I’m often asked for book recommendations …

So here are two good ones – reasonably priced, theoretically sound, practical and easy to read.

If you are new-ish to KM or have never had any formal training, you might enjoy “Knowledge Management: A Practical Guide for Librarians” by Jennifer Bartlett and if you are more experienced, or a senior leader, try “Critical Knowledge Transfer” by Dorothy Leonard.

Bartlett’s “A Practical Guide …” is a great straightforward introduction to KM. It’s written for librarians, but I imagine lots of people will find it useful.

The book is divided into 2 parts: with KM background, theory and frameworks in Part 1 and more detailed, practical implementation ideas around the knowledge cycle in Part 2.

Each chapter is clearly set out, with plenty of bullet points and diagrams and has a nice “key points” summary and reference list at the end.

Critical Knowledge Transfer is another practical book full of tools and examples but aimed at senior leaders.

Written by Dorothy Leonard, who has been William J. Abernathy Professor of Business Administration Emerita at Harvard Business School for nearly 20 years, it is based on original research, numerous interviews with top managers, and has a wide range of corporate examples.

Critical Knowledge Transfer provides a variety of practical options for identifying your organisation’s deep smarts and transferring that intelligence from experts to successors. In particular, it can help managers to understand, in practical terms, how to:

  • Identify the deep smarts essential to their business.
  • Develop a programme using proven techniques to transfer knowledge when its loss is imminent
  • Identify and implement long-term knowledge transfer apprenticeships
  • Set up individual learning plans for successors
  • Assess the success of their knowledge transfer initiatives

Have you read either of these? What did you think?

Which books would you recommend to new and experienced KMers?

Posted in KM, Training and learning | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A podcast on knowledge sharing

I recently spoke to Edwin Morris, Monica Danese-Perrin and Ginetta Gueli about how the pandemic has shaped KM in the legal sector for the better and what challenges remain.

I’d be interested to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Posted in collaboration, KM, knowledge-sharing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Knowledge Journeys (1) – Hank Malik

I’ve always found the people who work in Knowledge roles fascinating and inspiring, so I’m delighted to introduce you to some of the interesting people that I’ve met.

Today we meet Hank Malik of HanKMalik Consulting.

Hank is an Independent Knowledge Management and Transformation Lead, recently arrived in UK.

Hi Hank, welcome to Knowledge4Lawyers (and 4EveryoneElseToo). I’m looking forward to hearing about your journey so far in KM.

How did you end up in your current role? Was there a key factor/turning point in your ending up in this role?

I have just started my own consultancy in the UK, after a successful career in Knowledge Management, Transformation, Information Management, Change Management and Learning.  Thankfully, I have enjoyed a rewarding career where I was fortunate enough to work for some of the largest and most prestigious Management Consultancies, focusing on Knowledge Management as an external service to many international clients in both the private and public sectors.  In addition, I have led multiple KM teams, with a recent focus in the Energy sector and Digital Transformation in the Middle East.   So now seemed a perfect time to branch out independently with the aim of providing expert interim services on a select basis.

What aspect of KM do you find most fascinating?

I have always enjoyed the full scope of Knowledge Management from design and development, through to launch, implementation, and on-going sustainability.  The areas I find most rewarding include the project managing and leading the delivery of all-encompassing Knowledge Management Programmes. Here I can blend my expert Project Management and KM specialist skills and transfer my expertise to the wider KM teams, so we can all win together and achieve real outcomes.  I also really enjoy to coach and mentor junior KM staff and seeing them develop their skills and progress their careers.

What is the biggest change that you have witnessed during your career in Knowledge?

I want to cover the change and the challenge.

The Change

I see the urgent need to change the mindset and traditional concept of the Knowledge Manager – incumbent today. KM needs to urgently embrace the opportunities of Digital Transformation and all the benefits it can bring. The KM skill sets need to change from traditional Information Management to include all things Digitalisation, including AI, Machine Learning and Big Data.

The Challenge

 With Knowledge Management there are always challenges unfortunately and today`s KMer needs to show tenacity and be inspirational in order to survive let alone develop!  Getting Snr Leadership support is critical for KM and without this, KM will always remain a type of `cottage industry`.  It is a big challenge to achieve this and without the support I would not support a KM programme.

