5 questions to get your experts database working

With so much information generally available, it is increasingly important to know who is an expert in what knowledge within your organisation.

Most law firms have had some form of “White Pages” (an internal address book, adapted to an organisation’s individual needs) for a while now, but how well is yours working? Are you getting the most from the knowledge that already exists within your organisation?


5 questions to ask to start improving your internal experts database.


  1. Is it actually an internal experts database? Does it help you discover “who is truly an expert in what?” or is it just teams, phone numbers and email addresses? If you needed a friendly colleague to help you with a complex technical problem, could you find the right person? If you needed to give a client a contact number of an expert on a Tuesday night at 9pm, could you find the right one? What about the different languages that people speak or the skills they have, but aren’t utilised in their current role? If you needed to pull together a team with unusual skills for a very technical project, could you find just the right people? If not, what needs to change in your database? Linked to that …
  2. Do you have a clear idea of all the different aspects of knowledge that you want to access? One great way to analyse what knowledge gets utilised in teams is to map out the common processes: when a commercial lease is negotiated and completed, what steps do your lawyers take; similarly when a clinical negligence claim is defended, what stages does it commonly pass through? Who is an expert in each of those stages? Another great way to understand the knowledge you need to access is knowledge mapping. Knowledge maps make great expertise finders for smaller teams with deep specialised knowledge. You could also analyse the knowledge used in a common transaction in terms of function (declarative/know about, procedural/know how, causal/know why, conditional/know when, and relational/know with) to help you identify what knowledge exists in the teams.
  3. Is the quality right? Who decides who counts as an expert? What is the process? You need a robust process for determining experts, or you will end up with a preponderance of confident and ambitious people  and miss all the quiet thoughtful experts. Also, is it updated? What is the process for keeping the data clean?
  4. Does it work for *your* organisation? Most businesses have their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. If you can make the database work for how you do things in your organisation, rather than try to fit your people to the available technology, it’ll be a lot more effective. Would a map-style database be better than a rolodex-style database? How often do your staff turnover? How agile does this database need to be? In practical terms, if you value your people via their chargeable hours and this is a non-chargeable task, are they likely to spend sufficient time on it? If not, how else could you approach the data gathering and input?
  5. Is it value for money? How are you going to measure the value that it offers your business and when will you know that it needs more investment? Simple quantitative measurements can help you keep an eye on usage, and leading measurements will give you early warning of potential problems, but a survey will give you rich data and stories about how clients were (or weren’t) well-served by getting access to the right expert, and will be a valuable source of ideas for continuous improvement.

How have you approached this challenge? I’d love to hear in the comments how you have approached creating a great experts database, or if you’ve enjoyed the post, please share.

What now?

About knowledge4lawyers

I am a lawyer and a Knowledge Management expert. Through The Knowledge Business I help law firms improve their efficiency and profitability through knowledge services - consultancy, training and implementation help.
This entry was posted in KM, Personal Knowledge Management, Process and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 5 questions to get your experts database working

  1. Pingback: 5 questions to improve your experts database | 5 ideas to ....

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s