5.12 Knowledge Reuse

5.12 Knowledge Reuse

          In previous sections, we have discussed how knowledge is identified, created, organized, and shared. These aspects were discussed from a broad perspective, relevant to both knowledge creation and knowledge sharing. In this section, we will look at knowledge reuse and discuss the different managerial challenges focusing primarily on the explicit and tacit knowledge.

          Markus (2001) has defined the knowledge reuse process in terms of four stages:

  • Capturing or documenting knowledge,
  • Packaging knowledge for reuse,
  • Distributing or disseminating knowledge (providing people with access to it), and
  • Reusing knowledge.

          He explained that capturing and documenting knowledge can occur in at least four ways:

  • Documenting can be a largely passive by-product of the work process, as when virtual teams or communities of practice automatically generate archives of their informal electronic communication that can later be searched.
  • Documenting knowledge for potential reuse can occur within a structure such as that provided by facilitators using brainstorming techniques, perhaps mediated by the use of information technology, a knowledge sharing process, appropriate incentives, process facilitation, etc.
  • Documenting can involve creating (pre)structured records (for example, of technical support interventions) as part of a deliberate, before-the-fact knowledge reuse strategy.
  • Documentation can involve a deliberate, after-the-fact strategy of filtering, indexing, packaging, and sanitizing knowledge for later reuse, as in the creation of learning histories, consultants’ “Power Packs”, expert help files, or the creation of a data warehouse.

          According to him, packaging knowledge is the process of culling, cleaning and polishing, structuring, formatting, and/or indexing documents against a classification scheme. Among the activities involved in knowledge packaging are:

  • authoring knowledge content,
  • codifying knowledge into “knowledge objects” by adding context,
  •  developing local knowledge into “boundary objects” by deleting context,
  • filtering and pruning content, and
  • developing classification schemes.

          He argues that distributing knowledge can be passive, such as publishing a newsletter or populating a repository for users to browse, or active, such as convening an “After Action Review” meeting or “pushing” knowledge via an electronic alert to those who need to know. He has mentioned a variety of facilitation activities for knowledge dissemination, such as assessing knowledge reuse needs, helping the intended users use knowledge and/or knowledge management tools in appropriate ways, helping organizations understand the need to adopt newly codified best practices, and facilitating the development of internal or external communities (Markus, 2001).

          Explaining reusing knowledge process he emphasized to involve both recall (that information has been stored, in what location, under what index or classification scheme) and recognition (that the information meets the users’ needs, as well as actually applying the knowledge). He further explained that the use of human expertise involves both the identification of experts in a subject matter and the selection of the expert most appropriate for a particular query, as well as query, response and application of the results. He has argued that sometimes knowledge reuse involves the systematic secondary analysis of records created for very different purposes, which is often called data mining. Therefore the reusing          knowledge phase may consist of four different activities:

  • Defining the search question. This step is essential for successful reuse.
  • Search for, and location of, experts or expertise.
  • Selection of an appropriate expert or of expert advice from the results of the search.
  • Applying the knowledge, which may involve analysis of general principles against a specific situation—a process sometimes called “recontextualization” of knowledge that was decontextualized when it was captured and codified (Markus, 2001).         

           Markus (2001) has identified three roles which directly influence knowledge reuse process:

  • Knowledge producer: The original creator of the knowledge
  • Knowledge intermediary: The one who packages and prepares the knowledge so that it may be stored, retrieved, and shared. This may involve any number of functions such as indexing, categorization, standardizing, publishing, mapping, etc.
  • Knowledge consumer: The person who is the recipient and user of the knowledge in question.

           As Markus points out, these three functions may involve different people or they may all be done by the same person. e.g. knowledge reuse by a person accessing the documented research of someone in a different part of the organization requires that the producer created the documents, that either he/she or someone else prepared them so that they may be understood and retrieved, and that the knowledge consumer retrieved and used it. In other words the roles were filled by two or three people and the process included explicit knowledge capturing and sharing across the organization. Alternatively, in another scenario someone may want to use his/her own documentation later on. This process involves just one person in all three roles and the only function performed is capturing the knowledge in a way that will allow retrieval at a later point.

           We would add that for tacit knowledge, the role of intermediary could be defined as the expert himself/herself - since he/she must presents the knowledge (through practice and socialization) in a useable format to his/her student, team mates, etc. It may also fall upon the person who identified this expert and made it possible for others to reach him/her, e.g. if a knowledge manager creates an expert profile for publishing on the intranet; this way, the knowledge manager creates an explicit account of what the expert knows rather than promoting externalization of the knowledge itself.

