Enterprise Reciprocal Knowledge Exchange Networks

Echanges de savoirsIn brief: Reciprocal Knowledge Exchange Networks  are a means to meet a the same time the need for peer-to-peer and managed learning. A book tels us why and how the French Postal Services (La Poste) has made it work for the last 5 years.

I recently mentioned Enterprise Reciprocal Knowledge Exchange Networks as a good complement to traditional learning approaches. This post aims at going further into details through a book and a return of experience. The book (unfortunately only in french) is titled  Echanges réciproques de savoirs en entreprise : Un réseau au service de l’entreprise responsable (Enterprise Reciprocal Knowledge Exchange Networks : a network for responsible businesses) by Maryannick and Michel Van Den Abeele who tells us of they’ve made it work for the last five years at the french postal services (Groupe La Poste)

That’s a really interesting experience because it shows how much it matters to find the right balance between organizing and loosing control. As a matter of fact everybody agrees that efficient knowledge sharing needs implies a direct connection between a knowledge owner and someone who needs it, most of times about niche knowledge, but there’s a common assumption that offering the right technologies to make things happen is enough to trigger the whole system. What seldom happens even when effort is made on community management.

 

Reciprocal Knowledge Exchange Networks and Social Responsibility

Before going further, let’s remind the benefits of such approaches. As for what’s about knowledge sharing and transmission, it’s already been dealt with in the above mentioned post. Another interesting point even if seldom highlighted is that such approaches also relates to social responsibility programs. Employability challenges and the risk of generating exclusion in a knowledge economy where knowledge should be seen as a common good are as many social benefits brought by an approach which impact on economy and productivity can’t be questioned.

As told by their names, reciprocal knowledge exchange networks are networks which members commit to being both knowledge givers and takers. The notion of reciprocity is key to make the system work. Each member tells what he can give and would like to learn, connections are made, and the exchange takes place. But no one can enter the network stating he has nothing to give but lots to learn or nothing to learn and lots to give.

So, at first sight, there’s nothing more “2.0” or “social”. Not exactly. The approach put at work by Maryannick Van Den Abeele at La Poste shows us how to be successful when technology is not enough to facilitate things. In other words : bringing people together on platforms that can be as easy to use as possible, community proliferation and intensive community management are not enough to meet the expected results. And contrary to the idealistic vision according to which social networks prevent businesses from building a structured program, the experience of reciprocal knowledge exchanges at La Poste shows that things happen when the right tool meets the right structured approach.

An initiative that brings social and needs for structure together.

As a matter of fact, reciprocal knowledge exchange networks are structured initiatives. Membership application, formalization of a knowledge offer and request and a posteriori evaluation follow a tool and structured process. And if a kind of community/network management is needed it’s more to help people understand the system and follow the steps than to make them generate content as we can see too often. Management is about the system, not communities.

And it works. In a measurable and measured way (still another myth that dies hard). Satisfaction rate, risk management (because there are risks) and goals met : everything is tracked, observed, measured. The practical, operational and usable nature of the exchanged knowledge is what is key to assess.

And what about technology ? We could imagine a state-of-the-art social network but there’s nothing like that. It rather works like a linking site. Offers and requests, givers and takers. Once the connection is made a meeting is scheduled and the rest happens in real life.

Technology is second behind the system and its values

All of this seem to confirm that for most employees :

– technology only makes sense when it serves a purpose.

– it’s easier to engage in a face to face meeting or call than to start a public conversation with and in front of strangers.

– the more there’s a structured system guaranteeing the result and a process that guides people to their goal the more people will be likely to experiment new practices.

Moreover the retunr of experience is eloquent : beyond a structured approaches that reassures and facilitates, most of the job is about people and trust. Trust in content, in others, in the system that gets them off the beaten tracks. It’s necessary for the system to scale. Technology comes after.

And guess what ? At La Poste, learning that happens within the reciprocal knowledge exchange network are counted as proximity learning sessions in the official learning program. It’s not apart from the official learning system but it’s a part of it. When I say that social should become official and structural

In conclusion, that’s a very complete book on the economic and social role of knowledge in our society, the need to appropriate ways to share and transmit it, illustrated by a very well documented case.