilitator needs to get this dialogue going, and steer it to delivering valuable output. However, most of the time the conversation takes off rapidly and barely pauses for breath. The scribe needs to capture as much of the dialogue as possible, in the participants words wherever possible, and noting down who said what. (The session can also be recorded for later transcription). About an hour may be needed, more if the groups are larger, to exchange knowledge and come up with recommended practices based on experience for this particular issue. The groups reconvene in the main room, and each group feeds back their findings for discussion in the wider group. The feedback sessions can usefully be recorded on audio or video. Also make sure you also record the details of the discussion that follows, as much valuable knowledge may be exchanged.

Community building. The attendees at the knowledge exchange can form the nucleus of a Community of Practice. The attendees, now a nascent community, need to agree the processes for keeping the community alive once the meeting is over. They will need to appoint a coordinator and other roles, choose a communication mechanism, determine a meetings schedule, and begin a discussion on Aims and Objectives and ground rules. They will need to start up a membership list, and develop a plan for enrolling other members.

The best way to transfer knowledge is in the words of the people involved. When you come to package up the knowledge, then you need access to verbatim quotes and stories, and transcripts of the meeting, or detailed scribes' notes, will be the raw material you use. There is no real substitute for audio recording, though speed-writing or touch typing will also give a reasonably good result.

The main outcome from the knowledge exchange is a knowledge asset, and the format of the asset will determine what you need to record from the meeting. Record as accurately as possible what the recommendations are for the future. Often the recommendations won't be clearly stated in the meeting, and the facilitator may need to do some editing of the meeting records.

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