posted 3 Apr 2001 in Volume 4 Issue 7
Playing for real
Triam’s approach to knowledge gaming
Much has been written about the theories behind knowledge management but the real challenge lies in realising these in an operational capacity. Steven de Groot and Wilma Pongers discuss the function of educational games as a means of developing and transferring knowledge together with the process of game design.
We would like to start by unravelling the term knowledge management in order to put educational games into context. In our view knowledge management is concerned with facilitating the relationship with knowledge information and resources on individual process and organisational levels. We would like to explore these two concepts facilitating and knowledge in more detail.
Paying attention to knowledge means constantly being alert to the necessary and available knowledge on the various levels mentioned above. This implies that the individual employee and entire organisation are aware not only of the knowledge (and information) that is necessary every day but also of ‘tomorrow’s knowledge’ that will be introduced or developed in the foreseeable future.
This continuous process needs to be facilitated or managed. You should look upon this as the creation of conditions for using developing disseminating activating and anchoring knowledge. Processes and products/services are becoming more knowledge-intensive whereas the half-life of knowledge is becoming ever shorter. A continuous structural and intelligent relationship with knowledge is also becoming more important for organisations in which KM is not so much a matter of doing something else but rather a way of looking at work and processes.
Many organisations request our assistance in providing substance to the concept of knowledge management the formulation of a philosophy and in making it truly visible throughout the organisation through a number of instruments and interventions. In doing so many organisations make the assumption that they are ‘doing KM’ for the first time. Of course this is not the case. Organisations already possess knowledge and have been able to justify their existence for some time by translating knowledge into services or production. Organisations have always made choices of what knowledge to acquire to record in manuals and systems and to have staff acquire through training courses. The question that remains is: how conscious are they of their relationship with knowledge and its value to the organisation?
Triam makes use of a KM growth plan that starts with an acquaintance with KM (step one – importance and position of KM) and moves through mapping out the current and desired situation (step two) and implementation of KM (step three) and completes the cycle by monitoring KM (step four).
This article focuses on step three the implementation of knowledge management in this case by means of games for sharing knowledge. Each step is illustrated with a case study based on an imaginary bank and insurance company Holland Insurance in the italicised text below.
Step one – getting to know knowledge management: grasping the knowledge problem
We always start by asking every organisation wanting to ‘do KM’ the question: ‘what is your knowledge problem on the various organisational levels and what makes you think that you have this problem?’ A non-problem never results in a solution!
Holland Insurance expressed its knowledge problem as follows: the board suspects a loss of income as a result of a deficit of knowledge among loss adjusters and quasi-loss adjusters claims assessors and car/transport acceptors.
Both the output (policies and claims payments) and the path leading to the output (the acceptance and claims handling process) appear to be person-dependent and vary according to the employee concerned.
Make certain that you are dealing with a genuine problem related to knowledge (competencies) information or resources (knowledge carriers). Be aware of the other factors that affect the performance of people and organisations such as tools motivation and stimuli. Only if there is a true knowledge problem is it useful to continue with step two – mapping out the current and desired situation for KM.
Step two – mapping out the current and desired situation for KM
Before arriving at a game or any other KM intervention or tool it is necessary to examine the following two matters:
- Vital knowledge (necessary and available);
- Your relationship with knowledge (current and desired).
Vital knowledge: types of knowledge
KM assumes that we wish to manage knowledge. What kind of knowledge are we talking about exactly? What knowledge is vital today and the day after for your organisation?
Many people appear unable to answer the following question: what knowledge do you and your organisation possess? The concept of knowledge is often not sufficiently concrete to be divided into smaller manageable chunks.
We recognize four types of knowledge (professional knowledge organisational knowledge environmental knowledge and supporting knowledge) a variety of knowledge levels and knowledge aspects.
Vital knowledge is mapped out in working sessions with loss adjusters by discussing the process of acceptance and claim processing. But this produces a rather general picture of the necessary vital knowledge and still says too little about the level and category of the knowledge.
The development of knowledge takes place both consciously and unconsciously and both formally and informally. Knowledge develops according to a certain system; we refer to this as knowledge taxonomy. We use the knowledge taxonomy based on a model by Romiszowski .
Experts are in good position to identify within this matrix knowledge that is most essential for the job and that can be made more explicit in the form of information. Learning takes place along a path that runs from the top left of the matrix to the bottom right. The loss adjusters' knowledge appears to reside mostly at the bottom right of the taxonomy. Holland Insurance also indicated that this was where the most vital knowledge of the acceptance and claims handling process could be found. Experience has shown that knowledge in the first two columns in particular can be made explicit (structural capital ) and can be recorded on non-human information carriers.
The knowledge residing at the bottom right of the taxonomy is much more difficult ‘to extract’ and is probably best left within employees (human capital) provided this knowledge is disseminated sufficiently.
Your relationship with knowledge
You now know what knowledge is vital for your organisation and for your staff. A view of the gap between necessary knowledge and available knowledge can be gained using the instruments described above. The questions that now arise are:
- How can we bridge this knowledge gap?
- How does this knowledge flow through the organisation?
