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Subject Matter Expert: 4 Tips for Knowledge Sharing

One of the key responsibilities as a Learning & Development (L&D) professional is getting the Subject Matter Expert (SME) to share all the relevant information and knowledge that they possess. Every project requires you to onboard a new set of SMEs. In most instances, SMEs want to be part of the development team and love to share what they know. The challenge is being able to collect the most useful information in a way that is both structured and useful.

Here are my top four tips for efficiently collecting SME knowledge.

  1. Schedule Ahead – SME time is often limited. It is rare to have a SME that is 100% allocated to the learning development. Due to this it is important to be respectful of the time that they do have. Always give them plenty of notice before a data gathering session. This gives them a chance to think about what needs to be shared and to rearrange their schedule if necessary. I generally like to give them 3-5 days’ notice before an actual session. I also always include information about what needs to be discussed. More on that later.

  2. Be Targeted – Make sure your discovery sessions are narrow in scope. Trying to cover too much information in one session may get you information on lots of topics. However, the drawback is that it will most likely be very shallow in depth. This requires you to go back later for a deeper understanding and may cause the knowledge to seem disjointed. I try to limit my content collection session to 2 or 3 topics at the most. That way I can get a deeper understanding of the “what, when, why, and how” of a topic.

  3. Set Expectations – Always make sure you let the SME know exactly what information you are going to be discussing before you meet with them. Also, consider encouraging the SME to spend a little time before any session to collect documentation that might help in the knowledge sharing. This allows your sessions to focus more on the actual knowledge transfer than digging through files and links to find information. As mentioned earlier, I like to send out meeting notices several days in advance. As part of that notice, I will always include an agenda, outline, or list of questions that I hope to address in the meeting – this is critical if you a set of scenarios. This helps the SME have a strong grasp of what I am trying to uncover.

  4. Document & Collaborate – This cannot be emphasized strongly enough. It is important to document your findings and share it with the SME. There are lots of ways to do this. It can be something as simple as a Word document posted on a shared drive that everyone has access to or a shared OneNote workbook that you collaborate on. Whatever your method, the key is to make sure it is easily accessible, everyone knows where it is, and that it is organized. To reinforce a strong collaborative relationship, I will typically send an email to the SME whenever I add notes to the document, letting them know that I’ve updated it and encouraging them to make any additions or revisions that might be needed – it’s just one way to do your part to proactively communicate.

In Summary

As an L&D professional, we are expected to be able to quickly learn and understand the skills and processes that we develop learning for. In order to do that we have to tap into the wealth of knowledge from our SMEs. Doing this in a structured and professional manner makes the experience a success for all involved. As you start thinking about your latest project, take a look at how you currently collect information from your SMEs. What tips could you implement to make the knowledge transfer process even more efficient?

To find out more about the BCR SME Onboarding Approach, email me at

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