Knowledge Capture

Knowledge capture is a significant project that requires not only retrieving the knowledge but also capturing the structure of that knowledge. To support organizations to create their knowledge capture strategy, it is important to have the following foundational agreements:

  • Top Management Support
      Link between KC project and business objectives or challenges
      Understanding that the project has cultural dimensions; not just a new technology or a new segment of the Intranet
  • Support of the IT Department
      Understand the IT environment (development/test/production sites, security arrangements, other policies, existing applications, etc)
      Standards for working together such as use of open source, building the system on an external server, or what applications to use, and access to the IT staff, etc.
      Rules of access for the consulting team and the internal staff
  • Buy-in from Users and Stakeholders
      Educate them about knowledge capture process, preview the project, ask for their input and reactions, build an enagagement process among eventual system users

Knowledge Capture — The Structure

The next step after establishing the foundational agreements ( support of the top management, and the support of the IT department, and buy-in from the users and stakeholders ), it’s best to form a steering committee. This group would identify the knowledge needs to capture for minimizing the risks as more baby boomers retire. That would create a number of topic teams to refine the definition and initiate this whole process. Each team will have a moderator. Each topic team would:

  • identify the topics to be captured
  • identify the experts for each domain
  • create a knowledge table to catalogue the captured knowledge and identify the priorities

Source: Jerry Talley and Laleh Shahidi

Knowledge Capture — Selecting Topics

This is a fluid, iterative series of conversations with no hard and fast order. The conversations include:

The potential learners in the organization can be a good source of priorities. What are people asking for the most? What activities prompt the most questions or the most anxiety?

Consider the following criteria when you are selecting the knowledge capture targets:

  • Is the knowledge captured somewhere already (manuals, Federal websites, professional networks, etc.)?
  • Is there at least one clearly defined use for the eventual product (training, onboarding, hiring, etc.)?
  • Is the knowledge capable of being written down? Or is it expressed only in intuitive expert judgement?
  • Is there a well-defined audience or customer group that focuses the development of the knowledge?

Cataloge the knowledge: By whatever means seems workable, attempt to map the full range of possible knowledge to be captured. This might be the knowledge of a particular expert, or a characterization of a particular position ( involving multiple experts ). It might be knowledge relevant to a particular work process ( cutting across multriple positions or even departments ).

Source: Jerry Talley and Laleh Shahidi

Knowledge Capture — Surfacing User’s Needs

A primary strategy for understanding the users’ needs is to develop use cases, such as any of the following:

  • Capture and preserve organizational knowledge
  • Onboarding new employees
  • Will not be a source for answering specific technical questions; more on the broader knowledge needed to be effective.
  • Provide a forum for conversations around ongoing projects
  • Provide access to key professional networks
  • Provide access to collective organizational resources
  • (i.e., allocation matrix, green sheets)

  • Find an appropriate mentor / model / instructor / expert
  • Provide a teaching mechanism
  • Provide a centralized link to other sources of documented knowledge
  • Provide a place for comments and suggestions on the knowledge capture system

A common tension:

There is an unavoidable tension between providing the broader conceptual skills that often underlie the exceptional performance of an expert vs. meeting the daily task needs of front line staff.

Source: Jerry Talley and Laleh Shahidi

Knowledge Capture — Finding An Approach

Select an approach for the knowledge capture through initial exploration of the following:

  • Types of knowledge: knowledge is not simply the accumulation of facts or even experience. It comes in a variety of flavors. An early assessment the interviewer needs to make is what type of knowledge are they searching for.
  • Explore the knowledge: there are a number of questions or issues that will surface in exploring someone’s expertise initially. Your discoveries in response to any of these could provide direction for how to proceed.
  • Strategies for capture: as the nature and the shape of the knowledge becomes clear, it’s time to settle on the more specific strategies for pursuing the knowledge capture. This requires envisioning the final product, both in terms of content, structure, and media.

Source: Jerry Talley and Laleh Shahidi

Knowledge Capture: Types of Knowledge

Knowledge is not simply the accumulation of facts or even experience. It comes in a variety of flavors. An early assessment the Interviewer needs to make is what type of knowledge are they searching for.