What three things are you focusing on for the next three years?

1.Developing KM and Digital Transformation with the aim of blending the two together to offer an integrated service

2. KM Benefits realisation for the Digital world – adding real value

3. KM Career Path development – training, coaching, certification, and lifelong learning

What do you think is the most exciting new development coming in Knowledge work/KM?

To finally show the real value the sound concepts and approach KM can bring to supporting some of the biggest global challenge we face today. Key in taking the lead with lessons learned from the Pandemic and sharing the key insights so we are better prepared next time.  This needs a concerted effort.

Plus of course as I mentioned above the promise of the benefits of Digitalisation to vastly improve knowledge acquisition, sharing, retention and application for real benefits to be achieved.  Key here is the new thinking in Agile KM and intelligent cognitive discovery search.

Thanks Hank.

If you’d like to connect with Hank and learn more about his work, you can find his LinkedIn profile here.

And if you are a senior KMer who has an interesting KM journey and would like to join in this Q&A series, email me or reply in the comments below.

If you would like to read the next Knowledge Journey, don’t forget to follow the blog (button at the top right) or sign up for the newsletter which gives a monthly round-up of posts and events (or both of course).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Organisational storytelling – a workshop

Are you looking to improve the sharing of complex knowledge inside your organisation? Are you seeking to understand the benefits of your knowledge sharing activities and persuade others of the value? If so, this workshop will probably be of benefit.

Stories have the capacity to tap into emotions, shape understanding and precipitate action. They enable us to humanise events and make data real and memorable.

Whether you need to influence, engage and persuade people or ensure that learning sticks, telling the right story, in the right way, is the key.

Stories are particularly useful for uncovering and conveying complex lessons which are difficult to impart or enforce using changes to precedents, documents or processes.

More information and book here Organisational Storytelling in Law Firms Tickets, Tue 11 May 2021 at 12:30 | Eventbrite

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Often those of us who work in Knowledge and Learning have to ask people to go beyond their core role: we ask lawyers to supervise junior members of staff; we ask them to write articles about complex areas of law in jargon-less language for clients; we ask them to create/review/perfect precedents and processes; and we ask them to share all their worst mistakes so we can learn from them.

And when one combines that with a work culture that prioritises the chargeable hour over everything else, it can become a herculean task.

But, without re-engineering your whole organisation, what can you do?

Personally, I think the answer is in helping people to find a sense of meaning in their work.

No matter one’s level, industry or career, we all need to find a personal sense of meaning in what we do.

Some people find meaning in helping others, some love to teach, others love to write. If you can align the right person to the right task, you are far more likely to persuade people to go above and beyond.

And if you aren’t sure how to start the conversation about what gives their work meaning? Try this article from HBR.

Ask Your Employees These Questions. They Will Thank You (

Posted in influencing, knowledge-sharing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

2021 Knowledge Network UK

What is the Knowledge Network?

Knowledge Network is a supportive and friendly group for those who work in Information, Knowledge and Learning in professional services firms, such as law firms.

It is run by me, Helene Russell of TheKnowledgeBusiness, and has been supporting KMers for more than a decade.

Currently all events, coaching and networking are delivered virtually.

What is included for 2021?

  • 6x hour-long virtual learning events/webinars
  • 2x 45 minute coaching calls
  • 2x virtual coffee connections

Who is it for?

If you are interested in learning, information and knowledge and work for any kind of professional services organisation (or indeed any other kind of business) you will find it interesting and useful.

We have had a wide variety of members, including Heads of Knowledge, Heads of Information and Library, Information professionals at all levels, Knowledge Systems Managers, Professional Support and Knowledge Lawyers, and consultant lawyers. We’ve also had a variety of senior leaders come along to individual events of particular interest to them.

The majority of members are from the UK, but we also have members from Europe and the Channel Islands. Learning events are held in English and during UK / GMT lunchtimes, so as long as you can attend then (whatever time it is in your time-zone), you are welcome.

What sort of topics do we cover?

