Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

What If Communities Don't Share Their Expertise?

By Dennis D. McDonald


My friend Luis Suarez takes me to task for my post on expertise management. He makes some very good points but I differ somewhat with how he interprets the role of “communities” within an organization. He says:

Expertise location tools are all about the people, we all know that so in principle one of the most powerful ways to enable location expertise to flourish and succeed in the current business environment is by focusing on the nurturing and fully support of communities, whether they are online or physical communities.

I can’t disagree with that, in principle at least. Informal “communities” develop in all organizations, and when you need help, you turn first to the people you know.

But what happens when the people you know — the members of one of your “communities” — don’t possess the appropriate expertise you need to solve a problem? What if they’re not available?

You start calling around. You do some research. In a highly structured organization you go up your chain of command.

But as we have seen with the rapid growth of systems such as MySpace, Linkedin, Facebook, and Flickr, people are willing to use technology to develop and maintain personal networks, and ways are being found to adapt these approaches to what I call “enterprise expertise management.”

To call all the relationships such systems address “communities,” though, might be premature. Internet based personal networks can be temporary or quite weak and made up of people with only marginally common mutual interests who may never meet face to face.

A variety of formal systems are already available or are under development to help large organizations assist their employees to locate expertise. Here are links to some examples:

What I like in particular about “expertise management” (or “expert location”) is that it focuses on connecting people, not on the more general (and potentially much more complex) problem of “knowledge management.” It’s appropriate to use technology (including email and workflow management) to help people in a large organization to locate an expert to help them answer a question or solve a problem, especially when the technology helps people to develop and maintain relationships. That’s why I suggested in my earlier post that nominations by other users — and ratings of experts by users — could be part of a functioning expertise management system.

Copyright (c) 2006 by Dennis D. McDonald

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