Capturing and implementing undocumented knowledge
Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) takes on the problems presented by the loss of experienced workers.
The elicited knowledge should be formatted and packaged in a knowledge module. A knowledge module is explicit knowledge related to a specific task, activity, job, etc., that is retrievable when needed after having been elicited from an expert; evaluated, edited, and formatted to be in a form usable by others; and stored in electronic and/or hard-copy form.
There are at least two issues to consider when preparing knowledge modules. One issue relates to the use of the expert knowledge: Is it going to be incorporated with other material used by those receiving the information, or is it going to be used in standalone fashion? For example, the expert knowledge could be incorporated into a training class together with other training material. Alternatively, the expert knowledge could be linked to a step in a procedure, automatically appearing when it is time to perform that step. An example of standalone use involves a person in the field who inserts a CD-ROM in a laptop computer to receive guidance on how to perform a task, either just before or during task performance.
A second issue relates to the characteristics of the person using the knowledge module. If that person is not expected to be familiar with some of the technical terminology used or with the location of parts or tools discussed by the expert, then additional information may be required.
The knowledge modules must be stored appropriately and in accessible locations. Their existence must somehow be made obvious to potential users at the critical time that the knowledge should be accessed, and they must be presented in a timely fashion when needed.
It is essential that the knowledge modules be updated and corrected as appropriate. Changes will occur in equipment, processes, procedures, practices, regulations, and responsibilities over time. For a knowledge module to be useful over an extended period, it must be updated. Also, with use, some of the knowledge may be found to be incorrect. It is essential that the errors be eliminated and correct information provided. Knowledge modules that no longer have value should be eliminated.
No Right or Wrong Methods
The process of capturing valuable undocumented knowledge hinges on the development of an effective plan. It is important to determine whether potentially valuable undocumented knowledge will be lost with unavailability of experienced personnel; evaluate whether this knowledge is worth capturing; select appropriate method(s) to use in eliciting knowledge; and store, retrieve, and present this knowledge when needed.
The importance of each of these steps does not, however, imply that there is a right or wrong knowledge elicitation method or set of methods. The choice depends on a range of considerations, some of which may not come into play until knowledge elicitation is under way.
For example, the knowledge elicitor may find that an elicitation method not considered or selected during planning may be more appropriate for the type of knowledge used by the expert. In such instances, it may prove desirable to revise the plan as the knowledge elicitation moves forward. Thus, understanding and access to a range of methods, and the flexibility to alter methods being used or planned, will result in greater benefit from the knowledge capture endeavor.
The findings of this project have important implications for the way in which organizations manage data and information. Just as some valuable knowledge is stored only in the minds of experts, some valuable information and data may not be collected, adequately stored, easily accessible, or usable when accessed.
Strategic work in the rapidly developing fields of data, information, and knowledge management is exploring these challenges and helping identify solutions. By providing approaches, tools, and capabilities for optimizing management of human and facility performance, the Undocumented Knowledge Project and the EPRI Strategic Human Performance Program focus on helping energy companies maximize the long-term value of the data and information that they generate and the human capital that they develop and manage.
This work was performed as part of the EPRI Strategic Human Performance Program. Papers were presented at IEEE Seventh Conference on Human Factors and Power Plants, September 15-19.
Madeleine Gross is manager, strategic human performance program, and Lewis Hanes is project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). Thomas Ayres
, human factors consultant, works with EPRI on several projects.