For many organizations, an intranet, sales or customer portal is about having a place to display information of relevance. What if these online portals can create a connected base of expertise that organizations can tap to improve performance, as needed?
There's an ongoing debate about the difference between information and knowledge. In the past, online initiatives have been about making information available. However, that information is only as rich as it's presentation. In other words, how often does it change to keep up with market, industry and company changes? How do insights in practice get applied to the information available on a portal?
By creating a database of "experts" and giving them the interactive tools to connect to each other at the right time, you can improve and extend the knowledge of your organization beyond traditional boundaries. The idea is to create "communities of practice" by connecting people to those who can help them learn what they need to know to be more effective in real-time situations.
Creating a portal as a community, whether it is internal (intranet), goal-specifc (sales portal) or reaching outward (customer portal) is one way to start. But, it's not about just the exchange of information. It's about connecting expertise that can be useful. Which isn't easy. A community effort needs facilitation to generate participation. This is not an "if you build it, they will come" situation.
In an article, The Craft of Connection, by Tim Laseter and Rob Cross, they state, "People participate because they see value. Experts get recognition. As time goes by and people in the community start to know each other, they develop reciprocity. An individual in need today may be tomorrow’s expert providing the knowledge to help solve a problem. Gradually, we see much higher trust, and the community changes from the mode of ‘getting the right information to the right person at the right time’ to truly start building on each other’s ideas to find a solution to a problem. In other words, that’s when we start creating knowledge.”
They talk about using "natural brokers," the natural leaders that people gravitate to for information. These people usually have more connections throughout your organization than others. They are the ones who can help boost participation and be proactive in helping others make connections.
"...the greatest challenge in the world of intelligence gathering occurs not in data collection, but in making the connections that generate insight. A poorly connected intelligence community has a lower chance of turning data into useful knowledge..."
By creating a knowledge base of experts, your organization can begin to share the insights that are useful in obtaining strategic objectives. Give each person a profile. Include their picture. Also include a few professional details that help people who don't know them personally engage them in conversation more easily. Have each person select from a keyword database that will help others find them when their expertise, insights and opinions can help with a problem, project or innovation.
Use your natural leaders to facilitate discussion forum topics and encourage others to submit thoughts, comments and even articles about related issues they are passionate about.
If you are skeptical about the impact of establishing communities of practice, read the article. Some of the achievements companies have made are tremendous. The way to achieve improvements of scale through interactive expertise portals is to facilitate participation. If you don't connect the people in a meaningful way, then you'll have an information portal. Somehow, I think having an active community of practice portal leads to greater effectiveness and to a better experience.