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As groups and teams work together on planning or performance improvement initiatives there is often a secondary agenda of creating and capturing knowledge. So, for example a healthcare team wanting to improve patient services might meet to develop a series of rapid cycle tests using the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PSDA) model. While the primary purpose of the group process is to improve the quality of services, a secondary agenda might be to document the PDSA experiments in the form of case studies to be used as  learning tools and to inform future quality improvement projects. Capturing knowledge even at this level requires more than simply writing things down. There is discussion, synthesis, observation, and conjecture that is based on both explicit and tacit knowledge coming out of the PDSA cycles.
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Facilitating a team such as this, not only requires facilitation skills but also the ability to create, share and manage knowledge. Knowledge management is the larger discipline that informs these facilitation skills. At the risk of oversimplification, knowledge management roughly falls into two categories –the technology process used to filter, create, sort, store, and share knowledge and the people process related to these same functions. So when facilitating a group process that involves knowledge creation and management, the facilitator needs a strong understanding of knowledge management. In this post, I want to discuss the facilitation skill for managing the “people” side of knowledge management and in a follow up post I will hazard a discussion about the technology side of knowledge management (although I outlined some principles two other posts).
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It goes without saying that one of the critical competencies of a facilitator is to help foster interpersonal communication and relationships among group members. It is assumed that facilitators have competencies in group dynamics, communication process, mediation and negotiation. However, as I have worked with “knowledge management” teams over the years I believe that there are four unique aspects of the facilitation process that fosters knowledge creation. These include the following dimensions:
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Understanding of knowledge management theory: Facilitators of knowledge management need some understanding knowledge management theory. One theory (that I adapted) comes from a text on knowledge creation (1) and maps knowledge in a 2 x 2 matrix created by two axes. The horizontal axis ranges from individual knowledge to shared knowledge and the vertical axis ranges from low to high on interpersonal relationships. The theory is to envision each quadrant of the box and predict the result of knowledge management. So, when there are low interpersonal relationships and a tendency to value individual knowledge, the each team member hordes the knowledge they have. If there are low relationships and a recognition that the information needs to be shared, then knowledge is exchanged. In the upper quadrants, when there are high relationships then knowledge starts to be imparted in a teaching or mentoring context and in the high functioning quadrant, information becomes communal where interactions support a knowledge culture across the team. Understanding this simple frame helps a facilitator design a process that heightens both relationships and a shared ownership of knowledge.
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Understanding a community of practice approach: While the concept of communities of practice can be traced back to the days of artisans and guilds, the proliferation of technology has spawned a new field of research in organizational development specific to how professional communities of practice are developed and sustained (2-3). Facilitators of knowledge initiatives need to understand mechanics of developing a community even if they are only capturing knowledge as a secondary objective of the facilitation process. The study of communities of practice highlights such ideas as the process of sharing knowledge in the context of high relationships, communal ownership, membership and participation, boundary spanning, networking and managing the public and private space between meetings. Understanding these concepts are critical to the facilitation process.
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Understanding the Strategic Intent: A  third facet that enables an effective knowledge management process is to be intentional and strategic in the process design. How is the knowledge that is captured to be used? Is the knowledge going to be used in training and coaching other employees? Will it be used to define best practice or quality standards? Will it be used as the engine for innovation? To be an effective facilitator, the strategic intention needs to be clear.
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Understanding the context of Social Media: One cannot consider the facilitation of a knowledge oriented group process without considering the democratizing influence of the social media culture and its impact on knowledge creation. Technology has erased the concept of binding knowledge creation to a geographic time and space. In this social media environment, knowledge creation has been amplified and informed by the medium rich environment. Coming back to our opening illustration of the quality improvement process and subsequent knowledge capture. a facilitator assigned to this task needs to understand the influence of social media and connectivity.  In this example, in addition to what happens in the formal group process, the quality team members are also likely subscribed to quality management listserv discussion groups, dropping in on webinars about quality improvement, streaming quality improvement blogs using RSS readers, Linking in and following Twitter feeds. Facilitating for knowledge creation needs to incorporate the external environment in which team members operate because these social circles influence the knowledge creation and in some cases such external influences can become proxy members of the group process.
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Once contention of my consulting practice is that facilitation is no longer a generic skill-set that people can learn from a book or gain by attending a workshop. Rather, the dimensions of facilitation demand a broad understanding of multiple disciplines and the ability to think and act in ways that are consistent with project management, business process design and performance improvement. It also requires the ability to understand the dimensions of the facilitation assignment. Near gone are the days when the facilitator can show up with a markers and an easel pack, write down a bunch of stuff and “type-up” the notes as a deliverable. Knowledge development and management is increasingly being connected to facilitation. Facilitation is no longer simply running a good meeting but is a discipline and practice grounded and anchored to the process of performance improvement.
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As always your comments are welcome.
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References:
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(1) Enabling Knowledge Creation: How to Unlock the Mystery of Tacit Knowledge and Release the Power of Innovation
(2) Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge
(3) In Good Company: How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work

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Mark Fulop
Mark founded Facilitation & Process in 2009 to help organizations and communities bridge the gap between where they are today and where they want to be tomorrow. He’s led dozens of Portland nonprofits, government agencies and philanthropic organizations through complex change initiatives including strategic planning, revenue planning, board development, collaboration, and facilitation.