The Knowledge Jam has been implemented at Intel, Fidelity, Hitachi Data Systems, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and several other large and small organizations. Facilitators select subjects (such as investment sectors, customer segments, or application suites) with Knowledge Jam sponsors (such as budget managers). Next, facilitators draft an agenda that incorporates representatives from the veteran teams (known as "knowledge originators") and those responsible for undertaking future investments (known as "knowledge brokers").
Facilitators convene members of both groups in a 90-minute "Jam session." The facilitator sets the tone, draws out participants' comments and opinions, and captures and validates ideas in real-time, using projection tools like Webex, LiveMeeting or GotoMeeting. Knowledge brokers then step up and take the knowledge into their planning or practices, and continue to network with the originators.
A Knowledge Jam session falls somewhere between a brainstorm and a panel discussion. What's unique is that the conversation is directed toward a specific target application. Unlike typical knowledge-transfer methods, such as After Action Reviews and white papers, the Jam is not about capturing content for a repository, on the speculation that it could be relevant to some future unidentified user. Rather, the focus is on informing projects, processes, products, or organization structures while they are in flight or on the drawing board. It also differs from social forums, where ideas and threads are fleeting. In a Knowledge Jam, the hard-core application of the ideas is part of the process.
Knowledge Jam Disciplines
The three disciplines of the knowledge Jam are:
Facilitation. The facilitator helps select, plan, and coordinate the Knowledge Jam process, getting parties together, helping plan the agenda, providing quality control, and, most importantly, setting a tone of curiosity and respect for the conversation - a tone which invites greater flow of ideas and exploration of their applications. Facilitators model and reward respectful, open inquiry, and discourage defensive, criticizing or protective attitudes.
Conversation. A conversation between those who've run or implemented projects or programs (and even their customers) with those who are shaping, scoring and rationalizing future investments brings out nuance that would never have made it into traditional documentation. Conversation brings out context. That is, the connective material between the facts, hunches, decisions, rationales, or any of the messy stuff that makes up the art of working in IT.
Translation. Involvement by brokers throughout the Jam gives them a sense of ownership. They re-mix the ideas for their context (e.g., their division, country, project or application). Translation could result in a new project template, a design spec, critical budget line items, or even a marketing protocol. Brokers use change management strategies and collaboration or social media technology (e.g., community sites, Wikis and microblogs) to ensure that the resulting knowledge gets built out, used, and amplified, and that it doesn't stagnate in a repository.
These three disciplines work together to ensure the right content and people are involved, valuable insights rise to the surface, and knowledge gets put to work across cycles of IT investment planning. The facilitation, conversation, and translation disciplines on which Knowledge Jam is founded are valuable dimensions of any planning culture. Facilitation is about matchmaking or boundary-spanning, similar to the idea of "listening posts." Conversation is about being open to the possibility of serendipitous learning - the notion that one team's cost overruns could inform another team's positioning. Finally, translation is kind of stewardship. That is, having the perseverance and garnering the executive support to drive lessons learned into future projects.
This article was originally published on 08-25-2011