Procedural knowledge
Sometimes knowledge is fluency with a sequence of steps. This is the domain of classical work process capture. There is a straightforward flow with possible points of divergence, gates, and end points. It is usually possible to identify the required resources, the intermediate deliverables, and the final product or value delivered.

  • Observation is usually sufficient to learn. If the Learner can simply watch the flow they can typically understand what is to be done and start practicing.
  • Procedural knowledge is often shared by many in the organization. For that reason, it is seldom a high priority for knowledge capture efforts, unless it is a process engaged only yearly and it is critical to capture the process understandings from one year to the next. For example, budgeting is complex but infrequent. An employee could easily be here several years before they start to feel comfortable with the procedures.

Tacit knowledge
Unlike procedures, some knowledge feels more like “wisdom”. There is some unescapable step that requires judgement based on expertise and experience. This is the unconscious competence of the Expert. They will be involved in a process of discovery right along with the Interviewer or the Learner. Reflecting on specific cases may prompt them to access their intuitive and immediate clarity of how to act. Often the Expert is forced to create an abstract model for the first time.

  • An Expert relying on tacit knowledge may often behave differently even in superficially similar situations; the value of their experience is that they can generate specific procedures to match the situation rather than relying on rigid procedural steps.
  • Observation is usually NOT sufficient for learning. In fact, the Learner may complain that they’ve watched the Expert do it over and over again but still feel unable to replicate the same level of quality.
  • This is the domain of strategic insight, the “big picture”, or the acute sensitivity to subtleties that escape the notice of the novice.

Cumulative knowledge
Some knowledge is built over years of experience. It is not just the complexity or subtlety, but the essential of the knowledge that it is acquired over time. Institutional memory.


  • Building relationships within a domain
  • Learning a network of stakeholders and key players (i.e., knowing the “players” in the County and State Welfare system)
  • Knowing the history of an organization, or of an issue
  • Being aware of an entire system (i.e., knowing how all the various departments of the county interface with community organizations to respond to residents’ needs)
    There is no way to transfer cumulative knowledge in bulk to a Learner; the real issue is not “What does the Expert know?” but rather “How does someone accumulate knowledge as smoothly as possible?”

  • The Expert may be able to introduce the Learner to key players, but the Learner will have to establish their own credibility and trust.
  • The history of the organization may be extremely value in the present, but its value ages quickly, so there is a continuous need to update one’s knowledge. Even if the Expert could transmit their history knowledge, the Learner would need to immediately start building their more current sense of things.
  • The Expert may have a certain presence in a network (i.e., being well known among many counties, or in State forums), but the Learner will still have to establish their own reputation. They cannot simply assume the reputation of the Expert.

Source: Jerry Talley and Laleh Shahidi

Knowledge Capture — Exploring The Knowledge

There are a number of questions or issues that will surface in exploring someone’s expertise initially. Your discoveries in response to any of these could provide direction for how to proceed.

Questions about the knowledge

  • Is there a database?
    Knowledge often rests on a foundation of some set of data intimately understood by the Expert. It might be a database of funding sources, experts in the field, case examples, relevant case law, Federal statutes, and so on.
  • What is its structure? Is it a simple list? Or a relationship database? Or is it a node-link structure (such as a network)?
  • How is the database updated? How are erroneous entries found?
  • How is the database stored? Is it in the mind of the Expert? In a file? Is it shared by a network of players?
    For example, there is a rich storehouse of case materials spread out among the Fair Hearing officers throughout the counties of California. Having good relations with those officers is the only way to “plug into” the database.
  • Is there a regular sequence of steps?Work process is a powerful tool for capturing knowledge, but it is only useful if there is repeated sequence of steps that routinely produce the desired outcome. If the “process” is different every time, or re-created from scratch every year, then a classical work flow characterization would be misleading.
  • Is the knowledge applied only in certain situations?
    For some knowledge the key is not “how to do it” but “when to do it”. For example, providing instruction is a common skill, but taking the role of the instructor at the wrong time could damage relationships and undermine credibility.
  • Does the knowledge involve a network?
    Sometimes the obstacle to developing expertise is having to learn the extent and the complexities of a network of organizations or issues or people. For example, individual decisions to fund a program happen in a maze of funders, political priorities, budgets, strategic commitments, and personal loyalties. Having an eye for the whole network may be the key skill to securing a positive decision. A myopic focus on “grant writing” would miss the wisdom behind the skill.
  • Are there some essential judgements?
    Not all work is merely following instructions. Often there is an unavoidable judgement to make, one that requires experience, wisdom, or subtlety. Such judgements are often difficult for the Expert to explicate. They may be able to recount examples, without being able to unravel the keys to making the judgement. This is often a source of frustration to the Learner, who can see the skill right in front of them, but cannot replicate it on their own.
  • Are there some archetypal examples or cases?
    Especially for tacit knowledge, examples are often easier to find than any abstract description of the knowledge. Most experts can recall one or two times when they were “in the flow” or “right on the ball” and performed in an exemplary way. They can most certainly remember their more spectacular failures. And even more instructive are the cases that lie right on the boundary between successful and unsuccessful performance. Collecting and reflecting on cases may be a strong substitute for some kind of reconstruction. They may shorten the learning time for the Learner.

