How do you hang on to ‘tacit’ knowledge?

Most agencies provide excellent comprehensive programs for training their people in the practical responsibilities of their missions and work processes. But not all the know-how that makes us good at what we do can be captured and communicated in direct and formal ways like this. What about “tacit” knowledge, the unspoken and often unconscious stuff we learn as we carry out our work day-by-day? We don’t necessarily write it down. We simply incorporate it without a conscious thought in how we work, and we rarely think of communicating it to those who work for us or with us on the job.

For government career professionals with several decades of service under their belts, this tacit know-how can be considerable. Several years ago, when EPA conducted a buy-out of senior personnel, the agency expected well more than a hundred SES people to leave government. TMP helped the agency by interviewing on video many of the departing executives and systematizing their knowledge legacies. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is another agency considering a similar internal program today.

If your agency has a this kind of Knowledge Management/Knowledge Retention initiative on the rails, or is just wrestling with the challenge of capturing tacit know-how before it walks out the door, we’d like to hear about it.

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Thomas Delorme
Written by Thomas Delorme

VP, Digital Products & Strategy

1 Comment

  1. Paul A

    Tacit knowledge has value to an organization if it is rare within that organization. It’s probably not relevant to the function or discipline of the employee (because then it would be expertise and, likely, well identified). So it must be relevant to the organization (as in, how to get things done here.)

    I applaud your thinking Mark. This kind of knowledge is important to organizations and it is really smart to try and capture it. I also think it makes sense to analyze the organizational knowledge in terms of its scalability, its applicability and the acceptability of what it says about the organization. In many cases, it can identify/represent the roadblocks that hold organizations back.

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