How to understand knowledge sharing conversations

One of the best things about being a Knowledge Management consultant is that it requires me to look deeper into some of the questions that practicing Knowledge Managers never quite have time to.

One of these is how knowledge sharing actually works – the mechanics if you like. And that’s how I came across Discourse Analysis. It’s a way of micro-analysing conversations to identify why speakers say what they do, and the social consequences of what they say, within the conversation.

The micro aspect means it can hardly be applied in broad scale across the discourses that happen all day at work, but DA is a cracking way of working out what is happening in particular and, the analyser hopes, significant examples of un-self-conscious conversation.

Knowledge managers/consultants are likely to want to use it to
• analyse those conversations during which knowledge is shared
• analyse how the conditions for successful knowledge sharing are established
• create good habits in themselves of really attentive listening

Here’s a small example (1) of how such conversations are transcribed for analysis.

EXTRACT 1 130520_003 COMPANY A
1. Chair: A::h I-I did ↑wonder about that actually
2. when you were talking about it
3. so I’ll – I’ll probably talk to you
4. about that one off-line ( ) find out more about
5. that one heh=
6. Sam: =I’ll fill you in later – in on
7. that ]one
8. Chair: [O::K↑ then ]OK
9. Sam: [same subject – same
10. subject, different client, different
11. Technology [heh]
12. Chair: :Yes – yeah. [heh]. OK. Different world

Table 5 Transcript conventions
• Inserted colons indicate word stretching
• Square brackets used between lines, or bracketing two lines of talk, indicate the onset and end of overlapping talk
• Upward/downward pointing arrows indicate increase or decrease in intonation
• Underlining indicates emphasis
• Use of round brackets denotes unclear speech
• Heh or hah indicates laughter
• The use of the equals sign at the end of one and the onset of the next indicates no interval between utterances

Clearly in the typical situations where knowledge managers/consultants operate, it’s not always possible to record or remember the exact wording or inflections of a conversation of any length. But there will be spot-lit situations when discourse transcription and analysis will be valuable techniques.

In other circumstances a habit of discourse analysis on the fly will help us spot clues and achieve “ah-hah” moments about how the knowledge sharing environment is actually working!

(1) Crane, L. (2016). Knowledge and discourse matters: relocating knowledge management’s sphere of interest onto language. Wiley, pp. 198,288.

Dion Lindsay Consulting Ltd
New Knowledge Management Techniques
07540 659255
01604 686797
Twitter: @dionl

How much management do Communities of Practice need?

Four years ago I helped a UK charity with a list of roles a Community of Practice (CoP) might need. They wanted it as part of planning a nationwide CoP network for scientific discovery, peer to peer learning and support.

But the list seems robust enough for other CoP contexts. What other roles have you noticed are needed in practice?

Obviously not every Community of Practice needs all the roles, less obviously some of them can be done by the same person. Least obviously perhaps – some of them definitely can’t!


Dion Lindsay Consulting Ltd

New Knowledge Management Techniques

07540 659255

01604 686797

Twitter: @dionl


Title Description





Often the most actively engaged members. Assume a leadership role by virtue of their interest and commitment, and may adopt an attitude of ownership because they are often the first to contribute and know their way round the CoP. May promote the role of the CoP in the general professional or business community



Community team leader


Coordinates processes of the CoP such as technical and set up support plus eg facilitator(s), moderators, synthesizers, and champions





With research or practical expertise in the area of the CoP.  May either hang back as a source of reference for discussions or engage and become leaders in a topic. In the latter case may need to be managed to ensure that all contributors have a say, and that conclusions are not rushed to unnecessarily.





Coordinates discussion and ensures the CoP’s purpose is adhered to. Helps with discussion and maintains a balanced perspective. Guides questions to experts or considers other support mechanisms (eg support documents)

Makes sure that discussions are within the rules of the CoP and resolves disputes in line with the rules and the published moderation process.

Watches out for jargon and helps the members avoid it or encourages them to explain it.

Encourages “inclusivity” – members often come from a wide range of backgrounds and levels of expertise. Ensures that respect is accorded to all.

May also act as liaison to sponsors and other stakeholders




Temporary members from outside the usual membership of the CoP, brought in to enlighten and enrich particular discussions

IT support


Designs web pages, enables or commissions maintenance and development, troubleshoots technical problems.





Takes overall responsibility for the CoP. Reports to and liaises with sponsors, and coordinates work on the design, maintenance and development of the CoP. In small CoPs, where roles are often doubled up, facilitator sometimes takes this role.





People of the same (properly) profession or craft, who seek and share knowledge with each other.


Membership manager


In larger CoPs monitors size, composition and effectiveness of membership. Where membership is restricted, approves new applications.





Overlapping role with facilitator. While facilitator is concerned with the overall health of the CoP and that its overall purpose is being furthered, the moderator(s) will pay particular attention to behaviour and relationships in individual discussions. May (rather uncommonly nowadays), approve all contributions before they are visible to all readers. A gentle sensitive approach is necessary so as not to kill discussions through over-regulation, while a rapid and firm though graduated response may be necessary to wayward styles and contributors





As alternative name of “lurkers” suggests, may be (unwisely) seen as passive valueless watchers. Not to be undervalued – often 80% and more of those who access the CoP, the dissemination of the learnings and ethos of the community may depend on them. While the right to “merely” read should be respected, a good CoP will enable and welcome contributors





To fund,  and demonstrate organisational/community support for the health of the CoP and the activity of its players, both formal and casual.




Helps produce longer term meaning from the discussions. Provides a sense of historical perspective – of the place of current discussions in the overall purpose and history of the CoP. Can synthesize and extract (k)nuggets of knowledge for allied content and to support collaborative processes