September 19, 2012

Knowledge Harvesting As Winter Project

This weekend is a local holiday which we call September Weekend.  A lot of people will be on holiday this Friday and Monday in effect giving them a four day break.  It marks the end of summer and the start of the journey into winter.  As I came into the office this morning the outside temperature was 5 deg C so we are already well into that journey.

To pass the winter nights many people start projects and an increasingly common one is to create a biography or autobiography.  In many ways this is similar to knowledge harvesting, especially knowledge harvesting from a very senior person.  You want to know ‘why’ more than ‘how’.  You want to know why the senior person introduced the new policy, took the company into a new market or why they took the company into a new product line.  The ‘how’ it was achieved is normally knowledge that more junior staff have.

If you are thinking about creating a biography or autobiography (or knowledge harvesting from a senior person) you might want to consider the following points;

1 Create a storyboard of things you want to cover.  The storyboard will ensure you stay on track and don’t get diverted into things that while they might be interesting, they aren’t the key things you want to understand.

2 Sense check the storyboard with intended audiences.  Will it be interesting, will it be entertaining, will it tell them something they didn’t already know?  If necessary adjust the storyboard to reflect the feedback.

3 Create a set of themes to explore.  Once you have the storyboard constructed, create a checklist of themes you want to explore during the sessions.

4 Avoid closed questions.  You want to find the specifics of why they did something but you want to avoid questions where they can answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  Think about it like a party game; if they can possibly answer yes or no to your question they have to do so.  Imagine being the reader of the output; a list of questions with yes or no answers - that would be boring in the extreme.

5 Audio record the session.  Assuming you are interviewing someone, audio record it in addition to taking detailed notes.  The reason for audio recording is that as you listen to their response to your question, your mind will drift, either thinking about the next question or asking yourself – ‘Did I understand that answer?’  With an audio recording you can always go back and listen and spot the things you might have missed in your notes.

6 Don’t under estimate the time to package and verify.  It could take you four to six times as long to package the material as to do the interview.  It will also take the person who you interviewed time to read (and edit) what you have produced.  You need to build that review time into the expectations you set at the beginning of the project.  The more senior the person the more difficult it will be to schedule this time.  If you are doing it as a winter project, it shouldn’t be as much of a problem.

7 Package it for the reader not the interviewee.  At the initial planning stages discuss with the interviewee and the readers how they would like the end result to be packaged and presented.  It is relatively easy now to self publish small numbers of books and this is an excellent way of distributing a biography or autobiography to friends and family.  Imagine organising a surprise event and then distributing the book to those in attendance; a memorable occasion.  The downside of publishing the material in a book is that it probably prevents the use of multi media.  If you decide to package the material onto DVD, you can include video clips, photos and additional documents.

8 A three minute video is a minute too long.  If you decide to include video clips, make them short.  One minute is probably the right length, two minutes if it is necessary to provide lots of context and three minutes is probably getting to be long.

So if you decide to create a biography or autobiography (or conduct a knowledge harvesting interview of a senior person), good luck.  Enjoy the experience.  There is a great sense of achievement when you present the packaged knowledge back to the person.  More details can be found here.