How to Improve Knowledge Flow with Discussion Boards (Video)
Video produced by Steve Nathans-Kelly
Nielsen director, business enablement, Susan Ostreicher explained how Nielsen has created active and archived knowledge flow within the organization using discussion forums at KMWorld 2019. Ostreicher covered how the company started from user needs; identified key drivers for asking, answering, and reading questions; selected metrics to measure success; and mined data to learn from experience.
Ostreicher shared her insights during a sessionn titled, "Crowdsourcing: Knowledge Sharing, Discussion, & Ideation."
"Here's what our knowledge flow looked like without discussion," said Ostreicher. "We have a product development team, who supports our commercial team, who is client-facing. Our product team uses our knowledge base on Confluence to push out information to the commercial team. That's pretty much a one-way flow. The commercial team can also use our support desk on Jira to ask questions of the product team."
But the missing link, said Ostreicher, was that the commercial team also needs a way to ask each other questions and mine each other's experience. "There's nothing stopping people from using email, using a social network to do this, but, ideally, they were looking for something where they could get input from our global team. Not just the people sitting next to them, not just the people they already knew. They also wanted it to be in a location that's visible to everybody, so that other people can benefit from those answers. They wanted it to be curated and preserved and organized in a way that made it easy to find those answers later on. So, we realized we needed to start over with the discussion board. But that's not a built-in feature of the tool that we're using now, of Confluence."
Ostreicher said they decided to make that happen by "hacking together" a wiki and a listserv. "By a show of hands, is anybody in the room using Confluence? Are you familiar with this? Okay, great. So we have some people in the crowd. If you've not encountered this, it's a tool from Atlassian. It's basically an enterprise wiki. Confluence is organized into spaces, sort of the way that SharePoint is organized into sites. For our discussion forums, we created a new space for each one. On the homepage of that space, we list all of the open posts, i.e., the wiki pages within that space. We also have a button to start a new post, which is actually starting a new wiki page. So that opens up a template where you can fill out a basic form, enter the text of your question, and hit Publish. Each new page, or post, that's published here generates an email notification for the people who are watching the space. And, likewise, every comment on that page, every reply, also generates an email notification."
Using the hybrid wiki and listserv, people can follow the discussion from their email inbox, if that's how they want to work, said Ostreicher. "But, the questions and answers are also preserved here in a wiki format. That approach has a lot of important benefits for us. Number one is it's creating a natural stream of user-generated content on our site. There's no realistic way that I could get this otherwise. So, if I went out to our business and said, "Hey, can each of you think of one or two things that you know a lot about and then just write an article for me, and I'll publish it." That would never happen. It's hard. You, first of all, don't know what would be useful to other people. You don't know if you're really the expert in that, if you're the right person to write the article. It's hard to make the time for it when you have actual revenue-generating work to do. The beauty of this approach is that it's on-demand. If your colleague is asking a question, you know that the answer is going to be useful to them. It's in the moment. It kind of fosters a natural collaboration among experts. People build on each other's answers to collaborate and get to the complete picture."
Ostreicher said that the beauty of those posts, those questions and answers on the same platform as the wiki means that they can search them at the same time as all of the documentation, all of the knowledge base. "So that's a major benefit in terms of findability. From an admin perspective, it means that we can do anything to one of those posts that we could do to a normal wiki page. That means things like I can edit the title if it's unclear or it's too close to something that we already have. I can edit the body of the post if it's using an acronym that people might not understand. There's some editorial stuff we can do. There's formatting stuff we can do. We've added in commenting guidelines to the templates. We can modify that template over time if we want to. This gives us an enormous amount of flexibility in how we have it set up. Of course, because we're using a tool that we already have, there's minimal software cost and minimal training required, which are always big selling points."
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