This brings us to the choices the organisation can make in the relationship with knowledge. We refer to these as the knowledge competencies.
The working session with the Holland Insurance loss adjusters revealed that the knowledge competencies of disseminating and anchoring demanded the most attention and that Holland Insurance had a need for a means of intervention or tool to enable each employee to develop the vital knowledge concerned.
The desired situation at Holland Insurance: the dissemination and anchoring of process knowledge of the acceptance and claims handling so that each loss adjuster and quasi-loss adjuster possesses the same level of knowledge. This must give rise to a uniform execution of the acceptance and claims handling processes and a consistent output.
Step three – implementation of knowledge management
In this phase we design and implement tools and interventions to remove the obstacles identified in step one. For example interventions such as instructions job rotation the introduction of knowledge pairs and so on. This article discusses the educational game as a means of developing and disseminating knowledge in this case the implicit knowledge of the loss adjusters.
The structural attention to learning in organisations is leading to the phenomenon of ‘training fatigue’ which in many cases is the consequence of incorrect training or inappropriate learning objectives: too small a distinction between need to learn and nice to learn. But the discussion is not only about the variety of forms of work but also – fortunately – the effectiveness of training.
Organisations often still embrace traditional forms of training for instance by putting a trainer in a room and drumming knowledge into the participants with a pile of presentation slides. But learning should be fun; its effectiveness will then automatically increase. We have developed and implemented educational games with great success for a variety of clients in various knowledge management projects.
We are all familiar with games from our childhood. The power of these games lies in the cooperation the transfer of knowledge and the elements of competency and chance. These are powerful aspects that are also extremely useful in a learning environment in business. When we forge a more direct link with learning and in so doing opt for a game as a means of learning we observe that the relationship with learning objectives – including the sharing of knowledge and experience – is a prerequisite.
Educational games can be used as a means of achieving cognitive learning objectives if an emphasis is placed on facts and the improvement of understanding and relationships if the objectives are interpreting explaining and solving problems. But beyond that a game also makes a demand on behavioural factors such as learning to cooperate and improving awareness and motivation.
Another condition for an educational game is the inclusion of feedback opportunities. In the course of the game the reasons why a participant scores well or not so well and how they can influence the score must be fed back to them.
And just like games that are played for fun educational games often have an element of chance an element of competition and are fun. Participants experience learning through playing on an individual level and in the interaction with other participants. Educational games frequently offer a way of learning through discovery which is useful in the orientation phase and processing phase of learning. Another strength of educational games is the ‘safe’ environment in which it is permissible to make mistakes. Roles and rules are broken. Equally anyone can play; people of any age culture or experience. Games are often extremely expressive particularly when they exhibit a direct relationship with work situations.
The characteristics of an educational game are as follows:
- Varied and enjoyable form of work;
- Away from the place of work;
- Interactive: learning from each other;
- Breaking through roles and rules;
- Individual experience;
- Less resistance less threatening.
Types of games
In a study into the possibilities of the effective use of games as a means of learning carried out by Triam we encountered the following types of educational game: Happy Families Snakes and Ladders-type games the quiz the puzzle memory tests and the simulation. We make grateful use of the investigation carried out by L. Bijkerk .
Of these games snakes and ladders the quiz the puzzle and the simulation are suitable for disseminating and developing the implicit knowledge of loss adjusters.
Snakes and ladders-type games are characterised by a path that the participants have to move along with questions to be answered and assignments to be carried out at the various stops. Asking questions related to knowledge of the daily work process or on the workplace is a frequently encountered form of this type of game. Through the exchange of information among the participants the transfer takes place of facts structures concepts and relationships.
The quiz is oriented mainly to the participants’ ready factual knowledge and can be used as an alternative or in addition to testing. Here too the exchange of information regarding facts takes place among the participants.
The puzzle provides the opportunity for the participant to design a game board or a structure often an abstract representation of a complex situation. This kind of game is mainly suited to providing the participant with an understanding of relationships and structures of situations such as communication structures organisation structures the sequence of steps within processes and work instructions.
Finally the simulation. This type of game is characterised by a high degree of realism which makes it familiar. A common theme is the simulation of a process in the daily work situation. The great advantage of simulation is the total view of the process or situation where errors can be made without disastrous consequences. The participant can comprehend the consequences and can undo decisions. Participants can perform the simulation in groups and subsequently discuss the results of a number of groups. ‘Making errors is permitted learning is compulsory’ is the pervading theme of simulations.
In practice you also encounter combinations of the above-mentioned types of game. Combining types of games allows a variety of learning objectives to be united within one form of work. The game supervisor is an important factor in each type of game.
In addition to the above forms of educational game Triam makes two further distinctions:
- A game in which knowledge resides in the game materials. In situations in which implicit knowledge is difficult to record the game can be used to disseminate the knowledge. The knowledge then resides in (some of) the participants. The participants transfer the knowledge by playing the game.
- A game in which the knowledge resides in the participants. In other cases it is possible to record the implicit knowledge at the time of developing the game (for example in the form of a score matrix). The game can then be played by participants who do not have the knowledge concerned which is then developed by the participants.