Questions for the Expert

    Experts are often brilliant in their performance but only mediocre in their insight or even awareness of how they perform so well. It is the job of the Interviewer to help the Expert reflect on and illuminate the bases for their reputation.

  • When did you first feel like you were an Expert?
    Even when Experts have trouble identifying what they know, they can oftentimes identify how or when they learned it. That is, they may know the key conference or the case where they suddenly felt “in the know”.
  • Are there key relationships which support your performance?
  • How were those relationships established?
    How do they impact your performance? How would you stumble if those relationships were lost?
    What is the basis of those relationships? Expertise? Shared experience? Similar goals? External validation? Personal disclosure?In other words, if I wanted to created similarly useful relationships, where should I attend?

  • If you had to train your replacement, what would you do with them?

Source: Jerry Talley and Laleh Shahidi

Knowledge Capture — Strategies For Capture

As the nature and the shape of the knowledge becomes clear, it’s time to settle on the more specific strategies for pursuing the knowledge capture. This requires envisioning the final product, both in terms of content, structure, and media.

Strict Work flow
Sometimes there is a clear sequence of activities that can be characterized. The steps may be regular in their sequence even if the execution of any particular step is highly variable.

  • Distinguish carefully between simple procedures (to be repeated in the same way every time regardless of who does the work) and more sophisticated sequences which are variable from one situation to the next, or contingent on who is doing the work.
  • Simple procedures are seldom the appropriate target for knowledge capture; they are typically captured in existing manuals. The challenge may be one of access or dissemination rather than capture.

Loose work flow
Sometimes there is a sequence of steps … but only sort of. In may situations some steps come before others, but it is not a strict linear flow. Later steps may surface issues which require you to go back and revisit earlier decisions. So each step in the flow is best captured as a set of options or choices rather than an immutable series of actions.

  • The key issues are often enumerating the possible choices and the criteria that would support one choice over another.
  • There may often be a distinction between the visible behavior and the underlying decision process. For example, there may be a series of questions that are commonly used to feed a decision, such as asking about a job candidate’s experience as a way to reach a decision about a possible hiring.
  • The choice points in a loose work flow are often matters of judgment rather than the predictable application of rules. Examples or criteria for the choice may be more instructive.

Enhancing existing knowledge capture products
There may be PowerPoint training programs that could be expanded by capturing the Expert’s annotation of the slides. There are programs for knitting together slides and audio files to create a stand-alone training piece (Microsoft Producer).

Networks of issues, agencies, or persons
Some knowledge is intimately linked to a complex network of some sort. The knowledge is obscure to the typical observer precisely because they never fully grasp the network of people or issues or organizations that are involved. They are always responding to just a piece rather than to the whole puzzle.

  • Networks are different than a mere list; the links between the elements is the essential feature of the network. For example, a network of individuals may be knit together by links of “trusts” or “listens to” or “has authority over” or some other dimension. A network of organizations might be knit together with links such as “shares information” or “has a similar goal” or “draws from same labor pool”. A network of issues might be joined with links such as “makes this issue worse” or “is a subset of”.
  • Networks are often structured. For example, at the highest level the network might be “County”, “State”, “CBO’s”, “Funders”, and then each of those clusters breaks down into more detailed networks of county agencies or community organizations.

