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Why conversation is the best way to share knowledge

Often the simplest methods can yield the best results in complex situations – particularly if they help release people’s enthusiasm for sharing experience socially.

David Gurteen has been demonstrating that over the past decade in the field of knowledge management, which is rich in examples of costly failed technology solutions.

Where, historically, do people shared ideas and stories? In cafes.

So David has developed a knowledge cafe format that enables people in organisations to meet and chat with colleagues who might otherwise be hidden in some far branch of the hierarchy or underused corner of the intranet.

After some speed networking, and a brief address, people discuss a simple question on small tables in three rounds of conversation, changing places to get a wide range of connections.

The final session is a circle – so everyone can see each other and contribute easily if they wish.

It’s been so successfully that last week the Cabinet Office invited Civil Servants from a range of departments to The Treasury for a couple of hours to address the question: “How can we more actively share knowledge within the workplace?”

Paul Corney reports some of the rich conversation that resulted:

I found myself in conversation about the diametrically opposed tasks of promoting voluntary transparency across government while protecting the exemptions of the Freedom of Information Act.

We discussed the difficulties of establishing Twitter dialogue and of being tied to SharePoint.   Everyone had a tale to tell about lack of handover time when being faced with a new assignment. Few seemed to have heard of Collaborate the internal government social media/chatline.  To a man (and woman) there was disquiet over the abandonment of the Local Government Agencies Community Network.

I was there, at David’s invitation, to do a little social reporting, and achieved that by the obvious step of asking David to explain in simple terms how and why cafes work.

It’s mostly about enabling people to talk about what interests them, without being too controlling. It helps a lot to offer the warmth and enthusiasm that David manages to convey – even after so many cafes. Everyone feels special, and knowledgeable.

David offers a tip sheet on running Knowledge Cafes – where you can also join for free 18,000 other people, from 160 countries, in his  knowledge community. Sign up for his newsletter, and you’ll hear about future cafes.

Gurteen Knowledge website