MITRE and the Thank You Database

Is E-mail the Killer App?. …In March, 1998, MITRE, a non-profit corporation and a leader in knowledge sharing practices, created a “thank you“ database. It works like this: Whenever someone replies with a “thank you,” the entire e-mail thread can be cc’d to a “thank you” e-mail box. The “ thank you” e-mail is copied to MITRE’s database and the knowledge sharer (the recipient of the “thank you” e-mail) is recorded as an “expert.” The “expert” is credited for sharing his knowledge. Each time someone retrieves that “thank you” e -mail, the expert is awarded a “hit.” Each day, the number of “thank you” e-mails and “hits” are totaled and experts are recognized on the organization’s intranet as knowledge sharing champions. A “Top Knowledge Sharer” is rewarded with a MITRE -funded training class (up to $3,000) of the recipient’s choice.

… This “thank you” e-mail system follows Tom Davenport’s idea of “baking” knowledge into work. Davenport, in a recent Harvard Business School Review article posits:

“The key to success … is to bake specialized knowledge into the jobs of highly skilled workers – to make the knowledge so readily accessible that it can’t be avoided. While there are several ways to bake knowledge into knowledge work, the most promising approach is to embed it into the technology that knowledge workers use to do their jobs. That approach ensures that knowledge management is no longer a separate activity requiring additional time and motivation.” [excited utterances]

Wow. A great post on overcoming cultural hurdles with some simple, proven (and low-tech!) techniques. I’ll have to e-mail a friend of mine who’s a higher-up at MITRE and see how successful this has been. Thanks to Joy for spotlighting this. I see a lot of parallels to using weblogs for a similar purpose.