In the small Greek town I am living in this month, there is a central square, like many other such squares in many other villages in Greece and elsewhere. Here is where knowledge has been exchanged for some time and continues to be shared. Some of this is obtained by simple observation as I see differences many days just passing through it.
When we create social business applications I think it is best to build on existing patterns of knowledge exchange and then simply adding an electronic facilitation can be one way to address these cultural challenges. Let me provide two examples.
The first example, in this case from another country in Europe, where I was involved a situation where we were tasked with creating a way for plumbers to share best practices on how to fix residential heating systems. The traditional, and non-electronic, means to exchange best practices was eliminated in a cost cutting move. The plumbers used to gather in several hundred depots around the country to get their daily assignments. While having morning coffee, they would share their best practices.
The depots were then closed and the plumbers were given laptops with a radio link up (this was pre-web) to get their assignments. These laptops had the manuals on-line but, as we know, the real best practices were not in the manuals, but in the heads of those who solved problems not covered in the manuals. So we set up an electronic bulletin board to put the laptops to better use as a means for sharing of best practices across the country. There was already a culture of knowledge sharing to build on and the plumbers liked their new laptops as they felt it elevated their job status. So there were not significant cultural barriers to overcome to activate this new knowledge sharing system.
The second example is from a developing country. My older daughter was recently in Mongolia in the US Peace Corps for two years. She taught school in a small town that was a difficult six hour drive from the capital city. The mail system was not reliable and all these factors made communication difficult.
The town also did not have running water. The only water came from a well that only operated a few times a week. Whenever it operated, a large flag was raised to signal people that it was open. Individuals would then stop what they were doing and push large two wheel carts with water containers to the well.
Since most people met at the well for this limited time, it was a natural means to exchange knowledge, a version of the “water-cooler” effect in some companies. This meet up at the well would certainly serve as a foundation for wireless electronic communication in an already familiar pattern once the infrastructure was in place.
I am sure there are many other traditional patterns of knowledge sharing in developing countries. I wonder how the emergence of smart phones in these regions will affect patterns of knowledge sharing?