Tools and Practices to Identify, Capture, and Transfer Knowledge
Retaining and transferring knowledge among National Park Service (NPS) employees is essential to mission success. It also addresses the potential risk of losing the knowledge retained by the agency’s employees. Taking steps now to capture and effectively transfer indispensable knowledge will help ensure the success of employees taking on new roles and responsibilities.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer for how to prevent knowledge loss. The following set of tools and recommended practices were created to take the first steps toward addressing this challenge. The tools are available for all employees, at all levels of the agency to implement.
Types of Knowledge
The tools and practices provided address two types of knowledge:
Explicit Knowledge – the “Know What”
- Organized information – easy to capture, store, and share.
- Can be structured – documents, diagrams, databases, and spreadsheets.
- Or can be unstructured – training courses, email messages, and images.
- Transferring is done by ensuring people have access and can locate what they need.
Tacit Knowledge – the “Know How”
- Hard to capture & communicate – people may not be aware of what they know.
- It is accumulated in experience, relationships, context, and ideas.
- Transferring is most effective through interpersonal contact.
“Key individuals” possess abilities and skills that make them essential to an operation and their replacement difficult. Without proper planning, the loss of these individuals could hinder a site or program from being able to function successfully. The Knowledge Transfer Form will help facilitate the process of proper succession planning between employees.
The user will be guided through three steps:
- Identify “key individuals” and the tasks they perform.
- Capture information essential to performing those tasks.
- Prioritize and plan for succession.
File Naming Tool
Employees can compile a tremendous amount of explicit knowledge in the form of digital files. Following a standard file-naming convention will make locating the necessary information on a park’s or program’s shared folders easier and less time consuming.
About the tool:
- It is installed in Microsoft Word and is usable anytime the program is open.
- A step-by-step guide has been included to aid in installation.
- Utilizing it will facilitate preservation, management, and access to digital records agency wide.
- It follows a naming convention developed by the Northeast Region and the Portfolio Management and Strategic Planning Division of the NPS Washington Office.
The necessary files can be downloaded from the Google Drive: File Naming Tool.
Extensive interpersonal contact is the best way to communicate tacit knowledge. Establishing a mentor relationship with a predecessor — whether of a position or of a specific task — can provide the jobholder with experiences, lessons, context, and insight that will better facilitate their success. A predecessor can also provide specific technical knowledge and act as a peer sounding board for new ideas.
If a mentor relationship can be established with a predecessor:
- Work out a set schedule to make contact (e.g. one hour every other week).
- Consider using Google Hangouts which allows for visual communication and offers the ability to share computer screens for walk-throughs and demonstrations.
If a predecessor is not available:
- Sign up as “willing to be mentored” in the Common Learning Portal, or search from those that are “willing to mentor” to find someone who possesses the specific knowledge desired. Here’s a step-by-step guide to find or become a mentor through the Common Learning Portal.
Communities of Practice
A community of practice is a forum for establishing an open line of communication with subject matter experts and peers who hold similar positions or skills. It is one of the most effective ways to share and transfer tacit knowledge in an organization. A forum can act as a supplement or alternative to a mentor relationship. The Common Learning Portal provides NPS employees a platform for finding and collaborating with peers across the agency.
After Action Review (Informal Process)
Tacit knowledge does not need a long period of time to develop. It can be gained in a single experience or event. The U.S. Army developed After Action Review (AAR) processes to facilitate “in the moment” learning among teams and to transfer that knowledge immediately into the task at hand. (A Leader’s Guide to After Action Reviews, U.S. Army TC 25-20 1993)
There are formal & informal AAR processes. The formal process is more regimented, detailed, and time consuming. The recommendation is to utilize the informal AAR process. It can be conducted quickly, with no preparation, and provide immediate feedback.
Conducting an After Action Review:
- Hold the AAR immediately following the event.
- Identify one facilitator; go around the circle to hear from all participants.
- Everyone has equal voice; everyone takes part.
- Listen. No interruptions.
- Do not assign blame. No one is right or wrong.
- Make it quick. Aim to conduct the informal AAR in less than 30 minutes. No minimum.
- Write down key points.
- The AAR answers four questions:
- What was expected to happen?
- What actually happened?
- What worked and what was challenging?
- What can be improved next time?
Download printable AAR pocket cards (follows the Avery 8871 template).
This project was completed by the following employees as part of the Future Leaders Program (Pilot):