I've been working this week with an organisation who are looking at knowledge retention from some major programmes with a significant gap (several years) between the closure of their current programmes and the start of the next phase of projects, when today's lessons will be most relevant. Now let's be clear here - knowledge transfer is always a better starting point than knowledge capture, I think that's a given for KM. However, in this case, some kind of strategic knowledge capture is going to be necessary , as there is no guarantee that the staff with experience will be available in the future. I'm putting a brief together for them which will help them to involve the workforce in prioritising topics, conduct some media-rich interviews and create a set of knowledge assets with the needs of future projects in mind.
The default position is just to let nature take its course and see what survives. Let's call this the fossilisation option. Hope that in the rough-and-tumble of organisational change, that there will be enough fragments of knowledge and experience preserved that it will be possible to reconstruct the "soft parts" (the context for decisions made at the time).
Next up is the time capsule approach. Take an eclectic set of artefacts, bury them somewhere safe, and erect a memorial plaque or signpost (SharePoint folder anyone?) to remind people where things have been buried. Then hope that the person who exhumes them can make sense of the way in which each of the artefacts (documents) would have been used, and extrapolate to cover the gaps. Better than the fossil record, but still pretty unreliable.
Moving up the scale of effort and thoroughness, we have the Museum collection. Painstakingly assembled and expensively detailed, this represents a high-resolution snapshot of the past in terms of the documents and outputs, but will still say little about the underlying reasons for decisions taken at the time. And as Ian E Wilson, Canada's chief librarian and archivist once said:
“No amount of sophistication is going to allay the fact that all your knowledge is about the past and all your decisions are about the future."
So where do we find a suitable metaphor which places the emphasis on recommendations for future re-use, rather than yesterday's lessons?
I found it at futureme.org.
What's futureme.org you might ask? As they say on their website:
FutureMe.org is based on the principle that memories are less accurate than e-mails. And we strive for accuracy. See, usually, it's the future that will reflect back on the present. We here at FutureMe think it's fun to flip that all around. So send your future self some words of inspiration. Or maybe give 'em swift kick in the pants. Or just share some thoughts on where you'll or what you'll be up to in a year, three years...more? And then we'll do some time travel magic and deliver the letter to you. FutureYou, that is.
You can browse anonymous real examples on futureme - some thoughtful, some hilarious, some prophetic and some poignant. I think the idea of sending yourself, or someone else, a message for the future is an excellent way of focusing on the capture of recommendations and thoughtful advice. It makes is personal and actionable (characteristics so often missing in lessons learned reports) - and it so much cheaper than building a museum!
So we're planning to use a creative twist on futureme.org with this particular client to draw out the advice. As they say at Futureme - it's the future that will reflect back on the present, so it's fun to flip that all around.