In the past we’ve had events on AI and machine learning, ISO 30401, design thinking for KM, after action reviews, social media for knowledge sharing, promoting KM, metrics and measurements, new technologies, KM strategies, culture, motivations for sharing, innovation, intranets that work, GDPR, leadership and influencing, writing in plain English, mobile KM, international management challenges, change management and all kinds of topics.

We’ve heard from practitioners (legal, health, engineering, marketing and other sectors), consultants and academics.

We’ve heard from speakers from US, Canada, Europe and UK.

Topics always depend on the needs of the members. At the time of writing this, for the 2021 programme, I have speakers booked to talk about knowledge sharing, organisational storytelling and trust and I’ll be booking the rest of the speakers depending on member preferences. If you’d like your favourite topic included, book your space early this year.

How much does it cost?

£265 for one person for an annual subscription.

Two spaces within the same organisation are discounted to £475.

If you’d like to book 3 or more spaces, get in touch.

How do I book?

Email me for an invoice. It’s that simple.

Not quite right for you?

If this isn’t quite right for you, have you thought of organising your own in-house training day or training programme? I can offer virtual or in person events (depending on lockdown/tier rules of course) on a wide variety of topics. Get in touch to ask me more.

Posted in Events, Knowledge Network UK, networks, Professional Support Lawyers | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Making Communities of Practice work – Part 3

Today I’m delighted to share with you the last of my interviews on the practical topic of making Communities of Practice work. For this last interview, we hear from Anne Bergen, PhD; Director, Knowledge to Action Consulting Inc.

Anne is an evaluation and knowledge mobilization consultant. She completed a PhD in applied social psychology at the University of Guelph in 2011, and founded Knowledge to Action Consulting in 2014. Anne helped develop and co-instructs the Knowledge Mobilization Certificate at the University of Guelph.

Hi Anne! Welcome to Knowledge 4 Lawyers.

Tell me a bit about the Communities of Practice (CoPs) that you are involved in. What is your role in those communities and how does this fit with your “day job”.

I’m involved in the Guelph/Kitchener/Waterloo Knowledge Translation and Transfer (KTT) Community of Practice. We are “an informal group of knowledge mobilization professionals, faculty and students seeking to share best practices, develop new skills, and connect with peers”.

Our CoP has participants from local universities (staff, students, faculty) as well as local KTT practitioners.

My role is one of the co-organizers – I help plan the schedule, update the website, and get the news out about events.

This fits with my day job because I’m a knowledge mobilization and evaluation consultant. At the community of practice, I get to talk shop with peers, and get to be part of a group doing similar work.

What is it about CoPs that that particularly interests you? What prompted you to want to share your experiences with the Canadian Knowledge Mobilisation Forum this year?

CoPs interest me because they’re such a helpful tool for learning – both by knowledge sharing and through seeing models of how people are working. I wanted to share my experiences at the Forum because I’ve been involved in CoPs as an organizer and participant, and it’s been really beneficial. 

What top tips do you have for people who participate in a CoP so that they can get the most from their involvement?

My top tip for participants is to make time for both socializing and knowledge sharing. Think about what you bring to the group, and what you’re hoping to get out of it. Then show up regularly! 

What top tips do you have for those who are responsible for supporting and organising CoPs, rather than participants? Do you have any advice for those trying to manage the knowledge that gets shared within the group and trying to support improved accessibility and action on the knowledge that is shared there?

My top tip for planner and organizers is to share the work with others. This means that others can then pick up the slack when you’re busy, and vice versa. It’s helpful to have someone organizing who is there as part of their job, or can lend institutional support to the CoP (room booking, speaker fees, etc).

Trying to manage the knowledge that gets shared and support accessibility and action can be a full time job, so if that’s a focus of your CoP, it’s a good idea to resource that position rather than relying on volunteers.

Some argue that CoPs need to be allowed to develop organically by the members/participants and too much organisation and control can kill them off. What are your views on this? How much support and/or control do you advise organisations to offer, to get the most benefit from CoPs?

I think a middle ground is helpful. CoPs need a topic of shared practice or interest, and that can change over time. Checking in with members regularly, and adapting to meet their needs and interests, means your CoP will be more sustainable. I think ideally organizations can offer space and convening support and a broad topic area, then let the community organically progress.

