Simple Rules of Knowledge Management

Simple rules are concepts that underpin knowledge management and should be kept in mind when designing learning events to effectively draw on all the knowledge in the room These simple rules come from KM expert Nancy Dixon and her colleagues at Common Knowledge Associates. The different rules complement and reinforce each other, always emphasizing the power of conversation to share learning and create new insights. On ASSIST, we use these simple rules to improve our ability to learn from improvement work and better convey that learning to others.  We have led a number of knowledge management trainings for ASSIST staff and partners where we have presented and discussed the simple rules using the attached PDFs as posters. Below each rule is explained, and examples of how to apply it are provided.

View a slideshow of all the posters, then download your favorites below.

Simple rules circles connect and how the room is designed makes a difference emphasize the importance of room set-up. When participants can sit in a circle, away from desks and computers, and see each other’s eyes, it creates a feeling of solidarity in the room. It also removes the feeling of teacher/student or expert/learner and instead emphasizes that everyone has something to share and something to learn. On ASSIST, we try to seat participants in circles whenever possible, moving from large circles to small group circles and back throughout a meeting. In trainings where we have used circles, participants have remarked at how it made them feel like a team and contributed to the quality of the interaction.

Simple rule connection before content emphasizes the importance of allowing people to build rapport with each other before asking them to share details of their work. When people are comfortable with one another and know each other, they are more at ease and willing to share with one another. This rule can be applied to work in a number of ways. Depending on the event or meeting you are having, this can be done by having an initial meal with everyone before the meeting begins; it can be done at the start of the meeting through speed networking and can be facilitated through the use of storytelling early in a meeting.

Simple rule we learn when we talk shows that it is through the process of explaining ourselves that we understand what we know. When asked to explain something, we have to reflect and respond, and it’s in that moment that we discover what we know and what is worth telling others.  In learning sessions for improvement work, we try to provide participants with the chance to talk often to describe their experience improving care so they and their peers can learn. We use techniques like storytelling, speed consulting, learning interviews, knowledge exchanges, and liberating structures to get people talking.

Simple rule knowledge is created and shared in conversation highlights that it is during the give and take of conversation that we share experiences and create new knowledge. On ASSIST we recognize the importance of letting improvement teams talk with one another to ask questions about experiences and explain what they have done. It is during this exchange that each team learns and creates new knowledge. Knowledge cafes are one way to facilitate conversations, as are field trips around the room, and other small group techniques.

Simple rule asking opens the door to knowledge highlights the value of giving people the opportunity of asking questions to avail themselves of the experience and knowledge of others, rather than assuming what people need to know and presenting the information to them. By asking, we learn, and by providing answers to questions, we also learn. On ASSIST we apply this generally by creating space for implementers to ask each other questions, as well as through specific techniques like learning interviews, speed consulting, and knowledge cafes.

Simple rule we know more than we can say and can say more than we can write points out that during the process of saying and writing what we know, richness is lost. As we sit down to write a report with our heads full, we tend to edit ourselves and lose detail and context. To counteract this, on ASSIST we emphasize use of conversational techniques during meetings, including storytelling, knowledge cafes, and by holding harvest meetings to gather information in small groups rather than simply relying on written reports.

Simple rule learn in small groups, integrate knowledge in large groups explains that it is during small group conversations that we learn, not in large plenaries. The learning from small groups can then be integrated into the large group in a number of ways. On ASSIST when we have day-long meetings, we move between small groups and the whole group during the day, so that learning is being integrated throughout and not just in a rush at the end. Some ways to integrate back to the large group without just asking for lists of what was said include 1-2-4-All and can even be as simple as asking people what they heard that resonated with them.

Simple rule moving from one to many to many to many shifts the focus from knowledge transfer from one “expert” to others in a one-way flow, to focusing on knowledge exchange between peers with similar experiences. On ASSIST we support this through small group exercises, knowledge cafes, field trips around the room, knowledge exchanges, and by holding handover meetings.

Simple rule learning from experience requires deliberate reflection reminds us that to effectively learn from an experience and apply that learning to our work going forward, we must build in time to reflect on the experience and incorporate the lessons in to our work. One way to do this is by holding After Action Reviews after an event or activity has been completed.  When facilitating a multi-day event, facilitators can hold AARs at the end of each day to capture learning and improve the event as it goes.  

Simple rule experts can inform the thinking of others, not provide answers reminds us that experts can guide us in meetings, but knowledge exchange happens most effectively between peers. On ASSIST we apply this rule by facilitating exchange between improvement teams rather than dictating or lecturing.  We do this through small group techniques, field trips around the room, and speed consulting.

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