The American Society of Mechanical Engineers asked us to think about knowledge transfer. ASME had observed that many member corporations are losing valuable knowledge and expertise as senior engineers and scientists retire. So we produced a paper as food for thought. In the process we identified key issues, concepts and challenges for designing a knowledge transfer initiative.

After some initial research and thinking on the fundamental issues, we proposed a four-step process: 1) Break down the barriers to knowledge transfer; 2) Identify the key conditions for success; 3) Explore multiple approaches; and 4) Build a platform for greatest utility.

Knowledge-Transfer-NexusWe began with three questions. What compels one to volunteer their knowledge and expertise? What are the ways we can make contributing easy? How can we frame the knowledge for the greatest utility? We then identified the fundamental elements integral for gathering and sharing knowledge and expertise. These elements, when combined, create a nexus where it is easy to contribute, access and edit information.

Information must be relevant, fill a vacuum or a need for specific knowledge. Information must also be accessible, easy to contribute as well as easy to share and use. Further, there must be motivation – an incentive to contribute, such as enjoyment, pride and/or convenience.

However, people absorb information in different ways. Our suggestion is to address different learning styles from three perspectives: Storytelling, Learning and Gaming.

Storytelling can take many forms. At its simplest, a speech or presentation by a respected expert would meet the conditions for success. Whether live, on video or online, the presentation output will make relevant content accessible.

Learning frames content in a more formal way for those who respond to ongoing learning such as the certification process provides. This perspective concentrates on collecting content in smaller and more digestible chunks for easier contribution and accessibility. Employing existing technologies, content could be organized and tagged by users inherently looking for common relationships, resulting in a very robust information archive.

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Gaming provides participants with four ingredients that foster engagement, according to research by Jane McGonigal, PhD. Those ingredients are satisfying work, real hope for success, strong social connections and a chance to become part of something larger. Imagine an experience that delivers the aforementioned ingredients to knowledge transfer by activating practices of gaming!

Finally we suggest creating a knowledge transfer platform. This approach would allow the initiative to proceed slowly with minimum investment, one tool at a time. Resources could be developed over time to meet the varying needs of general audiences. The platform direction also allows technological flexibility in tools and resources while catering to needs of groups and/or individuals.

We don’t have all the answers but our thinking around this challenge is intended to be a part of the discussion. Many organizations facing this challenge have created strategies to address the issue – hiring back retirees, mentoring programs and on the job training programs, to name a few. Knowledge transfer is a key issue.

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