The game developed for Holland Insurance is a clear example of a simulation game in which the knowledge resides in the participants. Holland Insurance desires in the framework of its knowledge management to disseminate the (implicit) experience-based knowledge of senior staff in the area of insurance among themselves and to staff moving on to senior positions.
Not just a game
In spite of the fact that a game can be a very effective learning tool the effectiveness of games is often at its best in combination with other forms of work. The educational games developed by Triam all have a place within a course of learning alongside training courses and the use of assignments and self-study material. In addition in many cases Triam develops instruments to increase the transfer of what has been learned in practice. In the design phase the learning objectives serve as a starting point to achieving the best possible mix of forms of work.
Game development consists of the following steps which are discussed below:
1. Formulation of learning objectives and selection of form of work;
2. Drawing up requirement specification;
3. Devising and selecting game idea/design;
4. Development of game (prototype);
5. Executing pilot;
6. Production of game materials;
It is no simple matter to develop an educational game. Thinking about a game as intervention for the dissemination or development of implicit knowledge follows on from the formulation of learning objectives and making a selection of forms of work. In practice we sometimes see the game being used as a starting point and the learning objectives modified to justify choosing the game. Bear in mind that a learning activity is an intervention a means for achieving an objective. Therefore ask whether using a game is the right choice for the learning objectives you have identified.
Once the educational game as intervention for the dissemination or development of implicit knowledge has been chosen draw up the requirements specification. The specification comprises the following:
- The investigation into and the formulation of the form of game;
- Duration of game;
- Number of participants;
- Number of times to be played (durability);
- Sensitivity to maintenance of information and reproduction;
- The characteristics of the target group (necessary prior knowledge composition familiarity with and consequences of the game as a form of work).
When agreement has been reached on the requirements specification one or more designs of the game are produced. During the design of the game the design team devises the game structure the number of rounds the choice of materials (for example game board method of scoring question and answer cards user manual game box) and the relationship with other forms of work.
The role of the client in this phase is extremely important because they are required to provide a great deal of input in order to arrive at the correct implementation of the game design.
Experience has shown that – as is also the case in the development of other learning resources – clients often take the contracting out of training development too literally. The effectiveness of training increases if the learning resource is custom-built for the participant. Demands are made on the client's time just as they are in the case of a tailor taking a client’s measurements.
After that the game materials are developed into a prototype.
The Holland Insurance game is a simulation of the process of acceptance and claims processing. The thought processes and the knowledge information and resources (both electronic and human) for each process step are made explicit by means of 'knowledge cards' and 'result cards' on a game board. By means of the cards in the knowledge circle the player learns for each process step what knowledge information and resources to use. By means of the cards in the results circle the player learns what results might be produced.
Three groups play the game at the same time in the same room. In the course of a number of rounds the steps of the acceptance process are simulated with information being gathered and assessed in each round ultimately arriving at a policy.
After each round the results of the three groups are compared with each other and discussed.
The claims handling process is then simulated in a similar way with information and knowledge being gathered and assessed in each round ultimately arriving at the decision on a claims payment and the possible amount.
It is important to have one or more pilots in the process of game development. Play the game as it will later be played in practice. The objective of the pilots is to test the game materials the correctness of information (authenticity and level of detail) and the achievement of the learning objectives.
It was shown in the Holland Insurance pilots that the game is an excellent means of making vital knowledge explicit and of disseminating it.
Following the pilot the game materials are modified to a final version. Before the game sessions take place the organisation has to be made ‘ready’ for the start. The game supervisor must have or be given sufficient skills in supervising the game. Knowledge of the subject matter alone is not enough. Skill in directing the group process preserving the learning atmosphere and giving feedback is also necessary.
Finally the participants will start to play the game and above all learn. Improvements could be incorporated at some future time in consultation with the client if necessary.
Holland Insurance also wishes to develop the game for other departments.
Step four – monitoring knowledge management
The circle is almost complete. Now is the time to investigate whether the knowledge problem (step one) will be solved whether the gap between the current and desired situations (step two) will be reduced and whether the chosen tools and interventions will make a contribution. This could be referred to as a knowledge audit. The execution of the above steps should be performed cyclically and continuously. Your organisation must pay constant attention to its knowledge problem its vital knowledge the design of the knowledge infrastructure and the strategy to be employed. Quality thinking (plan-do-check-act/adapt) can be of assistance in this.
And above all be pragmatic. Make use of current projects in the organisation. There is a large probability that half of these projects have something to say about dealing more intelligently with knowledge. Try to embed KM in everyone's daily actions. Not doing something new but doing something old in a different way. Good luck!
1. Romisowski A.J. Producing Instructional Systems: Lesson Planning for Individualized and Group Learning Activities (New York 1984)
2. Stewart T. Intellectual Capital (Brealey 1997)
3. Bijkerk L. ‘Spel als leermiddel voor volwassenen’ (1995)
Steven de Groot is a senior advisor business development at Triam. He can be contacted at: email@example.com
Wilma Pongers is a senior advisor business development at Triam. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org