Knowledge elicitation interview

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a technique that involves questioning experts in a meeting or workshop environment with the main aim of capturing basic knowledge. They are a form of tacit knowledge capture from subject matter experts. E.g. employees exit interviews

Purpose and benefit

The purpose of a knowledge elicitation interview is to capture mainly explicit knowledge from an expert in a form that can be codified and extended by further questioning and analysis. The main benefit of an interview is that it helps set up the first stages of knowledge capture and provides a platform for other advanced techniques to probe further into the knowledge of the expert (including tacit knowledge).


Interviews are normally carried out using the semi-structured questionnaire approach. Here, questions are pre-defined based on the knowledge domains of interest and understood by the expert. The process is:

  1. Pre-requisites
    1. Confirm the expert has knowledge (critical knowledge) of interest. A knowledge-loss risk assessment should have been carried out for the Department or team under review well in advance of the interview.
    2. Carry out a preliminary interview to determine the knowledge domains the expert is competent in. Use this to also explain the knowledge capture process that will be followed.
    3. Pre-prepare a semi-structured interview script.
    4. Arrange a suitable date for the first interview (not more than 2 hours)
    5. Ensure a recording device is available to record the interview.
    6. Invite other stakeholders to the interview session. Peers and potential successors or recipients should be involved wherever possible.
  2. The interview process
    1. Use the semi-structured questionnaire as a means to guide discussions.
    2. Use others in the meeting to elaborate on the expert’s answers and to ask follow-up questions.
    3. Record the meeting and take notes.
    4. When complete, thank the expert for his/her time and arrange a follow-up meeting.
  3. Follow-up
    1. Use the recording of the interview to produce a transcript of the discussion.
    2. Look at the responses from the interview to help plan a follow-up discussion. Consider all the knowledge domains of interest.
    3. Retain the recordings and transcripts for knowledge preservation. Usually a portal, wiki or equivalent is used for long term storage and to facilitate search/retrieve tasks.


There are two other types of interview:

  1. Unstructured interviews have an outline agenda but no pre-defined questions or structure. Unstructured interviews may be useful when starting a new interview where there is some doubt or confusion over the extent of knowledge to be investigated.
  2. Structured interviews allow for no flexibility. All questions are pre-established and there are no follow-up questions during the session. Structured interviews can involve the use of a questionnaire that is filled in during the interview.

Implementation guidance

  1. There are no specific rules on how questions should be derived and formatted, but they should be:
    • Focused on the knowledge domains of interest (experts often are competent in a number of knowledge domains so it is essential that these are understood at an early stage).
    • Open questions – i.e. questions that can’t be answered yes/no.
    • Clear and precise.
    • Objective in their nature and not personal. For example ask about best practice rather than how the expert performs a particular task.
    • For a one hour session around 10-15 questions should be adequate.
  2. It is always useful to record interviews to help with subsequent codification. Recording also means that experts will take the interview sessions seriously and provide their best attention.
  3. The value of interviews decreases with time. After more than 4 or 5 the process becomes less efficient.
  4. Good facilitation of the interview session is essential to ensure that the process is followed correctly and time is not wasted.

Success factors

  • Experts are in high demand - Interviews need planning well in advance.
  • Time is needed to ensure that the right questions are formulated in advance.
  • Formulating questions is best achieved by facilitators and other experts who understand the subject matter.
  • Allow 2 to 3 times the interview duration to produce a transcript from an audio recording and have it validated.
  • Involve other experts in the interview to ask technical questions.
  • If possible, get the learner/successor/recipient involved in the interview process.
  • Be prepared to carry out 3 to 6 two hour interviews depending on the depth of knowledge available.

Common pitfalls

  • The belief that carrying out a few interviews will help capture a lifetime’s knowledge from an expert.
  • The belief that interviews will help to capture tacit knowledge. Other techniques are best suited for this.
  • Trying to cover too much in a single session. Limit sessions to a maximum of 2 hours.
  • Looking too far back into the expert’s history. Generally only addressing the last 5-10 years of expert knowledge is worthwhile.
  • Failing to properly codify the knowledge for others to find and use.
  • Not acting on the knowledge captured. Other techniques are needed to help transfer this knowledge to learners and recipients.