Charting information search scenarios in your organisation

Your organisation holds a lot of information in a lot of different locations. A search scenarios is crucial in your organisation’s information and knowledge management as it helps your employees to get the right information at the right time.

Intranet, e-mails, e-mail attachments, planning document, excels, head of people, “on the wall” screens and roll up banners that feature the most important mile stones: you name it. Making that information accessible to the right internal and external people at the right time is a real puzzle. A lot of pieces, directly and indirectly accessible bits of information that together tell the whole story but are usually not needed all at once, only one piece to help with a specific information need.

That information can be divided in several ways. There’s not 1 single method of search will aid all information request for all people connected to your organisation, even when the answer to a question is exactly the same. So before you make a division of what information should be put where, design your search scenario’s.

What is a search scenario?

A search scenario is one of the first steps in designing the Knowledge Contact Moments- map. A search scenario helps you chart the type of need for information along 2 lines: urgency (high/low) and target (internal/external). These properties relate to the information need. That allows you to take next steps in determining the information location for example. If urgency is high and the target is external, it means information should be quickly accessible for people outside of your organisation. E.g. an online helpdesk or FAQ. If the urgency is high and the target is internal (“How do I log in into my mail?”) , the lack of accessibility to that information  is likely to be a daily process blocker (I can’t read my mail).

Search scenario’s help you build information pathways in your organization’s content management infrastructure. It’s slightly comparable with building a city from scratch. If you know that people want to relax + with their families + after work, you can start building a road that leads them from a work location to a school or day care to a park. If you know people want to pick up breakfast before work, they can partially use the same road with a small detour, clearly indicated by the sign “get breakfast here”. Since you know the scenarios, it’s easier to build 1 connecting road, instead of creating a new path for each location.

What does a search scenario overview look like?

Like this. Your organisation is in all four areas, and it’s key what requires the most attention. Each scenario will have a different search path in your organisation.

Search Scenarios in information and knowledge management

Why isn’t it more detailed?

The details are filled in per scenario. Will there be overlap? Yes there will be. But a lot of organisations unintentionally make the logical mistake to chart all the topics they (think) they know something about, the locations that information is currently being held and then do some form of analysis focused on users, search strategies, meta-data, etc. Those investigations can be very useful but not if there’s no scenario to test. Using only KPI’s will not help. It’s great that now 55% instead of 40% visit the intranet every two days, but what does that mean in terms of accessibility of information, knowledge management and becoming a learning organisation? In case of the intranet, probably a good conversation topic for the coffee machine.

In short, don’t start with the details, start with how information is being put to purpose.

When do we fill in the details?

When you make the Knowledge Contact Moments Map (KCMM). Not sexy, but very useful. Here are the benefits. You can assume that most search scenarios are more or less applicable to every organisation. Naturally, depending on the culture, products/services, strategy and goals of the company, it will probably rely more heavily on one scenario or the other. Therefore, the scenarios will be further specified: Who are your externals? Does your company want to spend budget on becoming a learning organisation or is immediate customer satisfaction more important? When that is clear, those scenarios can be further specified by filling in the KCMM.

Ironically, it’s also what an organisation taught itself that determines how it will continue to access information.  If I’ve always relied on information path x, I will help my new employee find the same information in the same way. How often have you heard “I’m not sure if that’s how it supposed be, but that works for me!”.

And such patterns are good! If they’re good. If an information pathway is inefficient it might cost a lot more time to find information than is necessary. It’s funny how companies are fanatically trying to reduce call centre costs by making fully optimized information pathways, but do not do the same for their 25-5.000 employees.  Especially when you know that each person spends 2 hours a day for information.

In short, start with understanding search scenario’s specific in your company so that you can carve the right paths to the right information at the right moment.