Narrative enhanced practice 1 of 2

January 27, 2023

Joanna kosinska B6yDtYs2IgY unsplashYesterday in,  the space between exercises I was chatting with a research nurse about patient record keeping.  In the process of that discussion, we started to talk about effective communication about a patient’s condition and she made the point that a simple story can convey a lot of meaning, and that meaning is often lost when we try and structure the material into a structured database.  We can all tell stories, or rather anecdotes about ourselves and others and we do it naturally, as a species we are, for good and bad, inveterate spreaders of gossip and we are comfortable with the ambiguity of narrative in our various meaning-making activities.  Narrative acts as a transitionary device between tacit, experiential acts of knowing and the highly abstract and codified knowledge that was, regrettably, the main goal of knowledge management (KM) for years; the push for digitisation is in the main an extension of that tendency.

Back in 2020 I summarised and updated some work with Max Boisot on this and included the phrase narrative-enhanced doctrine at the intersection between explicit information and the adductive powers of narrative.   I referenced that material again in the Twelvetide post for the same year starting here.  But I never really expanded on that doctrine phrase and I intend to rectify that today.   In the title of this post, I have also changed doctrine to practice as the former is a very specific military term that may not translate to other audiences.

I’d suggest reading the first link at least before proceeding as I don’t intend to repeat that material here.  There are other relevant links;  in that same year, I wrote about lessons learning, not lessons learnt and the role of fiction.  Knowledge captured at the point of action is very different from reflective post-event knowledge (which has its own utility, but the former is critical).  This post obviously builds on my more recent three-part series on knowledge mapping; back in 2013 I summarised the main articles and book chapters I have written on the subject and there is a 2018 sequence of posts that also contains valuable material and another sequence in 2021 ended with concerned about the role of curation in narrative work.

The question of curation, who selects and who interprets the various narrative material is important for today’s them.  I still remember a meeting in the Pentagon where I praised the US Army Lessons Learnt programme for capturing narrative, literally, in the field under fire.  But I also criticised it for synthesising those narratives into doctrine.  I said that such a synthesis would lose much of the power of the narrative and was an attempt to create a context-free approach to an increasingly context-specific set of situations.  I was vindicated in that when a three-star called me back in to say that I had been right because the only thing that had worked in Iraq was platoon commanders blogging.   I outlined my ideas for narrative-enhanced doctrine at that meeting but while the idea and design were sound the technology wasn’t really there to support what I wanted to do, or rather it was but at a high cost and with high risk as the target user audience would be unfamiliar with the approach.  We are not in a different era and the pervasiveness of social media and smartphones means that it is now a lot easier to pick up where I left off in IBM days.

The basic concept behind narrative-enhanced practice or doctrine is fairly simple.  It assumes that you either have or plan to create some form of practice (best, good or bad) document and that you have, or a starting a process of capturing knowledge in narrative form.  Key phrases in that document, or whole paragraphs or the document as a whole are then linked to individual narratives, clusters of narrative or if you are being really clever a search which will bring up current as well as past narratives.   Ideally, those links are made by the people who create the narrative and we carry metadata about the owners with it.  That means that if I read the document I can click through to supporting narratives that provide context and I can also start to select whose narratives I want to see.  I might for example be interested in how people in the same role tag the material, or I might also want to contrast that with another perspective.   So that aspect is narrative to provide context for explicit knowledge.  The other approach is that I search for stories and note that some have been used to tag documents which induce curiosity and I then click through and pay attention to the practice in a much deeper way.  With this approach cost of codification is radically reduced and you can look for patterns of use and tagging which could inform further codification.

In terms of capture, that is where the new SenseMaker® Genba comes in with its capacity for journaling and is best used by replacing an existing post hoc report with real-time capture.  You need to save people time in the here and now, not in some imagined future state, if you want them to undertake a different task and then demonstrate benefits over time.  I’m going to expand on that in tomorrow’s post and with a bit of luck I should be able to create a diagram of the overall process this evening – that should make it clearer.  This post sets the scene and gives you, the reader, a chance to investigate some of the links in advance.

The banner picture is cropped from an original by Christopher Sardegna and the opening picture of a notebook, pen and pictures is by Joanna Kosinska both on Unsplash.

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Narrative enhanced practice 2 of 2

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