          Fruchter and Demian (2002) identify two very general types of knowledge reuse:

  • Internal: Where the knowledge producer uses his own knowledge at some future point.
  • External: Where the knowledge consumer uses someone else's knowledge.

          They point out that the latter has a much higher failure rate for reasons as it includes the loss of contextual knowledge and information, and knowledge that is not properly captured due to the costs involved.

           A more detailed framework for knowledge reuse is offered by Markus (2001) who identifies four knowledge reuse situations.

  • Shared Work Producers: People working in teams producing knowledge for their own reuse. They are closest in knowledge-distance. They generally will have a good understanding of what they need and where to find it (including both documents and experts). Knowledge reuse will however be harder within cross functional teams. Markus also warns that the rationale for the decision making is often forgotten. They need knowledge about how/what/why it was done, what improvements could be made.
  • Shared Work Practitioners: People who perform similar work in different settings (e.g. same position in different locations). Knowledge is produced for someone else to use. Defining the knowledge needs is usually easy, as is locating the right experts within the network. Basically, they need to know how to do something or why something works.
  • Expertise-Seeking Novices: People who seek out knowledge they do not normally work with. They are furthest in knowledge-distance. They have great difficulty "defining the questions, locating and judging, the quality of the knowledge sources, and applying the expertise."
  • Miners Secondary Knowledge:People who try to find knowledge in work produced in different contexts, so as to apply it in other situations. The knowledge and context of the consumer may be very different to the producer. The main challenge here is defining the question. Often requires complex search algorithms which are hard to create (such as those used in text searching and data mining).

          In addition following aspects have also be considered when planning knowledge reuse :

  • Cost: The time and money require for organizing, packaging, store, and retrieving the knowledge. This is particularly true in the cases when tacit knowledge is externalized into explicit knowledge such as documents. A great deal of cost is associated with capturing context (something that is often impossible) and with preparing the document for retrieval. Even with IT, the latter includes categorization, summarizing, use of metadata,  etc. Content management is also necessary to check language and presentation, and also to keep the repositories relevant and up to date. The cost associated with the reuse of tacit knowledge involves setting up the right circumstances for it to take place e.g. teams, mentoring, teaching, projects, etc. as well as the systems that support communication and expertise location.
  • Specific requirements of specific individuals and groups: management must be aware of the different requirements, and support each situation accordingly. Although the literature on knowledge reuse focuses largely on organizing, presenting, and retrieving explicit knowledge, the importance of socialization and informal networks which serve as the backbone of the sharing of rich tacit knowledge cannot be undermine.

          On his website Alan Frost has made following recommendations for knowledge reuse:

  • Shared work producers: For explicit knowledge, try to maintain context; pay attention to indexing, categorization, and other search related functions; document rationale behind the knowledge. For cross-functional teams assign a generalist to bring the knowledge together and to ensure consistency. For tacit knowledge support communication and informal networks (e.g. between former team members). For cross-functional teams, use the generalist to help define non-codified tacit expertise with individual team members. Record this expertise together with the individual team roles.
  • Shared work practitioners: If explicit, decontextualize knowledge and provide all relevant information regarding indexing, searching, and relevance. Use knowledge push to make potential recipients aware of it. For tacit knowledge, create the right situations for socialization, e.g. teamwork, projects, informal communication, etc. Use IT as an expertise locater and communication support, but understand its limitations in tacit knowledge transfer.
  • Expertise-seeking novices, recommendations: For explicit knowledge decontextualize knowledge but support re-contextualization in the context used by the novice. For both knowledge types, try to codify the contents of the knowledge source e.g. by defining the content of a document or the knowledge of an expert. Provide awareness training. For tacit knowledge do as for shared work practitioners.
  • Miners Secondary Knowledge: Record context information such as metadata. Provide relevant training regarding knowledge, data, and information repositories, as well as analysis and search techniques. Implement IT systems that match the needs of the consumer e.g. data mining and analysis tools, text mining tools, etc.
  • Willingness: Both to package knowledge on the part of the producer or to seek it out on the part of the consumer. This brings us back to issues like culture, which promote knowledge reuse and knowledge sharing. The cultural aspect will be dealt with in the section on organizational culture change.

          Just to sum up this topic we will conclude that someone has to produce knowledge, someone has to make this knowledge available, and someone has to search for and use this knowledge. This implies not just the capability, but also the willingness to share, to search, to retrieve and to reuse knowledge.


Footnotes