Sharing Hidden Knowledge - The Knowledge Jam Technique

Katrina (Kate) Pugh is the president of AlignConsulting, the author of Sharing Hidden Know-How, and is on the faculty of Columbia University’s Information and Knowledge Strategy Masters' program.  Kate will present at our KM Solutions Showcase event in September.

In this featured article, Kate describes what is know as the “Knowledge Jam” process. The knowledge jam is centered around an event focused on discovering and capturing knowledge. Knowledge jams are based around an agenda, with one team asking questions of another team which has experience or knowledge. Careful notes are kept during the event, which all participants can see. Following the event, those asking the questions are able to utilize the knowledge which they gained. This is an effective way to transfer knowledge and to capture knowledge which may be more tacit in nature.

Summary: A Knowledge Jam is a 5 step process.  Its centerpiece is the 90-minute "discover/capture" event with a planned agenda, geared to facilitating, asking questions and exploring ideas associated with thorny business problems. The discussions of the Jam are documented live as much as possible, and the participants develop new respect and new connections that are expected to become new business relationships as the Jam ideas are acted upon during the broker and reuse steps.  Click here to see the process.

Before the Knowledge Jam event, the facilitator and sponsor scope out the subject -- something relevant to the business' productivity, revenue, or job satisfaction (such as "how do you run an IT transformation project?"). Next we identify the "originators" (those with experience -- either team or individual), and the "brokers" (who will be asking questions in order apply the knowledge in their unit). These folks may have never met and could be oceans apart, literally and figuratively. In a pre-planning meeting with some of each, we establish a set of sub-topics, or "agenda." The facilitator also does some pre-interviews with both groups to set the stage and set the tone of safety and common curiosity, and to dissipate defensive routines like knowledge-hoarding or "not invented here."

During the 90-minute Knowledge Jam event, the brokers are invited to ask questions of the originators. (In effect, we encourage everyone to ask of each other, and to collectively channel the organization's far-flung insight into new processes, products or services.) The facilitator or appointed scribe types comments in a template (projected on the wall or in WebEx or GotoMeeting), with the original agenda to the left of the comments, and with implications or "best practices to continue" on the right. 

For example, a comment might be, "We established the scope through a series of stakeholder meetings," and another, "But we found out we'd missed a few and had to revise the scope." And then, in the summary column we might say, "Keep the scope statement flexible to incorporate missed viewpoints."  Notes are visible to all participants throughout the session, and the facilitator carefully cultivates an atmosphere of common curiosity -- through openness, diversity of perspectives, and dialogue.  Ultimately the rich conversation back and forth makes the ideas more practical and (re)contextualized and helps to reduce the time to market.

After the Knowledge Jam event, brokers translate the (cleaned up) notes into their process, product or service design. This is a critical differentiator relative to other knowledge-capture processes. Knowledge Jam drives toward action, and leverages the connection between the brokers and originators. Brokers tend to feel it's safe go back to originators to deepen the discussion and to invite the originators into the design process.

Join us at the KM Solutions Showcase - September 11-12 - to learn more about the Knowledge Jam and other KM topics!