Do you have any other practical tips for those working in knowledge and learning, to improve the flow of knowledge around their organisations through communities and conversation?

Figure out how people like to converse in your group and how often people want to be in touch. Then pick your communication platforms accordingly. 

Our CoP makes use of a listserv and a really basic website, as well as social media outreach.  If we were more closely connected or met more often, it would be great to have a chat forum or other means of communicating within the group

What’s next for you and where can we find out more about your other interests?

We need to figure out our winter/spring schedule for the CoP! You can find out more about our upcoming events at

For more about my other knowledge mobilization work and interests, see

Thank you Anne. We really appreciate your taking the time to share your experience with us.

If you would like to get in touch with Anne, you can link with her on LinkedIn, follow her on twitter at @anne_bergen, or take a look at her website

Posted in knowledge-sharing, networks | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Making Communities of Practice work – Part 2

Following on from their workshop at the Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum and my interview a couple of weeks ago with Travis Sztainert, I am delighted to introduce you to Kate Wetherow, Organisational Learning Specialist, and bring you her experiences with Communities of Practice.

Kate has over 15 years not-for-profit experience in education and operations at the community, national and international levels, and has a unique blend of skills in organizational learning, knowledge management, project management, and business process improvement. Kate is the Organizational Learning Specialist at the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), a part time instructor at the University of Ottawa Professional Development Institute in the Knowledge Management certificate program and co-coordinates the Ottawa Knowledge Mobilization Community of Practice.

Hi Kate, welcome to Knowledge4Lawyers!

Tell me a bit about the Communities of Practice (CoPs) that you are involved in, in particular, your role in those communities and how this fits with your “day job”.

I volunteer to co-coordinate the Ottawa Knowledge Mobilization Community of Practice. It’s the gathering place of knowledge workers in the National Capital Region in Canada. Usually, we meet up at a pub and talk about our work or have a peer-lead discussion (tools, trends, or hot topics). We welcome everyone in the broadest spectrum of knowledge work, including students, from every sector. The benefit for me is being able to connect with others in my community with a shared practice and bring back valuable insight to my day job.

At my full time job, I also help nurture “internal” CoPs with our 450 employees. Currently, we have CoPs for project management, evaluation, planning and performance, as well as a “Lean Coffee” for our process improvement and agile work. As the Organizational Learning Specialist, I don’t coordinate all of the CoPs, but I participate and connect them with new participants. Our CoPs are very much an internal gathering of subject matter experts or specialists, but also employees who want to learn more about the field of practice. It has encouraged more cross-departmental collaboration and learning in the past two years. This certainly falls into the “supporting a learning culture” part of my job description.

What is it about CoPs that that particularly interests you? What prompted you to want to share your experiences with the Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum this year?

I know what it’s like to be the only knowledge worker at the office. It’s lonely! Initially, I started attending the Ottawa KMb CoP out of a need to connect with others with a shared purpose and practice. To this day, that’s still what I get out it.

Finding your community is an important way to connect to “New Talent, Skills, and Perspectives,” which was the theme of this year’s Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum. I thought it would be a neat idea to reach out to our sister CoPs in Guelph and Toronto to talk about the power of connection, what works and how you can continuously evolve to meet the needs of the group. We wanted to share the broad experiences of working with CoPs as people networks for leveraging professional development in knowledge mobilization.

What top tips do you have for people who participate in a CoP so that they can get the most from their involvement?

Like anything else, you get out of a CoP what you put into it. Be an active participant. Connect with others. Ask questions. Share your perspectives. And volunteer to host, present or take part in the activities being offered. For example, if you want to hear about tools, then volunteer to facilitate an upcoming discussion on highly recommended tools.

Remember, CoPs are organic. You can’t control what happens with them, but you can be open to the experience! Just because you have low attendance at an event, you may end up having deeper, more meaningful, conversations and get more out of it.

What top tips do you have for those who are responsible for supporting and organising CoPs, rather than participants? Do you have any advice for those trying to manage the knowledge that gets shared within the group and trying to support improved accessibility and action on the knowledge that is shared there?

