Knowledge reviews: challenges and unlockers

Knowledge reviews can be powerful tools that spark ideas and opportunities within companies – but too often, they are frustrating and time-consuming to do, difficult to read and process, and don’t result in any meaningful actions.

At Paraffin, we love curating knowledge, and we’ve honed our approach through many years of working with all sorts of data for our diverse clients. In this article, we’ll share some of the most common challenges we’ve encountered along the way; as well as the principles we consistently apply to conducting knowledge reviews.

Knowledge reviews are one of the hardest insight tasks to get right. Here’s why:

  1. No defined objective, purpose or business question

Knowledge reviews are often conducted “because we have a lot of research and we need to know what we know.” This kind of vague objective typically results in someone wasting a good deal of their valuable working time on producing a document that no-one ever really reads or pays attention to.

  1. Poor quality or incomplete inputs

We are drowning in information in both our private and work lives. The Information Overload Research Group has coined a term for this – “infoxication”; also known as infobesity. The problem is not the amount of data; it’s the quality of the data given the task at hand. Poor inputs to a knowledge review will never result in excellent outputs.

  1. Lack of focus, time or attention

Producing a good knowledge review takes a lot of uninterrupted, quality thinking time; something that is in short supply in most of our days at work. Readers or listeners of reviews also need focused time and attention to give the review due diligence.

  1. Bland outputs with no implications

There is nothing worse than spending days working on a review; eagerly sending it on to senior stakeholders and receiving a “this is not what I expected” in reply. Failing to align stakeholders on the objectives, question or challenge in advance and delivering output with no business implications almost always leads to a lacklustre reception.

  1. Work is not read, used or activated

Ever been sent a 100 slide “summary” deck a day before a meeting and feel your heart sink as you wonder how you will possibly have time to read it? Yes, us too. Huge, unfocused decks with a whole lot of copy/pasted slides – even if they do contain useful, rich information – are not user friendly and don’t result in great ideas or actions.

Our Insight Specialists believe that there are 5 unlockers that contribute to stellar knowledge reviews that actually lead somewhere:

  1. Align stakeholders on the brief before work begins

We spend a great deal of time upfront understanding exactly why a knowledge review needs to be conducted, and honing the key question or strategic challenge with our clients. We also ensure we are all aligned on what the output will look like and, crucially, what we will do with it. We never conduct knowledge reviews with no clear purpose behind them.

  1. Select impactful, good quality inputs

In order to deliver meaty territories, springboards or themed insights, we need a good selection of both quantitative and qualitative data sources. We work with 1 key contact within our clients’ organisation to ensure that we can access the key reports we need. We don’t work with “data dumps” of hundreds of unsorted reports and we don’t proceed with work unless we have the right kind of inputs. Sometimes, a scan of available research helps us to understand that there are significant knowledge gaps that need to be filled with primary research before the review can go any further.

  1. Protect time and attention for quality thinking and curation

What is enough time? You may be surprised to hear that our Insights Specialists typically spend around 5 solid days (40 hours!) on an average knowledge review. We need all that time to carefully filter the data we need to meet our objective, theme it and curate the most insightful nuggets, ideas, insights and inspiration into beautiful outputs that can be shared with our clients.

  1. Create immediately impactful outputs

We know and understand that our audience are busy people with very little time on their hands. That’s why our knowledge reviews are short, tightly focused and visually compelling. We typically divide our output into around 5 distinct themes, springboards or territories and have each team member only focus on 1 of these. We prefer less, better quality content that only contains the most useful and insightful data that we know will trigger interesting ideas and opportunities for the client. Our graphic designers make sure that the content is easy to visually digest and we combine data with inspiring examples and consumer or expert quotes for a fresh experience.

We ask our readers/listeners to actively engage with the material by setting them a task to do as they engage with the review. We may ask them to think of 3 starter ideas that come to mind for their project or to share something they didn’t know or that surprised them. These ideas and thoughts are always captured and shared with the wider team, both to ensure accountability and so that they don’t get lost.

  1. Transform knowledge into action through workshop sessions

Our knowledge reviews never land at the bottom of a drawer somewhere because we work with our clients upfront to set objectives around how they will be used. Generally, our knowledge reviews act as the thought starters that help teams to create truly impactful ideas, opportunities and innovations in focused workshops. It’s incredibly rewarding to see products and services on the market that all started with a knowledge review!

Please contact us for more information about the services we offer and how a focused knowledge review can help you with your business challenge!