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a means of knowledge capture whereby an expert provides a commentary on their own (or someone else’s) performance whilst performing a task.

Purpose and benefit

The purpose of commentating is to provide a description of a technique or process whilst the task is being performed to help others understand or emulate this. It is particularly useful for skill-based knowledge (e.g. welding) that is difficult to describe in words or in an interview situation. The main benefit of commentating is that it provides self-reflection of performance and helps unlock tacit knowledge. This knowledge can be processed and modelled using other methods – e.g. using concept maps, process maps etc.


The description in this section applies to the commentating process to be used to capture knowledge from technical experts.

  1. Pre-requisites
    1. Confirm the expert has tacit knowledge (critical knowledge) of interest that may be captured by this technique. A knowledge-loss risk assessment should have been carried out for the department or team under review.
    2. Determine the tasks that relate to this knowledge.
    3. Ensure that the expert has access to the resources, equipment and locations necessary to demonstrate the task.
    4. Video or audio recording equipment is available to capture the output of the session.
  2. The commentating process
    1. Explain to the expert what is required and which task is to be performed. Explain that he/she will be required to provide a commentary as the task is performed and will be recorded. During the task he/she should describe what is being done, looked at, and thought about at each stage as the task is undertaken.
    2. Start the recording equipment
    3. Record the task being performed. Prompt the expert to maintain dialogue if this ceases at any time.
    4. Repeat the process if this is necessary to allow for different scenarios and conditions.
    5. Invite the expert to review the recording(s) and to add further explanation if necessary.
    6. Wherever possible, validate the knowledge captured with other experts or peers.
  3. Follow-up
    1. Provide a written transcript describing the activity.
    2. Use concept/process maps to help model this knowledge if possible
    3. Retain any recordings and transcripts for knowledge preservation. Usually a portal, wiki or equivalent is used for long term storage and search/retrieve activities.


Capture can be undertaken using video or audio equipment. A second expert or peer can be used to comment on the expert’s performance. Alternatively, an expert can comment on the performance of a novice/ trainee and provide insights to improving performance or mistakes. Observation (see wiki on this) is a very similar technique to help capture knowledge this way.

Implementation guidance

There are no specific rules on how commentating should be undertaken. However, it is worthwhile noting:

  • Wherever possible use the technique to acquire skill-based tacit knowledge
  • Ensure that the commentary is continuous during the entire task
  • Often experts do things which are important, second nature and easily missed
  • Ensure the recording equipment is fit for purpose and trial this before the session in the environment to be used.

Good facilitation is essential to ensure time with the expert is not wasted.

Success factors

  • Good quality recording equipment is essential
  • Questions should be asked and answers retained if any part of the task or commentary is unclear or not understood
  • The ability to transcribe the knowledge, model the knowledge and retain it where it can be easily accessed.

Common pitfalls

  • Recording tasks which are already described by a written process or work instruction.
  • Recording tasks which are not critical or important to the organization’s success. Commentating requires much effort and subsequent modelling so should be limited to critical or important knowledge only.
  • Sometimes the quality of the task can deteriorate when the commentary is given due to the expert experiencing mental overload. In such cases record the task first and ask the expert to add the commentary later on review.
  • Sometimes too much information is recorded which is irrelevant to the main task. Ensure focus on the task identified is maintained at all times.
  • Not sharing or transferring the knowledge. If an expert’s knowledge is modelled and never used then the whole process has little value.

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