Basically, coordinating a CoP means three things: managing a distribution list, scheduling an event/newsletter, and curating content. While all three take effort (especially as a volunteer), the latter is the hardest. To curate good content, ask your members. Check in when you see them. Send out surveys once a year. See what matters to them and how you can serve the common interest. For example, it wasn’t until we sent out a survey that asked about venue preference, that we found out that several of our members felt that our current venue was a barrier to their participation – both in terms of mobility (multiple floors and poor seating) and hearing impairment (it was a noisy pub).

Co-ordinating by yourself is hard. Currently, I ‘co-coordinate’ the Ottawa KMb CoP and it’s wonderful to share that experience and the volunteer effort. We can balance workload and bounce ideas off of one another. It also means continuity on a practical level.

Some argue that CoPs need to be allowed to develop organically by the members/participants and too much organisation and control can kill them off. What are your views on this? How much support and/or control do you advise organisations to offer, to get the most benefit from CoPs?

I agree that CoPs are organic. Here’s a Canadian hockey analogy: your role as a coordinator of a CoP is to put some boards up around the rink to make a space. You invite the participants and schedule the time, but ultimately, the participants bring the game. Whether you hit the goal or not is less important than getting something out of participating.

We shared the CoP life cycle in our presentation about CoPs at the Forum. It was important to remind people that organic entities have a life of their own and follow various stages of life.

Do you have any other practical tips for those working in knowledge and learning, to improve the flow of knowledge around their organisations through communities and conversation?

Yes, I also presented at the Forum on my work in change and learning. My recommendations included the following:

  • Build a strong team to deliver the learning and knowledge sharing work.
  • Conduct impact and learning assessments to gather information from the people who are doing the work and what’s important to them.
  • Engage in a peer-to-peer model of knowledge sharing and learning. It’s the most powerful!
  • Leverage people networks, like CoPs, to share knowledge and mobilize efforts.
  • Use people platforms to stay connected, i.e. digital dashboards, shared online spaces, etc. In this virtual work world, shared spaces are more important than ever!
  • Never underestimate the power of people updates – whether it’s in-person or a good old fashioned email or staff bulletin. If you put care into the connection, it will resonate!

What’s next for you and where can we find out more about your other interests?

I also teach at the University of Ottawa Professional Development Institute. Last year I developed three new courses: Sharing Knowledge inside Your Organization, Visual Management for Working Teams and Creative Workplaces. Teaching is another great way to connect with your community and find out what is happening in the field of practice. I encourage others to share their knowledge and expertise at schools, volunteering, but most especially at your own workplace through lunch and learns and other gatherings. Everyone has knowledge to share!

Thanks very much for sharing your experiences with us, Kate!

If you’d like to connect with Kate or keep up with her research, you can find her on LinkedIn and twitter (@KateWetherow).

Posted in collaboration, knowledge-sharing, networks | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making Communities of Practice work

Last month I attended the Canadian online Knowledge Mobilization Forum and particularly enjoyed a discussion on the topic of Communities of Practice (if you’d like a little primer on what a CoP is, click here).

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I decided to persuade the presenters to do some short interviews to share their experiences with us, which I hope you’ll find useful.

Travis Sztainert PhD

Firstly, then, I’m delighted to introduce you all to Travis Sztainert, Knowledge Mobilization specialist.

Hi Travis, welcome to Knowledge4Lawyers!

Tell me a bit about the Communities of Practice (CoPs) that you are involved in. What is your role in those communities and how does this fit with your “day job”.

I have been involved with a number of CoPs over the years. I started with simply attending a local CoP focused on Knowledge Mobilization (similar to Knowledge Management, but concerned more with sharing knowledge to external stakeholders). When I moved to a new city for work, I joined another local CoP focused on Knowledge Transfer (similar to Knowledge Mobilization) and was part of the leadership committee. As part of this committee, we were responsible for revitalizing the CoP (it was dormant at the time), planning meet-ups, determining the focus of the meetups and helping to host the meetings. I also attempted to lead and revitalize an international CoP called the Knowledge Into Practice Learning Network.

