How can we truly capitalize on the knowledge of our organization’s experts? How do we capture what is in their heads and then share it with others in an accessible and understandable format? How do we make tacit knowledge explicit? Knowledge harvesting is not a catch-all solution, but it is one way to capture, document and subsequently use the knowledge of experts and other top performers. As Eisenhart(2001) explains, “the ultimate goal of knowledge harvesting is to capture an individual’s decision-making process with enough clarity that someone else guided by it could repeat the steps of the process and achieve the same result.”
What does knowledge harvesting involve?
Most approaches to knowledge harvesting follow a set of careful steps. Here, we adapt an eight-step process as presented by Knowledge Harvesting Inc.
1) Focus. What specific knowledge and expertise are we looking for? The answer to this question will affect the overall strategy for capturing that information.
2) Find. Locate the experts whose knowledge we want to harvest. We can go through a staff directory, look at key documents and find out who authored them, or simply ask around.
3) Elicit. Harvesters, or interviewers, can get experts to talk about their knowledge –even when they are not aware that they possess it. It is important for skilled harvesters to get the dialogue started.
4) Organize. Once the knowledge has been gathered, it must be arranged in a coherent and systematic form that is easy to access.
5) Package. As discussed in several other chapters of this Toolkit, we must think about our audience and its needs. Which format will best serve our audience with the knowledge we’ve elicited?
6) Share. Connected to 5) is the question of: what is the ultimate purpose of sharing this knowledge? Why and for whom have we packaged what we know? Again, the exact means for doing all of this will depend on a careful appreciation of the audience. Generally, we start by making our knowledge available in an on-line repository.
7) Apply. This will be done by members of an organization in their every-day work. It is important to keep track of whether, and how, that knowledge is being applied and to record any feedback.
8) Evaluate and adapt. Based on the feedback of users, the effectiveness of our efforts must be evaluated and adapted to the changing needs of an organization.