Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Curiouser and curiouser

'Bland curiosity' - that is the term that ethnographer Steve Portigal uses for his approach to eliciting
knowledge from interviewees. This phrase might at first seem like a rather weak strategy for getting results, but it struck a chord for me.

Firstly 'curiosity'. I've always thought that this was the paramount quality for anyone involved in facilitating the transfer of knowledge. Whether it is to do with commercial laundry detergent dosing systems or financial governance (both real examples of recent client work), it is vital that you exhibit a genuine curiosity about the topic and the individuals concerned. I love the insights I get to how diverse organisations work.

Why 'bland'? I'm often asked by those on the Knowledge Elicitation and Transfer Skills courses that I run 'how much do you, as a facilitator, need to know about the topic'? The answer is 'just enough'. That is not a flippant response; you need to know enough about the topic in order to ask the right questions and then probe the deep knowledge, but not so much that you can't ask the damn-fool questions. The advantage an external facilitator has, is that they are entitled to ask revealing questions that might be skipped over by an insider.

The Steve Portigal quote comes from his recently published book 'Interviewing Users'. Whilst the title is pretty bland, it actually contains a lot of useful elicitaiton tips based on years of ethnography field work. It is worth bearing in mind that ethnographers generally elicit knowledge for their own (or client's) research purposes. The book doesn't focus on facilitating real-time dialogue between those that have know-how and those who need it.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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