5 Instances When It’s Safe to Rely on KM Community Instead of an Expert

Carla O'Dell's picture

Senior technical experts can be in short supply, especially if your organization has lots of projects underway. New employees and novices may not know where to turn or may be reluctant to bother or look stupid in front of an expert. One way to cope with a shortage of experts is to appeal to the members of your network for help.

Technical communities of practice can be a wonderful alternative, but not always. When is it safe to use a community of practice or technical network to help with a problem or answer a question?

1.       When it is a repeatable, known problem and there is an approved set of procedures for the community to follow (e.g. “How do I shut down this piece of equipment for maintenance? Are there any tips or pitfalls I need to be aware of?” or “How can I revitalize my community of practice?”). Of course, an employee won’t know until she looks in the community if her problem fits these criteria. That is why we recommend the employee always search for past answers in the community before consulting an expert or relying on somebody’s opinion.  

2.       When the expert has given a “thumbs up” or “OK to use” to a prior answer to a question posted in the community. If your community has a star rating system or a way to designate an approved answer, that is terrific and a big help to a seeker.

3.       When you just need a tip or to be pointed to the correct information.

4.       When there is no designated expert because knowledge domains are changing so rapidly, ask.  The “expert” can change overnight!

5.       If the problem is not mission-critical, and there are no safety issues, there may be tons of experience and expertise in the community unknown to you. Other employees may have the same question, so asking can unveil hidden expertise. Just Ask! (There is a reason they call it “expertise location.”)

APQC has been designing communities for over a decade, and we have found that the more active a community is in terms of questions and answers, the more likely it is to leave digital breadcrumbs a novice can follow to find a solution. Here are a few tips to surface the hidden expertise in your organization: http://www.apqc.org/knowledge-base/documents/five-tips-identifying-and-surfacing-experts


Anonymous's picture
When there is more than one solution. Diverse thoughts and responses can produce a better outcome by offering several choices to apply within your constrains or context.
Anonymous's picture
Nice meeting you again over here after a few years. Your article is very practical but I don't believe that we have to limit the recourse to CoPs to the described cases only. In your position, you know many companies that have started that organizational way of process to improve their performances. That doesn't exclude the call of one or more experts in some other cases when the difficulty is extreme. Besides that, the use of other communication channels between experts can also be of additional helps. I've participated to some international ones.
Anonymous's picture
When the answer is context specific, and there are experienced users in the CoP who work in similar contexts.