There are two main reasons that I’ve chosen to join and lead these CoPs:

  1. To help me improve my ‘day job’ and improve the day jobs of others. Given that the focus of the CoPs I’ve joined was Knowledge Mobilization/Transfer, I am eager to learn from others  and I am happy to share my own knowledge about how to do our work better – a  rising tide lifts all boats.
  2. To help contribute to, and gain experience with, the ins-and-outs of CoPs. CoPs can be a valuable tool in change-makers toolkits, but only if used effectively. I am interested in the factors that lead to a successful and prosperous CoP.

What is it about CoPs that that particularly interests you? What prompted you to want to share your experiences with the Canadian Knowledge Mobilisation Forum this year?

CoPs are one of the few methods that allow for deep, meaningful and ongoing engagement in specific and (often) complex topics. For this reason, they have always been appealing to me as a tool for change, and I’m fascinated by the (often) organic nature by which some CoPs develop.

It has also been extremely interesting to see the shift to virtual CoPs given the current context of a global pandemic. At a previous CoP, I gave a talk with colleagues about virtual communities, and I specifically questioned whether virtual CoPs allow for a safe space where members could discuss failures and lessons learned (as opposed to focusing on successes). This idea led me to share my experiences failing at revitalizing a CoP (the Knowledge Into Practice Learning Network) at the Canadian Knowledge Mobilization Forum – I want everyone to know that failure is common, and is often just a First Attempt In Learning (FAIL). 

What top tips do you have for people who participate in a CoP so that they can get the most from their involvement?

The first thing I would encourage people to do is to try to make connections in your CoP (especially if it is big). Talk to different people at every meeting – resist the temptation to sit beside your colleagues or those you know well. Related to this idea of actively participating, is to try to overcome imposter syndrome. This is the feeling that everyone else in the CoP knows more then you, which results in an irrational fear that you have little to contribute (or will be found out as an imposter in the CoP). Know that most other people in the CoP are feeling the same thing, and work to overcome this fear so that you can step out of your comfort zone and more actively engage with other members. Often, the best ideas and knowledge shared in a CoP is done informally, through the connections you make and the people you talk to while grabbing a coffee. Given the current pandemic, this may be a little more difficult, but using the private messaging feature during Zooms and chatting offline (through LinkedIn or even Facebook messenger) are great methods to starting informal conversations.   

What top tips do you have for those who are responsible for supporting and organising CoPs, rather than participants? Do you have any advice for those trying to manage the knowledge that gets shared within the group and trying to support improved accessibility and action on the knowledge that is shared there?

Based on my past failures and experience, I have 4 tips for those organizing CoPs:

  1. Use tools that allow members to communicate and share knowledge easily. This is especially important for virtual CoPs, you’ll want to think about how members may keep in touch outside of formalized meetings/activities. There is now a plethora of free tools to help you do this, and it may include Slack, Discord or even using Google Drive or Microsoft Teams – a platform by which people can chat and share files/information and that is easy to use.
  2. Create opportunities to socialize. This may include using fun/interesting ice-breakers, implementing Randomized Coffee Trials (see this example), using a fireside chats method of engaging, or even using informal locations for in-person meetups. You want to create and allow for a space for serendipity to emerge.
  3. Ensure consistent interaction, regular meetings, and engagement.  Leading a CoP is very time-intensive work, and requires real commitment (it is not something to be done off the side of your desk). Running a CoP is like a dance – it takes a while to find your rhythm, and once you have it you need to work to keep it.
  4. Encourage participation in meetings/activities. This is best done though example. Be a champion and identify/grow champions that you see naturally emerge in the CoPs.

Some argue that CoPs need to be allowed to develop organically by the members/participants and too much organisation and control can kill them off. What are your views on this? How much support and/or control do you advise organisations to offer, to get the most benefit from CoPs?

In my experience, you can’t rely exclusively on the organic nature of CoPs. The need for a CoP can (and often does) develop organically, and same for the content/focus of the CoP as it evolves. However, without purposeful leadership (e.g., a few champions willing to take on the administrative tasks of running the CoP) they can easily lose momentum and fizzle out. To get the most out of a CoP, I would encourage organizations to offer hosting support, and where possible administrative-type responsibilities (e.g., send out e-mails, doodle polls, booking rooms, acquiring catering, etc). With solid back-end support, CoPs can flourish.

Do you have any other practical tips for those working in knowledge and learning, to improve the flow of knowledge around their organisations through communities and conversation?

