Recommendations for Capturing Knowledge

This pilot project was designed to capture and share tacit knowledge gained during The Nature Conservancy’s first 25+ years of community-based marine conservation in the Pacific before it is lost to the organization and broader conservation community. The project used unstructured and semi-structured individual and small group interviews—an effective means for capturing a critical backlog of knowledge at this key inflection point. However, the method is resource intensive, requires specialized skills, and captures only a fraction of accumulated knowledge, so it must be complemented by routine systematic processes, such as performance reviews, orientation, or after-action reviews that facilitate knowledge transfer in a more timely manner. Organizational meetings, active and diverse communities of practice, and accessible and interactive digital systems can also be effective means of timely knowledge transfer.

Following is a brief outline of the key steps and timeline for conducting an interview-based knowledge capture project for those who want to pursue this approach.

Key Activities and Suggested Timeline for Capturing Knowledge Via Interviews

Define goals (Month 1). Identify the purpose and target audience(s) for the knowledge you seek to capture and share. Be as specific as possible, as your goals and audience will inform all other factors and decisions, including interviewees and questions asked.

Convene team (Month 1). Assemble a team with a mix of strengths—including field practitioners well-versed in the conservation topic—to collect, analyze, synthesize, and summarize information. Roles may overlap but, at a minimum, the team should include a skilled and knowledgeable interviewer who can extract relevant information, technical expertise to ensure audio/visual recording is of sufficient quality, report writer(s) to summarize findings, and a project manager to ensure all the moving parts are on track. Consider forming an ‘advisory group’ that can provide complementary expertise, including experience with knowledge management initiatives for guidance in project design and implementation. Assign roles and responsibilities.

Develop plan and initiate outreach (Month 2+). Develop a plan and timeline for knowledge capture and outreach. Identify priority products, focusing on how this information will be shared and used. Develop a project brief (overview and framing questions) to use in outreach. Select interviewees with consideration of geography, expertise, age, and other diversity characteristics. Pair interviewers with interviewees. Identify and engage additional sources of knowledge (e.g. literature, model projects), audience representatives, and other potential champions to build ownership and provide feedback on project design, product clarity, and usefulness. Review and prioritize target audiences and venues, giving careful consideration to reach and interest.

Prepare for and conduct interviews (Months 3-4, potentially longer if extensive travel is required). Outline the scope of knowledge you seek to acquire from each interviewee. Conduct background research to prepare for and tailor interview questions and guide conversations. Brief interviewees and provide questions in advance to ‘break the ice’ and help them prepare. Consider group interviews (i.e., multiple interviewees from a team or significant project) to enhance the quality of information by providing multiple perspectives on the same topic and catalyzing observations and questions from each other. Also consider multiple interviewers. For example, it can be effective to pair a peer with a target audience representative, such as a next generation leader, who is invested in the outcome and would approach the discussion from a different perspective. See Helpful Resources for additional information on interviewing and keep these Quick Tips in mind.

Finalize transcripts as interviews are completed (Months 3-5). Transcribe each interview quickly and request immediate review by the interviewees, when information is still fresh. Ask them to delete anything that they consider sensitive. Include follow up questions and/or clarifications, as appropriate. Conduct follow-up interviews, if needed. Finalize transcripts, including interviewee sign-off on any desired permissions, such as to use quotes and excerpts or to share the entire interview. Decide who will have authority to share the full transcript, if requested. 

Analyze and synthesize information (Month 6). Most interviews require qualitative analysis and the synthesis is subjective. Convening a strong team with a mix of experiences and perspectives is key and will result in a richer and more nuanced analysis. Including representatives of the target audience(s) is highly recommended. Provide transcripts for the team to review and analyze individually, identifying key messages, themes, and universal truths. Convene group with skilled facilitator to brainstorm and cluster key ideas and synthesize them into an initial coherent structure. Individuals responsible for summarizing findings, product development, and dissemination should participate in the analysis and synthesis.

Summarize findings (Months 7-8). It takes time to draft and refine findings. Use an iterative process, testing and refining the key messages and structure, until the information is clear and compelling. “Sticky” phrases for headings will facilitate learning and retention. Recognize that tacit knowledge is holistic and highly-interconnected, and people will approach this information very differently. 

Review and finalize (Months 9 -10). Distribute the report for internal review, including interviewees and trusted audience representatives. Incorporate feedback and develop product(s). Distribute for external review to flag gaps or concerns and to engage external partners in outreach, adaptation, and improvement of the findings in preparation for application. Incorporate feedback.

Finalize priority products (Months 11-12). Depending on goals and target audiences, products may include website, presentations/webinars, videos, podcasts, and written materials (with QR code, as appropriate). Producing quality products is time-intensive, so focus on a few products and reserve time for critical outreach to ensure they are used.  Before undertaking broad dissemination, share all final products with interviewees, reviewers, donors, and anyone else who contributed to the effort. Adapt products, as appropriate, to reflect feedback and/or additional knowledge acquired through ongoing outreach.