Knowledge sharing via markets

MarketHind Benbya and Marshall Van Alstyne have How to Find Answers Within Your Company in MIT Sloan Management Review. The overall topic has to do with finding people that have the answers to your questions and problems, and the specific topic discussed is knowledge markets. [I discovered this article via Doug Cornelius' article.]

The authors suggest that knowledge markets help overcome some typical problems of early knowledge management solutions, where people stop contributing or participating for lack of interest or return benefit. Of course, these are the technical solutions that ask people to contribute to the system, rather than to each other. Knowledge markets solve the problem of "what's in it for me" (the contributors) by creating a mechanism to value the knowledge / problem to be solved.

I thought their launch recommendations were interesting. Here they are, along with my thoughts on their extended commentary. The full article also has some discussion of how to modify the system as it grows and matures.

  1. Use material and social incentives, but let prices float.
    Always an interesting aspect. Do you provide incentives for sharing, or not? People aren't always going to be altruistic (or will they?). This is where I have the biggest concern with the market idea. How do you maintain "funding" of the rewards? How does a person with a question place a value on the answer? The article touches on some of these points, but it is overwhelmingly focused on making it work.
  2. Capture knowledge at both ends of the "long tail."
    I initially thought this was going to be about capturing knowledge at both ends of the discussion: both from the person asking the question as well as the person responding. But this idea is important: catch the stuff that people need frequently (so you don't overload the experts with common questions), and capture the oddball, one-off questions to get a sense of what is happening on the fringes.
  3. Consider offering points for improving information quality.
    Interesting. Just as some open services ask for help improving the quality of the information (Wikipedia, Quora), these kinds of systems could give props to people who help generalize or specify a given topic.
  4. To overcome shyness, provide protected spaces.
    Shyness and concern over privacy or "looking good" are going to be issues in any kind of social interaction, whether it is computer mediated or in person. While we can make some affordances for people, in the end, I think we just need to accept that not everyone will participate in the same way. I don't think people should be punished for not participating, and while I didn't see this in the article, there is a common misunderstanding in implementing technology that "everyone will use it" the same way.
  5. To reduce hoarding, balance competition with collaboration.
    Another difficult area: if you offer incentives, then people could be inclined to hoard their contributions until they can "get a good price" for what they know. This is another reason that one has to be careful in implementing these kinds of systems. The article covers this by suggesting that collaboration has to be built into the way the knowledge markets work.
  6. Protect strategic information.
    Along with #4, this one is tricky. Either people are going to talk about business topics or they aren't. The article suggests that if you know the information is of strategic importance that protected areas can be set up, which can help. But then you lose the value of the market in that not everyone knows about the question and those with knowledge may not be in the loop to be invited to the private space.

[Photo: "Market" by Maciej Lewandowski]

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