Knowledge Transfer

There are different types of knowledge. One form of knowledge is instinctive, like you know not to eat the cheese that has gone mouldy in the fridge even though nobody told you not to. We instinctively perform many tasks, but cannot explain why. This type of knowledge is also referred to as tacit knowledge. At the other end of the scale, there are more explicit forms of knowledge: Knowledge that individuals are consciously aware of and that can be communicated to others more or less easily, like how to use a coffee machine. In technical communication, information developers (AKA technical writers) strive to obtain, represent, and convey explicit knowledge for use by others.

many companies strive to capture, manage, and transfer knowledge

Knowledge transfer is one of many activities related to knowledge management. Knowledge management is important in many areas of society. The motivation for taking an active interest in how knowledge is collected, classified, consolidated, and conveyed may be corporate, educational, personal, political, scientific, or social. In technical communication environments, knowledge management may not take place per se, but a healthy form of knowledge transfer must exist if the information development process is to run smoothly.

knowing where to find the information you need is often as valuable as simply just knowing

Have you ever asked yourself why some people seem to know things instinctively, whereas others struggle? In professional situations, it is doubtful that this has anything to do with a hereditary gene (even though the notion is quite fascinating!). These ‘knowledge people’ often have years of experience and have internalized relevant information that they can apply on demand. Alternatively, they can tap a source. That is, they know where to find the information they need or they know who to ask. Being able to find information is just one example of how knowledge transfer occurs.

knowledge transfer involves many more processes than just passing information from A to B

Efficient knowledge transfer relies on:

  • formal information exchange (for example, through meetings and training)
  • ad hoc information exchange (with documented results and conclusions)
  • intra- and extra-departmental collaboration (shared access to information)
  • organization and coordination of people and processes
  • defined guidelines (for example, industry standards, legal standards and norms, process descriptions, style guides, technical standards, terminology and writing guidelines)
  • ongoing documentation of processes
  • collection and creation of a knowledge repository
  • distribution of information by means of suitable ‘open’ channels
  • regular information updates
  • monitoring of and feedback on knowledge transfer processes
the people are available, the information is available, the technical means are available

Information developers are ideal candidates to feed a knowledge repository: They often have access to vast amounts of information and act as intermediaries between different company departments, such as product management, quality management, development, and even training and marketing. Plus, a certain category of information developer will have a high degree of technical savvy and will tend to welcome any use of IT-supported collaboration and knowledge sharing, such as blogs, content management systems (CMS), forums, terminology databases, wikis, or other collaboration tools made available on an intranet or on the Internet. Technical communication is highly techno-centric and people-centric.

for many people, computer-mediated communication is part of everyday life

An active process of knowledge transfer is invaluable for technical communication, as well as other corporate activities. With so many ways and means at our disposal for gaining and sharing information with people all over the world, there really is no excuse for feeling left in the dark. Why would anyone want to forgo the benefits:

KM efforts can help individuals and groups to share valuable organisational insights, to reduce redundant work, to avoid reinventing the wheel per se, to reduce training time for new employees, to retain intellectual capital as employees turnover in an organisation, and to adapt to changing environments and markets.

McAdam, Rodney and McCreedy, Sandra, A Critique Of Knowledge Management: Using A Social Constructionist Model. New Technology, Work and Employment, Vol. 15, No. 2, September 2000. Available at SSRN.
Thompson, Mark P.A. and Walsham, Geoff, Placing Knowledge Management in Context. Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 41, No. 5, pp. 725-747, July 2004. Available at SSRN.

About Helen Fawcett:

In a nutshell, I optimize user interface text such as control labels and create on-screen instructions and help documentation for developers & customers. | Helen works as a user assistance lead at SAP SE.
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