Cross, R., Parker, A., Prusak, L., and Borgatti, S.P. “Supporting Knowledge Creation and Sharing in Social Networks,” Organizational Dynamics (30:2), 2001, pp. 100-120

Want knowledge to flow in your online community, or through your organization in general? Cross et al. tell us that people turn to other people first much more frequently than they turn to technology first. Here are four factors you have to incorporate into your KM strategy:

  1. Knowledge: Your people need to know their stuff, but they also need to know who knows what stuff, who’s an expert on what.
  2. Access: People have to be available to help each other. Note that means you can’t swamp them: a busy signal isn’t much better than no answer.
  3. Engagement: Your people will really build and share knowledge where there is collaboration. The good knowledge flow comes from the people who are willing not just to dump a bunch of info on you, but who will stick around to answer your questions, to ask you questions, and to participate in the problem-solving process.
  4. Safety: People need to know they can ask and answer without getting shot down. When your people feel safe, they can take chances and be creative. That’s when real learning and innovation happen.

Note that safety may also be a key factor in making complex knowledge flow better. The more complex the knowledge, the more of a risk I take in trying to learn or explain it. I stand more chance of getting things wrong, of looking dumb, of being shown up by someone else. I need to know I’m on safe ground with the people around me before I take that chance.