My main tip would be to walk-the-walk. If you’re looking for people to share knowledge openly, you must lead by example. Make yourself vulnerable – humans have a need for reciprocity, so you’ll see that same vulnerability mimicked and passed back to the group. Also, it helps to be a network leader or matchmaker. Knowing the members in the CoP, their issues, and who they might be able to work with (or learn from) is a valuable task that is often overlooked (i.e., be a connector).

What’s next for you and where can we find out more about your other interests?

I’ve been very interested in un-learning and de-implementation as of late. It seems that it’s relatively easy to teach an old dog new tricks, but virtually impossible to un-teach it a trick it already knows. So I may start learning more about this emerging field.

If you want to keep up with me, add me on LinkedIn and/or Twitter (@DrSzt), or visit my infrequently updated website I’m also continually teaching the Certificate in Knowledge Mobilization, and would love to see more diverse audiences learn about Knowledge Mobilization! 

Thanks very much for sharing your experiences, Travis, much appreciated!

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, follow the blog using the button at the top right or sign up for the busy person’s roughly monthly round-up of interesting stuff.

Posted in collaboration, knowledge-sharing, networks | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Knowledge sharing in liminal spaces

I’m delighted to welcome Ian Rodwell, Head of Client Knowledge and Learning at Linklaters, to Knowledge4Lawyers. Ian provides training and guidance to the firm’s clients – global corporates, banks, governments – on an extensive range of business skills topics. Ian is also undertaking part-time doctoral research at City University on the role of liminal space in organisational storytelling, which he has kindly agreed to tell us more about.

Ian Rodwell

  • Hi Ian, tell me a bit about your research into knowledge sharing in liminal spaces. To start with, what is a liminal space and what kind of knowledge sharing occurs there?

Essentially, my doctoral research explores where in our organisations people tell stories — and to what extent storytelling might be drawn to the liminal spaces in our organisations. So what do I mean by liminal spaces? Well, originating in the world of anthropology, liminal refers to the middle stage in a rite of passage. It’s a ‘betwixt and between’ phase of uncertainty, ambiguity but also one of possibility, creativity and transgression. As a concept, it spread across multiple academic disciplines, including that of organisational studies. When we apply it to space, it means those mundane, overlooked, marginal or border spaces. So, in organisations, think of those spaces that we don’t usually associate with the core work of the business. For instance, corridors, toilets, lifts, stairways, receptions, smoking areas outside the building, kitchens, cafés etc. These are rarely the spaces that feature on corporate websites but they may be more important than we assume.

The basis for my research is that there’s been comparatively little research on the spatial aspects of organisational storytelling. But, if we ascribe a value to storytelling in terms of the work it performs, surely we should be paying attention to where it takes place? And if it does involve these liminal spaces — spaces ‘that hide in plain sight’ — perhaps it may encourage us to view them in a different, more valued light.

  • What is it about this topic that particularly interests you?

I think I’ve always been interested in stories — and by stories, I mean those informal examples and anecdotes that emerge in everyday conversations — and how we use them to learn and share knowledge. My dad started work on his grandfather’s farm in Suffolk when he was fourteen and I loved to hear his tales of the old boys, the horses they worked with and also the stories he’d heard — some stretching back generations. It was clear such stories were used to diagnose and solve problems, share farming knowledge, let off steam and provide an understanding of ‘how we do things around here’. And I don’t think it’s any different now as it was then. Muddy field or state of the art office building. People still tell stories.

  • What did you find in the initial stages of your research?

So, my first phase research has been relatively small scale and was designed to explore my initial assumptions and test my chosen methodology. Working with two contrasting organisations, a professional services firm and a chartered institute, I asked my participants to take photographs of the five spaces where they heard the most and the best organisational stories.

The photographs I received were almost exclusively of what could, in some shape or form, be defined as liminal spaces. I was intrigued by how many were outside the main office: a corner where smokers gathered, the pub, a pavement where a group walked to the get their lunch, the train journey home, the streets where people went for a team run, an annual summer BBQ at a colleague’s home. Another thing that struck me was what people were learning from the stories. Much of the knowledge shared derived from personal and non-work stories. But rather than viewing this as inconsequential and trivial, my participants suggested that such stories performed valuable work by improving team performance through building rapport, engendering trust and developing relationships. As one observed, such stories help in revealing the ‘real’ person behind the corporate mask.