Case studies

  • From the Expert
  • From the beneficiaries of the Expert

Having the Expert and the Learner tackle specific projects.

Source:  Jerry Talley

Knowledge Capture — Finding The Knowledge

Assuming you have the right person, the right topic, and the right approach, this step is about actually capturing their knowledge.   The key element in getting the job done is the characteristics and the skills of the Interviewer.  Here are some tips:

Characteristics of a good Interviewer

  • Strong ability to listen, to draw someone out, to explore someone else’s experience and perceptions
  • High tolerance for ambiguity and complexity
  • Ability to move smoothly between specific cases and abstract rules
  • Ability to put yourself in the shoes of the potential learner, to extrapolate what they would need
  • Willing to learn new software
  • Audio editor, for cleaning up MP3 or WAV recordings of PowerPoint presentations or case studies
    Microsoft Producer, for knitting together audio files and PowerPoint slides into a stand alone training file
    Inspiration, for broad range of uses such as creating outlines (like this one) or graphic files. There is a tutorial available for how to use Inspiration, written in Inspiration.
    WordPress blog system

  • Comfortable with using audio visual equipment (recorders, video cameras, LCD projectors, etc.)

Key tasks

  • Building a knowledge table, a map of the terrain
  • Select the key topics to be covered
  • Material covered by existing manuals

    Material best learned from outside training

    Material that are good candidates for knowledge capture; more tacit knowledge; critical but not easily acquired through observation

  • Decide on the appropriate strategy for knowledge capture
  • Select a template for capturing the knowledge
  • Generate a draft of the knowledge
  • Focus on the layer of the knowledge use that is consistent, repeatable
    That is, the visible behavior may be highly variable, but the basis of the behavior may be a set line of questioning or analysis.

  • Walk through the draft with the expert; test it against the cases considered
  • Does it capture the essence of the knowledge?
    Does it define the missing pieces of the knowledge yet to be captured?

  • Test the next version with a potential learner
  • Does it make the skill visible?
    Can they imagine using the model?
    Are they able to use it on a new case?

Explore cases of the knowledge use

  • Listen for trends, commonalities, universals; look past unique or idiocyncratic details
  • Listen for structure of the underlying database(s) involved
  • Simple lists
    Formal database (cases, fields, relational links)
    Node-link structure

  • Listen for the steps, process flow, sequence of work
  • Listen for the degree of consistency or repeatability

Source: Jerry Talley

Building A Knowledge Culture

The process of capturing, organizing, and utilizing the knowledge of an organization is a challenge to the culture. It requires a shift in attitude, mindset, values, and priorities.

Performance Culture
In a performance culture employees do the best they can given the tasks of the day. The expectation is that they produce, but there is little documentation on how they work. There is no expectation that understandings and skills to be captured and shared. Infact, task knowledge may be hoarded.

Procedural Culture
In a procedural culture there is documentation on how to do key tasks and employees are expected to follow certain protocols. In return, employees expect to be told what to do and how to do it. If they are uncertain, they assume that they can ask a peer or supervisor for direction. They consider documentation their “right”, and they assume it would be at the daily task level.

Knowledge Culture
In a knowledge culture it is expected that the work of the staff will result in work products as well as their knowledge and understading about work processes, about more tacit skills, and about a broader concept for the work. It is assumed that this knowledge would be articulated and shared. The work is not complete until the knowledge to do it better next time is captured and shared.
If staff are unsure about what to do, they not only seek a procedural solution, they also reflect on the uncertainty and wonder about where the available knowledge is deficient and they voice their ideas about what would be needed to fill in the gaps.
Experts are expected to not just respond to specific questions of the daily tasks, but also listen to the trends of those questions and help to construct new tools to improve performance in future. They are expected to leave as much as their expertise behind before they leave.
This kind of culture requires new understanding about work contracts, different performance management strategies, and defined processes for capture, access, and update of knowledge.

Source: Jerry Talley and Laleh Shahidi