Companies yearn to capture knowledge and store it so that they can help employees to work better. It seems easy and obvious to get everyone to write down what they did and store it on a database to make it available to others in the company.
This is the normal mode of Knowledge Management (KM) but, unfortunately, it is easier said than done. We see lots of books promoting KM but few addressing the practical difficulties.
Knowledge-Event Management (KEM), which is described here, is the first practical approach to knowledge management, that is simple and low cost thus suitable for both small and large companies.
Capturing knowledge of events on site
The normal mode of Knowledge Management is problematic, particularly in construction, because: people cannot write about what happened succinctly and so do not bother; people are short of time and so do not bother; people do not have access to computers to type it in; the knowledge put in is either too short without sufficient detail or too long and difficult to find what is relevant.
The knowledge itself is difficult to apply as key word searches and clever codification only bring up what you already knew. Thus we see specific examples of the successful use of these systems but never a convincing case that they can be universally adopted. We blame culture, we blame individuals, we blame the IT, and we blame company processes.
Maybe then the issue is not knowledge analysis, breaking down knowledge in order to place it into a database, but knowledge appreciation, how we use knowledge in practice. In the former we try to find a one to one correspondence with the problem at hand and the knowledge that is in the database. The fact is that this will never be the case in complex problems.
Thus, we need to treat knowledge differently and help people to make decisions in problematic situations. This is not just a function of the factual knowledge that people can access but the way they think, and are allowed to think, in situations. Thus the latter, concentrates on individual and group thinking processes.
Knowledge-Event Management (KEM) works with this and involves learning with practice. It was developed in a DTI Partners in Innovation funded project, which allowed it to be tested in companies. KEM comprises, like conventional KM: capturing knowledge from events, transforming this into profitable learning, and making this available for others. But, it is based on the appreciation of knowledge structures and how individuals and groups access tacit knowledge in problematic situations. The approach works with the verbal world of the construction industry and develops knowledge with dialogue.
It is based on considering day-to-day events, which are characteristic of an industry based on change. Our lives are filled with events. Events are occurrences that can be distinguished from the general flow of experiences that we normally expect. It is this break with expectation that makes events particular and also very useful for learning and KM. In our expectations, we have in our minds a model of what we believe should happen.
In an event, we find that our model is not quite right. What we do as a result of this is a critical skill involving making ‘sense’ of the event and then managing the consequences. People do this every day in their work when they tell stories about events, but this is seldom recognised as KM.
The Events, because they describe the complexity of the real world, have different types of knowledge. The knowledge that we are most familiar with is factual knowledge: like the cost of a brick or the mix of concrete for a particular circumstance. However, events also show process knowledge which involves the appreciation of situations, the negotiation of position and the making of decisions.
Process knowledge is more difficult to determine and encapsulate as it is tacit, thus often gets neglected, however, it is what is most important in real world activities. Knowledge-Event Management can capture some of this process knowledge as well as factual knowledge and through debriefing make some of this explicit to communicated around the organisation for others to learn from and so improve theirs and the organisations practice.
The capturing of events can be undertaken: at project reviews, at valuation meetings, at design meetings, at individual performance reviews or at special workshops. In KEM this can use an audio diary recorded on a Dictaphone, making it low cost, simple and not time consuming but more importantly working with the verbal world of construction.
The knowledge transformation uses Event Debriefing, a form of structured critical inquiry, which can be undertaken between individuals or in groups and the skills for which can be developed as part of normal company operations; it works with the way people problem solve in practice. This draws out the wider consequences and contributing issues, which can be costed and which indicate opportunities for making profits in the future, thus giving an impetus to using the technique.
The analysed events can then be: stored in a data base for later use, reformed as company procedures, or used in company developmental workshops. The latter, in particular, develop problem solving skills in groups which is how the industry operates.
There is a Handbook available, which allows companies to operate Knowledge-Event Management (KEM) themselves and allows the gradual development of the approach without any great investment. It can be started with simple one-off activities involving a few people with little commitment, to being a company wide and substantive exercise, which is central to a company’s development.
By working with this simple approach, there are significant benefits to companies in improving their processes hence profit, to employees in their skill development and to the industry as a whole in challenging ineffective practice.
If you would like more information about Knowledge-Event Management please contact: Professor David Boyd.