How to nudge behaviours for better knowledge flows and rapid learning

I have always been fascinated by the challenges of knowledge sharing and social learning. I once wrote a blog saying that you couldn’t force people to share knowledge or learning – following the well touted line from Dave Snowden that knowledge cannot be conscripted. However, this didn’t feel very satisfying and didn’t really help in terms of solving the challenges many organisations face, in terms of developing knowledge/learning flows.

I have been lucky, in that I have worked in cross-disciplinary environments that have exposed me to unexpected discoveries. For example, in working with people conducting research in the areas of behavioural science and business psychology, conversations around the problem of knowledge sharing led me to the work of the “Nudge Unit” (The Behavioural Insights Team) at the UK Cabinet Office.

Such insights have guided us to build and deploy knowledge and learning frameworks that employ the art of behavioural science to speed up knowledge flows to develop rapid learning (“nudging” positive behaviours in environments where traditional approaches have fallen well short). From Lessons Learned to Communities of Practice, we have been using the Behavioural Insight Team’s EAST method to “nudge” people toward knowledge sharing.

At its heart, this framework provides 4 powerful steps to help develop high impact Knowledge Management (KM) or Learning and Development/Learning Organisation (L&D) programs:

E = EASY: Create KM/learning processes where the “opt in” is the default; reduce the effort (the hassle factor) to get to the knowledge people need; stick to simple messages when promoting KM/learning activities.

A = ATTRACTIVE: Draw attention to the knowledge/learning need/response (personalise your approach); design reward and sanctions (this is where KM/learning and development integration with HR, to engage and establish commonly accepted policy/practice, is essential).

S = SOCIAL: Demonstrate that most people perform the desired behaviour; use the power of networks (peer-to-peer spread); encourage people to make a commitment to others (improving trust and self-organisation).

T = TIMELY: Use disruption to norms (e.g. change programs) to prompt new behaviours; consider and communicate the immediate benefits (think about the individual level); design frameworks that help people to plan their response to a need – for example, we deploy personal KM/learning frameworks (new mental models – we call this “scaffolding”) to prompt knowledge/learning capture, further nudging the desired response via HR policy and practice.

Through our work we have proven that robust research, practical frameworks and Behavioural Science (the EAST method) can overcome the KM/learning challenge of getting people to share knowledge. I challenge you to give it a go. You just have to be prepared to think different 🙂

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