My first blog on this website begins with a bold declaration: knowledge management (KM) is critical to the long-term success of a LARP. Policies, stories, and best practices will be lost to the ether without good KM. So, the goal of this article is to explain a little about KM, how it applies to LARPs, why it is so essential, and how to begin good KM in your game.
What Is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge management is a product of the information age. Entire industries have propped themselves up on the idea that information is a discrete product that can be created, enhanced, and sold. KM is used by every organization, from LARPs to Fortune 500 companies. If you have ever worked for a company that gave you an employee handbook or a how-to binder, you've worked for a company that employs KM.
The simplest expression of KM is collecting information and getting it to the people who need it. Koenig explains the role of KM as a means to excellent situational awareness and empowered decision-making (Koenig, 2018). Put together, KM collects information and connects it to people who need to make decisions based on how their organization does things.
Why LARPs Need KM
Imagine a game whose storytellers didn't use the same information about the game's setting, where the setting was only loosely shared between them through word-of-mouth. That game would quickly break down because there would be no common picture shared between the storytellers, and players would be in chaos trying to cross-communicate between them. Now imagine a game whose setting is documented and given to storytellers. That game would be in much better shape, and players could share strategy and information between themselves from a common frame of reference.
LARPs generate a lot of information, and players and staff need that to run games. Much of that information is critical to the game. LARPs generate knowledge every time a story is told to a group of players, when characters are updated, when new players sign up to join the troupe, or when events are scheduled; and, that's by no means an exhaustive list. Without good KM it becomes very difficult to unify staff, story, and players.
Experts and Their Community of Practice
The amount of information created by a LARP stretches across different functional groups, e.g. players, staff, managers, and vendors. Within each group there is an opportunity for experts to arise. These people have cultivated a deep understanding of their group, its role in the organization, and how and what to cross-communicate with the other groups. In my experience, these are the heads of staff that oversee character logistics, storytelling, monsters and NPCs, and event planning.
How to Capture Knowledge and Connect It to People
Organizations have two types of knowledge: tacit and explicit. Explicit knowledge is the kind that is handed down in writing or through other codified means (FAQs, rulebooks, how-to instructions, etc). Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, isn't quite as easy to convey. If anyone has ever said to you “I can't quite explain it, but I know it when I see it,” then they're saying they have tacit knowledge.
Good KM begins with identifying where the gaps are in your organization's explicit knowledge. Gaps are often a good place to start looking for tacit knowledge stored in the heads of experts. KM tries to fill in the gaps with tacit knowledge converted into explicit knowledge.
Filling in the gaps is only half of the KM process, though. The newly minted knowledge has to be connected to the people who need it. This is where a knowledge management system (KMS) like MyLARP comes in handy.
My favorite, and oft-repeated, adage in KM is that knowledge is useless if you can't find it when you need it. That makes tools like SharePoint portals, forums, and FAQs useful to people who aren't necessarily experts. These tools provide a common location where knowledge is shared and searchable. Programs like MyLARP are also useful tools because they crystallize knowledge capturing processes, store it, and make it retrievable by those who need it.
A KMS is only a tool used by knowledge managers. It isn't only an IT solution. KM is an organizational business practice, so there must be a will behind the collection and connection of knowledge to people from every subgroup within an organization to be successful. A KMS is a means to that end. James Robertson, a keynote speaker on knowledge management from Sydney, Australia, argues that thinking of KM as only an IT challenge leads to the assumption that there is a “silver bullet” solution. The focus should be determining what challenges a KMS can solve within the organization when it comes to converting tacit knowledge to explicit, and for sharing that knowledge with the community (Frost, 2018).
Frost, A. (2018). Knowledge Management Systems. [online] Knowledge-management-tools.net. Available at: https://www.knowledge-management-tools.net/knowledge-management-systems.html [Accessed 2 Jul. 2018].
Koenig, M. (2018). What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained. [online] Kmworld.com. Available at: http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Editorial/What-Is/What-is-KM-Knowledge-Management-Explained-122649.aspx [Accessed 2 Jul. 2018].