4.9 Technologies and the tacit dimension continued
4.9.1 Stories for sharing tacit/informal knowledge
Once war stories have been told, the stories are artefacts to circulate and preserve. Through them, experience becomes reproducible and reusable.
[War stories] preserve and circulate hard-won information within the community.
We all recognise that stories are one of the most natural and compelling ways to exchange experiences. Many commentators have noted the important place that stories hold in every culture, ancient and modern; humans from the earliest age seem to be ‘wired’ to share them. Stories, or ‘narrative forms’, have been the subject of research interest in cultural anthropology and literature, and in cognitive psychology and organisational studies.
As stories are an essential process by which culture and knowledge are shared among staff, the obvious question arises regarding their potential for managing knowledge.
If a veteran member of staff leaves, they take with them their accrued wealth of stories. Is it possible to provide technologies that would make it easy to record stories?
One of the simplest technologies that has been used for sharing stories is basic voice contact. Orr (1986, 1990a) has described how field service engineers (in this case photocopier engineers) used radios to consult colleagues when facing difficult problems (today it would more likely be mobile cellphones). This relatively mundane but highly effective technology enabled them to continue the exchange of ‘war stories’ that Orr found to lie at the heart of the engineers’ conversations when they met face-to-face. Translating this to a broader context, we should not forget that the telephone, especially with the availability of mobile phones, may be one of the most potent knowledge-sharing technologies. Box 4.7 describes how this pioneering work inspired a follow-on system.
Box 4.7 From field stories to a community memory system
Orr's study of storytelling among service technicians led Xerox to implement the Eureka project, in which stories are shared electronically. Technicians are motivated to share stories through the recognition they gain within their community of practice. Xerox report more than 5,000 ‘tips’ being posted per month, 15 per cent being ‘validated’ and adopted by the company, and a 10 per cent improvement in costs (Cross, 1998). Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Eureka is not in fact the technology, but the system's design process in which service technicians were heavily involved.
More recent developments suggest a role for digital audio/video-based tools in supporting the personal, social nature of storytelling. Easy access to such media enables staff to reflect on a project or relate their experiences with a particular problem or client. Projects can capture recollections of key points and lessons learned as indexed, digital video clips which can be easily navigated and subsequently annotated. Screen 5 is from a prototype multimedia environment which allows the end-user to browse a project history and the lessons learned. It is fair to say, however, that such multimedia archives are still relatively rare. ‘Low tech’ is often better for wide dissemination, and Box 4.8 describes a successful initiative which uses a paper/web magazine format.
Screen 5, above, is from a ‘project story’ CD-ROM produced by a design team as a group memory and organisational learning resource. Members of staff reflect on what they thought the key lessons were. With the right authoring tools and framework, this kind of multimedia resource can be created rapidly (Carey et al., 1998). Note that the user may browse the storybase from the different perspectives of team members (the photos), or via the project timeline (foot of screen), with tools to write personal notes and reflect on how they did things (icons in right margin)