1 March 2010
I am still slightly anxious at first. Just picture it: a large meeting room full of experts, some internal and others external experts and consultants hired by the organization for the event. A large room, full of people, monitors, electric cables, refreshments and coffee cups. Ready and expecting questions. The audience is hidden. Is there anyone on the other side? Might've this distinguished forum gathered to answer the questions of a single individual?
And yet, time after time, when the session begins (and sometimes before; some users are simply too excited) the flood of questions pours in. It nevertheless surprises me, our thirst to ask questions, consult and get some answers.
What is a WEB Discussion?
The WEB discussion is a conference limited to predefined period (two or three hours) during which an expert forum is gathered to answer the professional questions of community/portal/website members. The WEB Discussion is conducted via the discussion platform nearly each portal has nowadays, with each participant entering their questions into this component and answered in real-time by the relevant expert/experts. Since all participants are exposed to all sent questions and answers, colleagues dealing with similar issues usually discuss these matters simultaneously.
What is the value of a WEB Discussion?
Beyond the obvious value of a WEB Discussion- the ability to consult and learn from experts that are usually not accessible to most workers- this platform holds much potential in a number of additional levels:
Implementing the Knowledge Management solution among its users: the WEB Discussion is conducted via the discussion component through the portal (website or community) and thus exposes users to its existence, its use and the knowledge it holds. Make sure that answers that contain data that exists in the portal include a reference to this information and directions to its location. This will enhance the implementation of the website as a tool that stores all the relevant professional knowledge. Post-discussion evaluations show that its effect exceeds its duration: WEB Discussions are followed by an increase in both entrances to and use of the portal.
Identifying knowledge needs and gaps: reviewing the questions asked during the WEB Discussion enables locating websites (chapters, states, organizational branches) that are experiencing knowledge gaps or lack knowledge that must be developed or structured. Often, the discussions that develop among colleagues can reveal local practices of 'organizational edges' that may be unknown or unfamiliar to management. Exposing these practices enables either promoting their implementation or alternatively their replacement by better practices. Therefore, it is important to analyze the questions' content and identify the knowledge gaps and needs to which they point.
Strengthening unit identity: as mentioned above, the WEB Discussion enables the development of discussion and consultations among colleagues. The discussion thus allows exposition to colleagues that are dealing (or have previously dealt) with the same areas and similar challenges. This acquaintance is usually limited to the workers close and immediate environment; this is especially true in large organizations or organizations spread over different geographical areas. The contact first made during the discussion often continues through emails, phone calls or continuing the discussion in the portal.
Tips for a successful WEB Discussion:
In case the discussion includes participants from a number of countries, it is important to recognize in advance whether there are any workers or countries for which the language in which the conversation will be conducted might be an obstacle and provide translators to the relevant languages. Participants can thus enter their questions into the discussion component in their mother tongue, which will then be translated in real-time by a translator. This will reduce the concern from writing publicly in a foreign language, which might be a substantial impediment to the success of this discussion. It is obviously important to communicate the use of a translator in advance.
It is highly recommended to open the discussion component a few days before the discussion's set date and enable workers that cannot participate in real-time to enter their questions in advance.
If WEB Discussions are held periodically, it is recommended to dedicate each discussion to a subject or a number of different subjects and invite different experts accordingly.
Naturally, some questions will seem trivial to us (due to the aforementioned knowledge gaps); these questions should nevertheless be treated with respect. Remember: both questions and answers are exposed to all participants and we don't want to embarrass anyone in the presence of their managers and colleagues. Furthermore, trivial questions are important as they help us identify knowledge gaps.
Make sure to answer all questions. A worker that asked a question that wasn't answered or addressed might refrain from participating in future discussions.
The first few times a WEB Discussion is conducted should be preceded by substantial advertising and propaganda. People that aren't familiar with this activity might think it is a phone/video conference or a frontal meeting.
In conclusion, it's important to remember that in order for the discussion to actualize the full potential it holds and reach the goals reviewed above, it must be successful and leave participants hungry for more.