Ask GovLoop on Knowledge – Knowledge Sharing

Knowledge sharing is an activity through which knowledge (i.e. information, skills, or expertise) is exchanged among people, friends, co-workers, or members of a family, a community (e.g. Wikipedia) or an organization.

Organizations have recognized that knowledge is a valuable asset for competitive advantages. Knowledge sharing activities are generally supported by knowledge management systems. However, technology is only one of the many factors that affect the sharing of knowledge in organizations. The sharing of knowledge constitutes a major challenge in the field of knowledge management because some employees tend to resist sharing their knowledge with everyone else.

One obstacle is the idea that knowledge is property and ownership. In order to counteract this, individuals must be reassured that they will receive some type of incentive for what they create. Risks in knowledge sharing are that individuals are most commonly rewarded for what they know, not what they share. If knowledge is not shared, negative consequences such as isolation and resistance to ideas happen. To promote knowledge sharing and remove knowledge sharing obstacles, the organization should encourage discovery and innovation.

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Incentives are so key in any knowledge management or change management approach. It comes down to What’s in it For Me? That could be simple recognition, awards, or as formal as in performance appraisals. I know Intellipedia has pushed to create incentives to share for this same reason.

Edward Williams

This is probably the biggest problem of anything 2.0 – Gov2.0 or E2.0 or even Web2.0. You put it very well – technology is one of many factors. People have to want to share. I’ve been reading and learning a lot about adopting “social” in the enterprise and the government and one overarching theme is what you’re talking about here. People value their knowledge and to share it they must get something in return. Think about it, what – other than that knowledge – does an employee of a large organization (government or in private sector) have. I think the answer is not much else and they will protect it as much as they can. So, an incentive is a good way to overcome that barrier.

I, also, think that you can remove those obstacles by instilling in employees larger organizational values. That way individuals will have that sense of belonging to the organization as a whole and they will know that sharing their knowledge will help the organization.

Good post, thanks.

Keith Moore

“Risks in knowledge sharing are that individuals are most commonly rewarded for what they know, not what they share. If knowledge is not shared, negative consequences such as isolation and resistance to ideas happen”. I had had to read this section twice to see if I read it right and give this comment a serious ditto. I would start a survey question. How do you honestly feel about sharing information? And do you believe that sharing information should become a performance measurement? Why start an Open Government Directive if the majority resist sharing information? Keep this one going…

Claudia Boyles

Just typing out loud here, but maybe technology and systems are good for sharing information but not so good for sharing knowledge. I don’t think that most organisations provide incentives for sharing knowledge or that organisations go about creating an environment in which knowledge sharing is encouraged. I think knowledge sharing is far more social than the technology allows, and so maybe the technology is a hinderance to sharing knowledge rather than a help?

Michele Costanza

Equally important to knowledge sharing is turning tacit knowledge into the explicit. Some experts may not be aware of their own “deep smarts.” There’s a difference between purposely hoarding knowledge and not really having a method of turning the tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge assets. Knowledge elicitation methods, such as interviews, task analysis, and knowledge mapping, may be more effective in capturing knowledge than expecting an organization’s culture to change into a “sharing” one overnight. I believe that some professions, like the military and local fire and police departments, are more open to knowledge sharing because their lives depend on it. I disagree that providing tangible incentives is the best method to change a culture to a knowledge sharing one. When asked “what’s in it for me?” the answer should be an intangible one, like being viewed with respect and credibility in your field by your colleagues, being viewed as an expert by novices, and giving back to your profession. A comparison might be paying students to go to school and learn. What is that teaching them? There’s no value in learning just for the sake of learning, but only value in learning if you get paid cash for it. The same is true for providing tangible and intangible incentives to people who share knowledge.

Caryn Wesner-Early

Michele, I think you made a good point – people have more knowledge than they think they do. Even though I’m an “information professional,” and believe whole-heartedly in sharing knowledge, it has happened more than once that I’ve neglected to tell someone something they needed to know. In response to their reasonable, “Why didn’t you tell me this,” all I have to offer is, “You didn’t ask.” I don’t think interviewing and information elicitation has been given the emphasis it needs, and I appreciate your bringing it up.

Caryn Wesner-Early

Russell Caldarone

Michele, great post! I agree that “knowledge” is one of the most valuable assets of any organization, and because of technology- employees (from Beijing to Boston) can share their tacit knowledge with everyone in the organization. More organizations are changing their mental models by using online collaborating tools like SharePoint and Google Sites to help tear down their “knowledge” silos and becoming more flat. I think that Verna Allee (The Future of Knowledge) said it best by defining knowledge as a conversation. The conversation can be face-to-face or in a cloud. Build it and they will share!