Whenever I talk about sharing knowledge—internally within an organization or externally through open access/open data—I am asked an important question: “Why?”
The question is asked in various contexts and with different motivations. It could be executives who are considering prioritizing enterprise-wide knowledge management, individuals who are being encouraged to share more as part of an organization-wide knowledge management program, stakeholders from research-funding organizations considering mandating open knowledge, or individuals who need to be compliant with organizational or research funding agencies’ open access/open data policies.
In many cases, articulating the “What’s in it for me?” message—otherwise known as WIIFM—is a key part of a communications campaign, regardless of whether individuals are impacted by internally focused knowledge management initiatives; required to comply with public-access, open knowledge policies; or are thinking about new ways to strengthen the public position, perception, or brand of an organization.
In all of these cases, having some go-to reasons to refer to can be helpful, particularly since there’s no single message that resonates with everyone or each organization.
Here are 40 reasons “why”—why share knowledge personally, at an organizational level, and with an internal and/or external focus. The reasons are not mutually exclusive. Although some overlap a bit, I’ve tried to avoid outright redundancy.
1. Sharing increases your personal visibility (and might help build your career). Sharing gets your name out there. Within an organization, it establishes you as a subject matter expert. If you share via channels such as a discussion board, your contributions are visible within an organization, and you contribute to its broad base of knowledge. Externally, sharing slide decks from past presentations or blog posts about personal research you’ve conducted strengthens your personal brand, reinforcing your expert status.
2. Sharing can increase organizational visibility. Similar to what we see for individuals at a personal level, organizations that share insights, research, and ideas can emerge as subject matter experts and stand out from the competition.
TRUST, TRANSPARENCY, CLARITY
3. Sharing fosters trust. It’s easier to trust people (and organizations) who open ly share. For organizations with an internally focused knowledge management program, top-down sharing demonstrates a commitment to openness and transparency. When sharing starts at the top, it trickles down. Seeing C-level executives, leaders, and managers share transforms the culture and reit erates an organizational commitment to sharing. It emphasizes that sharing is something that an organization values and does; it’s not just a talking point.
4. Internal knowledge sharing promotes transparency. Capturing and storing organizational assets and making most of them easily searchable, findable, discoverable, and accessible within an organization inherently leads to increased transparency.
5. Using open licenses encourages reuse through clarity. Creative Commons licenses indicate exactly what limitations are in place for how a particular document, image, or other type of material and how it may—or may not—be used. When there’s no clear statement about usage rights or other indicator on a document, people often shy away from reusing or repurposing it, particularly when they don’t know who to ask to obtain permission. This clarity is a benefit for both internally and externally shared materials. We’ve seen many instances of people being more inclined to reuse, adapt, and incorporate materials rather than starting from scratch when they know how they are allowed to do so.
6. Using open licenses encourages reuse through ma chine-readable mechanisms. For publicly disseminated materials, tools can be developed to seek out and identify items with appropriate Creative Commons licenses.
7. You can share in big and small ways. Sharing isn’t a one-si ze-fits-all sort of arrangement. For instance, you can send out an unsolicited email to your team with your personal takeaways from a meeting you attended outside of work or post an article with a brief note attached explaining the context about why you think others might find it applicable, interesting, or relevant.
ELIMINATE SILOS, SPARK NEW IDEAS
8. Sharing can break down silos between departments, divisions, and work groups. By sharing details about what your team is doing, others are more aware, thus eliminating the walls between groups.
9. Sharing can spark new ideas. Reading what someone has written or learning about their work leads to new ideas and breakthroughs. Internally, sharing problems a group is working on might make it possible to identify common issues or challenges and make it easier to solve them collectively. It might also trigger a different line of thinking that makes it possible to adapt a tool, code, or solution for a different purpose.
10. Sharing encourages a stronger sense of connectedness between people and their organizations. If people know what’s going on within an organization and what leaders are thinking about, they tend to feel they belong in the organization as a whole.
11. Sharing strengthens connections among people. If I read the weekly reflections from my organization’s CEO, I will have a connection with that person. If I see many questions posted to an organization-wide discussion board are answered by one person, I will start to know who that person is. If I read things you’ve written and I see your name and photo associated with your writing, I will start to feel connected to you. I start to trust the sources of information and answers as I start to feel more connected. Externally, the same principles hold true. Recently, I met someone at a conference who used a graphic in her presentation that I had produced and shared with a CC-BY license. When she mentioned this to me, we had an instant bond and a connection.
12. Sharing leads to improved work quality. If I know I’m writing something that will likely be read by others, I will put more effort and thought into it.
13. Sharing boosts uptake. When I put time, thought, and effort into something; share it with others; and then see that someone has used what I wrote in one form or another, it makes me feel good. I’m genuinely glad there was an outcome of my work!
14. Reduce duplication of efforts and reinventing the wheel. Most of us start new projects by looking to see what already exists in that space. If individuals and departments share what they’re doing in ways that are searchable, it helps to eliminate wasted time so existing work isn’t being redone or replicated. Often, we find examples within organizations of individuals in different departments working on the same sets of tasks in isolation because they don’t have easy ways to share this information.
15. Sharing reiterates the human aspects of work. Whereas organizational efficiency and process re-engineering are focused on processes, sharing emphasizes the human elements.
16. Funding agencies want open access to research and data. We’ve reached the tipping point, and many of the high-profile, highly coveted funding agencies now have open access/open data policies in place, requiring compliance from researchers who have accepted their funding.
17. Sharing your work externally may increase your funding changes. Reviewers often look at your previous work before making a funding decision. Having previous examples of your work—peer-reviewed articles and datasets, as well as theses/dissertations, blog posts, slide decks, and other less formal outputs—easily findable and accessible can make it simpler for reviewers to get a sense of your work, particularly if you are an early-career researcher and have few published articles.
18. Sharing work outputs using an open license can allow others to translate your work into other languages.
19. Sharing your knowledge can lead to a longer life span or shelf life for your work internally and through publicly accessible content.
20. Publicly sharing your research findings makes it possible for others to learn from your work without having to wait for a peer-reviewed article to get published. Faster publication means faster uptake.
21. Sharing makes it possible for other people to use or build upon your work.
22. Public sharing can lead to increased citations in the traditional literature, but also in grey literature: slide decks, blog posts, policy statements, case studies, white papers. If search engines can find it, someone might use it.
23. Materials shared publicly are available to everyone, everywhere, not just to those who can afford to access expensive journals.