  • How was your research affected by Covid-19 and what does that mean for knowledge sharing in the “new normal” that everyone keeps talking about?

I was fortunate that my initial research concluded pre-Covid. But, as I had asked people to take photographs excluding people (it made the ethical approval easier!), they now unwittingly stand as an unsettling portent of what many workspaces were to become through lockdown: spaces empty and absent of life.

Less fancifully, one characteristic identified from the research was the importance of neutral spaces or those that were on the border between different groups. Spaces, as one participant put it, ‘of gatherings and paths crossing’. A great example is a communal kitchen where different groups randomly mix. Such serendipitous encounters have long been recognised as a source of innovative problem-solving (indeed in a recent speech, Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, spoke of serendipity as the ‘cradle of creativity’). And, I was struck, from the early days of lockdown, how many webinars, articles, blogs etc. referred to the loss of these random ‘corridor collisions’ and how vital they were for swapping ideas, learning stuff and generally building relationships. It was if the world had suddenly woken up to how important these activities were! And, of course, as people quickly found out you can’t really do serendipity through Zoom, Teams and WebEx.

So, I think stories are still being told (and therefore knowledge is still flowing) but not, I suspect, to the extent they were. Working remotely, everything becomes more structured and scheduled which acts, I believe, as a bit of a straitjacket on informal interaction. It happens but it’s harder and, this is a personal view, it’s more emotionally 2-D than 3-D.

  • As a result of your findings, what tips do you have for those working in knowledge and learning in the legal sector, to improve the flow of knowledge around their organisations?

I think we have — perhaps! — quite a narrow view of KM in the legal sector. The focus, and quite rightly I guess, is more on the formal, systems side. However, I have always been more drawn to the ‘dark side’ of KM — what ISO 30402 on KM refers to as the ‘co-creation of knowledge flows through conversations and interactions’ (hence, the interest in stories). I think this side of KM is more problematic as this is knowledge that eludes formal capture and collation. So, the focus becomes more one of nurturing the environment and culture in which knowledge flows can more easily occur. I see this as the border zone — or perhaps the liminal space! — between KM and learning and organisational design. Consequently, we should reflect more carefully about physical space in our firms —does it facilitate interaction and interactivity? Do we purposefully create liminal spaces that encourage ‘lingering’ and informal conversations? And, in case anyone thinks that’s a bit ‘fluffy’, that’s exactly how businesses like Apple and Google design their buildings (although Steve Job was, apparently, persuaded not to put all the toilets on one floor!). Like law firms, they essentially sell knowledge and recognise that material space has a strong influence on how that knowledge is created.

Also, as I have found, the knowledge created and exchanged is not just transactional and related to pure work projects. The personal insights we gain about each other are actually key in developing the social capital that facilitates the transfer of more formal knowledge.

  • What advice do you have for anyone reading this who would like to start a research project related to knowledge or learning inside their firm?

I guess I should stress that my research to date has been part of my doctoral research at City University, so it is independent of (but invariably informs) my work at Linklaters. That caveat aside, I would definitely encourage people to do their own research. As well as providing me with a unique source of data to analyse and interpret, it has helped me be more reflective about the research I come across in articles, books etc. (and to be more aware of its context — objectives, sample size, research methods etc.). So, go for it!

  • What’s next for you?

I am finalising the report based on my initial research and then I will be planning the next stage. And I think Covid has presented an opportunity to explore the extent to which organisational storytelling has survived in this new world; the spaces to which it has migrated; and the nature of the work it now performs. Lots still to do…

  • Where can we find out more about your research?

If you’d like to know more about the world of liminal spaces (with a bit of organisational stuff thrown in), I suggest you visit my blog — or follow me on twitter — @liminalnarrate.

If you find this topic interesting, Ian will be the practitioner keynote speaker at the online Knowledge Mobilisation Forum in March 2021 (one of the conferences that I help to organise). You can find out more information here.

Posted in knowledge-sharing, networks | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment