Blog Post

March 6, 2023

Enabling the Brain Drain for Knowledge Management


Courtney Doane

Why knowledge management?

Knowledge management is the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge that resides within an organization. To capture this tacit knowledge and organize it effectively, there must be a framework in place. Employees want their voices heard and showing that people come first can cultivate a positive environment within the organization. This also helps mitigate the issue of employees leaving the company with important information in their heads.

Everyone has had the experience of beginning a job in a new company and receiving initial training, but thereafter needing to tap on a more experienced employee’s shoulder to pick their brain about a certain task. With remote work and hybrid models becoming the norm, this could look like a ping, an email, or a message on Slack. Even with text-based searchable communications, though, it can often be difficult to track down specific conversations.

A searchable system to capture tacit knowledge

Our February Content Strategy Seattle Meetup talk was presented by Mike Doane. Mike is a professor at the University of Washington and a consultant in information architecture, content strategy, and taxonomy. Mike spoke on a recent project that sheds new light on how to create a a searchable knowledge management system that captures the information that is often communicated in emails and other messages, helping new employees get up to speed on ongoing projects.

Email can be one of the largest repositories of tacit information, but as was pointed out in the event chat, company retention policies can hinder the long-term storage of that information. One attendee mentioned that their company deletes emails after 90 days. Mike’s framework would remedy this issue by creating an intentional “brain drain.”

How it works

The framework doesn’t rely on any fancy new software that might be over the company’s budget, and instead works with software they may already have such as Microsoft Office and Zoom. In a recent example of this “brain drain” framework being utilized, a team conducted interviews with current employees via Zoom. The employees being interviewed were given time to review the questions beforehand so they felt comfortable with their answers. The team then used Zoom’s transcript function to export a VTT file. From this file, using a simple word processor, they organized the information and removed any of the errors in spelling and grammar to create a document that could be easily searched in a database. With new features of AI coming out, there will probably soon be a way to ask an internal AI for the answers stored in the knowledge management system using the information from these interviews.

Now when another employee has a question about a topic, they can either search and hear the person explaining the topic in real time on the Zoom interview or they can read the transcript. This can also be seen as a reverse funnel: Instead of trying to get information from someone during an exit interview, this can be done at employee intake and throughout employment so when they do their exit interview it's more of a recap.

A people-first approach

A key concept in this type of knowledge management is thinking of the people first and the technology second. When working with information and highly technical groups that’s not always the case, but if you value an employee's knowledge from the start, listen to their ideas, and find a way to organize them, employees’ sense of value will increase. After interviews are done a few times, they also come to be seen as a common practice for sharing knowledge. Employees get better at communicating their knowledge, and the system becomes more useful over time.

Mike’s talk was informative and innovative. As we head into a new year with new goals, let’s continue to think of new ways to put people first in technology.

For further reading:

Tacit Knowledge: What is Tacit Knowledge? Definition, Differences and Examples (

Knowledge Portals & PoolParty: Knowledge Portals and Why TheyMatter | PoolParty

Knowledge Management: Knowledge management strategy |Deloitte Insights

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