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Chapter 4 – Reducing the risk of failure

Choosing the right tools to share knowledge

Pick a technology that enhances the course or the material - don’t let the technology drive the business or the topic.
Historic Wood

Choosing the right tools to share knowledge requires clear understanding of the purpose of that sharing and the context within which it will occur. Each of the grantees found they needed to focus on clarifying the purpose of the knowledge sharing and to invest in creating a full understanding of the potential users and their capability. Some of the grantees did this by surveying their target users; others used expert advisory committees to provide information on potential users. In some cases the target users were members of the same organizations as project team members; in other cases, target users were students. Regardless, teams found it necessary to invest in understanding the problem and its context before making good technology choices. From the simplest telecommunication conference calling to the more sophisticated voice over Internet protocol (Voice over IP), each technological solution needed to be considered in terms of the role it would play in meeting the project objective. The questions below reflect these insights and are designed to help teams select knowledge sharing technologies.
  • Do we have a well-defined objective and sufficient understanding of the related environment to guide and evaluate technology decision making?
    Creating a well-defined objective among a new team can be time consuming. One of the consequences of this is that teams often rush through it and make dangerous assumptions about each person’s understanding of the purpose of the project. The team may make other dangerous assumptions related to who already knows what and how easy or difficult something may be to do. Moving forward without testing assumptions and ensuring the objective is collectively understood can be a shortcut to failure. Further, a clear statement of the objective is central to an alternatives analysis.

  • Do we know enough about our users to make good choices?
    Knowing your users is key to choosing the correct technology for your project. Knowing when plans will need to be adjusted to ensure that all interested parties can participate, no matter their technological capability, is critical. Sometimes multiple strategies are not possible due to time or financial constraints. If this is the case, then priorities need to be established and used to guide decision making. One team found their users were well-served through basic technologies rather than the prohibitively expensive online training tools. They found that delivering a CD-Rom with a presentation ahead of time and then holding a lecture over a teleconference worked just as well as holding a Webinar.

  • Is the technology available to you and your potential users?
    Is the technology of choice readily available to users? Although some technologies such as email or teleconferencing are widely available, other technologies are less so. For instance, tools such as Web conferencing or Webinars require access to high speed Internet to be effective. Project teams had to take into consideration the resources available to their audience and adjust their plans, and in some cases their objectives, accordingly. Some of the project teams found cost to be a factor as well and had to limit their choices to those technologies freely available through their partner organizations.

We had a special needs audience in some of our classrooms. We found that you can’t use a hearing aid in an Interactive Television (ITV) classroom because of feedback. The students will actually be in pain. We found that there are adaptive technologies that can be used, but you need to know about it beforehand in order to avoid any problems.
Forest Resource and Ecology
  • Can we provide support?
    New users of knowledge sharing systems require at least two kinds of support. The first has to do with system set-up; the second has to do with the integration of the new system into their work. Each project team had to create a plan for providing technical support to users and a second plan for ensuring the systems were used effectively. In addition, they found they needed contingency plans in place for when programs were conducted and technologies didn’t cooperate. In the case of the Cooperative Weed Management Area training project, technical support was available during Webinars to assist those having technical difficulties. Prior to the Webinars, support for content development and delivery using the new tools was also available to trainers. This kind of support is necessary as well and not always anticipated.

When planning a project involving technology, make sure to try it out before committing to it - that’s the only way to assure it is the right technology for your project.
Cooperative Weed