- Near transfer - this is used for relatively simple knowledge transferred between teams doing the same tasks in the same context (i.e. same region, market or, in the military, operational theatre). It covers things like procedures, processes, tips, hints and 'how to' guides. Think of a recipe book, as examined in this post here.
- Far transfer - this relates to more subtle knowledge and/or where it is transferred between teams doing the same tasks but working in different contexts (i.e. new markets). Consequently, this includes stories, 'rules of thumb', examples, case-studies etc.
[A reminder, these concepts were first introduced by Nancy Dixon, in her influential book 'Common Knowledge'.]
When you are looking at knowledge transfer as part of your Knowledge Management framework, it’s important to think carefully about the context in which the knowledge will be re-used. Near transfer and far transfer are 2 ends of a spectrum, and you will find that your knowledge needs to be packaged differently depending on where you are on that spectrum. It’s therefore important for you to understand the difference between the two.
|A learning loop|
Consequently, it 'matures' quickly also, which means it is likely to move from advice or guidance (i.e. "you may wish to consider this method") to obligation (i.e. "you shall use this method and this alone").
By contrast, 'far transfer' involves taking knowledge from one context and making it available for re-use in another, wherever this is helpful. The activities from which this knowledge has been captured are likely to be less frequent than their 'near transfer' equivalents which means relevance and validity cannot be established as quickly. This is because fewer iterations mean fewer performance comparisons which mean fewer opportunities to learn - or, 'longer learning loops'. Therefore, it 'matures' slowly, which means it is likely to remain advice or guidance for longer, perhaps forever.
Some examples of both kinds of activity, at different stages of their own timeline, and the form their respective knowledge assets might take, are shown below:
- 'Near transfer'
- Drilling oil wells - regulations, procedures, manuals
- Handling a weapon - weapon drills training, manuals
- Baking a cake - recipes
- Compiling a weekly financial report - procedures, 'how-to' guides
- Building a house - regulations, plans, procedures
- 'Far transfer'
- Exploring for oil in a new region - business intelligence, advisory procedures
- Conducting a military patrol - tactical aide-memoire (TAM), historic patrol reports
- Launching a new cake product - advice, case-studies, market research
- Setting up a new hedge fund - peer advice, market research
- Marketing a new housing development - precedents, market research
Performing an activity in a new context brings many variables into play, the effects of which may be difficult to predict - another reason for 'far transfer' knowledge being closer to the 'advice' end of the spectrum than the 'obligation'.
Therefore, those in need of 'far transfer' knowledge have to read around a topic, drawing advice and ideas from different sources and contexts, in order to form a broad understanding of the activity in general, before seeking to perform it in a specific context.
Furthermore, the lack of certainty of the validity of a particular piece of knowledge in a new context creates 2 conditions that do not apply so readily to 'near transfer', namely:
- The source or synthesis of the 'far transfer' knowledge needs to be credible - i.e. a known expert has been consulted or, where multiple sources are used, a robust and trusted assurance method exists to control quality;
- Users of 'far transfer' knowledge may wish to follow-up with those whose knowledge is being used, in order to:
- Ask questions
- Seek advice on a particular issue
- Suggest updates or edits
- Provide feedback on the validity of the knowledge in the new context
Of course, knowledge assets are just one of the many KM tools or activities that can be used when starting out on a new(-ish) venture:
- KM plans help identify what knowledge will be needed, where it currently resides and who will be accountable for finding it and bringing it into the project;
- Peer Assists can help a project at any stage, involving the facilitated transfer of knowledge from an experienced project team to another one facing a particular issue;
- Knowledge exchanges bring together people with many experiences of a particular topic and enable both knowledge transfer at the event, as well as the subsequent creation or update of knowledge assets relating to the topic;