Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Knowledge Cafe

Organizations employ different strategies to manage knowledge and these strategies depends on the type of the organization, type of the knowledge, complexity and uncertainty involved in the organizations decision making. More likely the KM in complex and uncertain situations can be solved by conducting a business meeting or organizational workshop called as ‘Knowledge cafe’, which has been popularized in the recent years by David Gurteen , a UK-based consultant specializing in knowledge management.

As the name suggests it is a place where people share their ideas and get a deeper idea of the topic under discussion. It is not only a group talk but also involves bringing different people together to raise a creative conversation on some topic to answer different issues. The main objective of the knowledge cafe is to share one’s own views, to develop an understanding of the complex issues and to make the members conscious about different topics. By providing opportunities for people to move in several rounds of conversations, ideas questions and themes begin to link and connect and at the end of the conversation common theme emerge to start. This benefits the organization knowledge in decision making process, managing different ideas or strategies to answer in the unbiased situations and also helps in inculcating new ideas about different issues in each individual.

Knowledge cafe is ideal and most effective between 10 to 15 members and needs some kind of media (video or audio) to monitor and control the flow of conversation if it exceeds more than that. In this business meeting, a simple technique is used in a variety of ways to bring people together called as ‘Speed Networking’. This is intended to get to know each other before getting to start the conversation.

Usually no attempts are made to capture the information as doing so tends to destroy the conversation. The importance of cafe lays in the conversation itself and the information that each individual takes away after the conversation. So, there is no meaning in interfering in the conversation just to capture it. In some circumstances it makes sense to capture the conversation from the café depending on its purpose but this should be done with a minimal interference to the dynamic ongoing conversation.

A simple way to set up a knowledge cafe is as follows:

Preparation: - Identify the good facilitator-someone who can encourage participation
Choose a topic (complex) and invite the interested participants
Create comfortable environment- some good interactive environment

During Knowledge Cafe: - The facilitator should introduce the concept, any code of conduct that applies to the topic and finally the question
Participants should arrange themselves into groups and share their knowledge and experience without interpretation.

After a Knowledge Cafe: -The real value of a knowledge cafe is what people take away with them in their heads, and the new connections they have made with people.
Specifically employed knowledge cafe can solve the major problems of knowledge management like:

1) Helps in getting insight into the complex issues
2) Flushing out the problems and issues in a department or project especially that arises due to the lack of communication that can then be acted on and resolved.
3) improve inter-personal relationship and thus ability to work together effectively
4) a tacit transfer mechanism between young and retiring workers
5) jointly develop a policy document e.g. a code of practice (done in conjunction with say a wiki)

Though the word Knowledge Cafe looks new, I can relate my childhood schooling experiences of knowledge sharing in the same way. When I was in my schooling, we used to have lot of group discussions on different ongoing topics around the world like politics, sports, and technical issues etc which are intended for developing communication skills and at the same time educating the students. Here the teacher or lecturer acts as a facilitator who raises a topic and guides through the discussion. The students are divided into small groups and each group gets a chance to speak about the ongoing issue and will share their own opinions about the topic under discussion. This way, I have learned about so many topics in my schooling apart from developing consciousness about so many issues in the national and international frontier. I, now see the knowledge cafe as a business context to what we used go through to communicate and share the knowledge in the school days but as a organizational knowledge management strategy

Conclusion: - Knowledge cafes are intended for maximizing knowledge sharing throughout an organization. In effect knowledge cafe is an easy, efficient and low cost solution for sharing and managing organizational knowledge. It also helps developing innovative ideas and acquiring new understanding of the complex issues by facilitating merging of different ideas and work cultures

1)Improvement and Development Agency for local government(I&DeA) (last accessed on 31st march)
2)How to run a knowledge cafe-by David Gurteen (last accessed on 31st march)
3) Essentials media-Gurteen Knowledge cafe Masterclass (last accessed on 1st April)

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