Instruments, samples, and data are all valuable laboratory assets, but a knowledgeable, highly skilled personnel (or workers) is perhaps the most valuable asset of them all. Facilitating knowledge transfer between individual staff members and teams can fuel creativity and innovation, and advance research.
“Knowledge transfer is a mechanism or strategy put in place to help capture, synthesize, share, and retain essential information that can ideally be easily stored, shared, and referenced,” explains Anisha Kothari, associate, senior laboratory planner at HDR. Facilitating knowledge transfer between team members is essential to support the ongoing shift from individual research efforts to a team-based approach. Unfortunately, there are many potential barriers than can hinder knowledge transfer. “Whether they be physical, digital, cultural, operational, or organizational, it’s important to break down barriers as much as possible,” adds Kothari.
Older laboratory designs often included multiple individual cellular laboratories and office spaces, which has created a physical barrier to knowledge transfer. “In many cases, little has been done to encourage those in offices to move outside the office and collaborate and interact with colleagues,” explains Jon Crane, director of translational health at HDR. These designs are due, in part, to some limitations imposed by grants and funding.
“We have designed around strict controls and even duplicated spaces such as supply rooms simply because every department in the past may have required a dedicated room that was managed and supplied by a departmental budget,” explains Kothari.
Many existing designs also predate the advent of big data. “Older laboratory designs may not have foreseen the amount of big data coming out of laboratories due to automation, augmented reality, parametric modeling, high quality imaging, and predictive analytics,” says Kothari, adding that “many of the laboratory designs don’t easily support stacked IT/telecommunication closets to help facilitate this.”
In addition to physical barriers, organizational barriers pose challenges for knowledge transfer. According to Kothari, “knowledge transfer can be greatly hindered by not budgeting for proper onboarding and best practices, skills training, and continuing education opportunities.”
Creating opportunities for interaction
New laboratory designs should take into account some strategies to enhance knowledge transfer. “Breaking down physical walls to create more open environments is the best way to allow for more of the serendipitous interactions that foster trust—and ideally discussion—and interaction to allow for knowledge transfer,” says Kothari. This allows teams to see each other and the work being carried out, and creates adjacencies between various groups to encourage interdisciplinary research and opportunities for cross-training.
Centralizing core services is another approach to facilitating knowledge transfer. “Creating space for core research services that are not departmentally owned but rather used as a resource to the larger population will increase interaction and collaboration between groups,” explains Kothari. “Locating collaborative settings such as team space, cafés, or huddle rooms within close proximity of core resource spaces encourages spontaneous interactions between disciplines,” adds Allison Arnone, workplace strategy principal at HDR.
No plans for a redesign? No problem
For many laboratories, a complete redesign and renovation is not affordable or feasible, but facilitating knowledge transfer does not require an all-or-nothing approach. Kothari and Arnone offer some simple solutions for enhancing knowledge transfer between staff that can be implemented immediately without any funds:
- Create opportunities for individuals to present or share work outside of their department.
- Convert “owned” space to “shared” space. For example, repurpose a departmental conference room into an amenity space that encourages serendipitous interaction.
- Don’t duplicate destinations. Ensure destinations are unique so that one would make an effort to visit, and repurpose duplicate spaces to address other needs.
- Provide incentives (for example, team lunches or extra vacation days) for those willing to enhance collaboration and use their personal time for data science skills training.
- Embed team spaces along common paths of travel, at intersections, and within the lab.