In response to a post about knowledge brokering by Richard Vines on the ACT-KM listserv, I thought I should also share my comments here.
Before knowledge management came along and gained some traction as a discipline (or at least, a particular kind of management approach) we had libraries where information was provided, some of which was used to solve business problems and improve decision-making. While this form of explicit knowledge transfer was usually one way, in smaller special libraries inside organisations (especially corporate institutions), there were opportunities to harness tacit knowledge through knowledge brokering (even if at the time we weren’t calling this a knowledge broker role).
In my experience in working in special libraries in international banks in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, it was indeed one of my key (implicit) roles to act as a knowledge broker within the organisation. The reason was that it was my job to help people solve problems and improve decisions through providing information and knowledge. And even back then, some of us realised that books and journals and newspaper clippings weren’t the stuff of real competitive advantage – human capital was.
My knowledge broker experience sought to match up those with the right knowledge at the right time to those who needed it. In many cases, this brokering role became an addition to the basic information search, analyse, and deliver role I was already playing. The matching was often serendipitous, often opportunistic, and had relatively poor scaleability en masse. However, it did require me to build relationships and trust, while at the same time demonstrating keen awareness for what people were working on and what interested them. In this sense, the knowledge brokering was highly personal.
Nevertheless, knowledge brokering in these contexts of the time performed the role of matching existing tacit knowledge within the organistion to those individuals where it was needed. At the same time, my knowledge broking role also considered the compliance and “Chinese-Walls” issues so important within investment banking.
Finally, I must say that the opportunities arose because the “library” was regarded as being “neutral” and thereby had the ability to leverage trust, conversation and multiple interactions from which knowledge brokering was possible.
The bottom line, however, was in making conversation and establishing people connections; something that knowledge management still strives to reproduce (with more scale) today.