Gathering tacit information

A methodological approach

During my research week at Dance4 I am hoping to gather information about tacit aspects of the dancer ‘s work and how they experience the choreographic process. This, however is not a simple process…

There is a discernible difference between explicit information, which can be formalised, documented and passed on with the help of technology; and more personal knowledge, which can be difficult, if not impossible to record (Holste, Fields, 2010). The dance sector is generally made of the latter: ‘creative practices do not typically construct rational arguments and adduce evidence to support them’ (Nelson, 2009, P.113). They are ‘rooted in an individual’s experience and values’ (Noaka ,Takeuchi, 1998) and cannot always be effectively documented in a formal manner. Subsequently, I face a dilemma in allowing tacit information to emerge naturally, whilst being able to some how document and record it.

In order to do so, it is vital that I understand tacit knowledge and the way it is shared. Holste and Fields cite ‘trust’ as the key that enables co-workers to share tacit knowledge.  They categorise this trust as ‘affect-based trust, which is grounded in mutual care and concern between workers; and cognition-based trust, which is grounded in co-worker reliability and competence’ (2010, p.129). This model can be applied directly to the dancer and their development of skills and knowledge. They trust, and in turn, learn from their peers and friends in the dance studio for whom they share mutual respect and concern; but might also trust, and in turn, be willing to learn from co- workers who they do not have personal relationships with, but whom they see as successful and therefore reliable.

This concept in turn signals something about the practical ways dancers may be taking on tacit knowledge. In terms of affect-based trust, they may learn through conversations, anecdotes and discussions about shared experiences with their peers. In comparison, tacit knowledge that is learnt from cognition-based trust might involve the dancer studying, observing or mimicking someone they believe to be more competent that themselves. In both instances the knowledge that is being transferred is not being explicitly identified and, as a result, may not be recognised by either party if they were directly questioned about it.

This research week is designed to allow these kinds of tacit knowledge transfers to happen in a controlled environment that is as realistic to a professional dance context as possible. Dancers may not be aware of information that they learn or employ tacitly, however, so the model of data collection needs to encourage them to think about their practice in a new way, without setting up any preconceptions about what they think they should say.. Max Van Manen suggest that, ‘lived experiences gather hermeneutic significance as we (reflectively) gather them by giving memory to them (1989, p.37). The process of remembering an experience allows someone to consider the various aspects of it. He suggests that conversations are a useful way to assign meaning and importance to these experiences, saying that although they may begin without focus, ‘gradually a certain topic of mutual interest emerges, and the speakers become in a sense animated by the notion to which they are now both orientated’ (Manen, 1989, p.98). It will be these naturally emerging topics that indicate the sub-conscious information that is important to dancers.  

The key modes of data collection will be journals kept by the dancers and three, group discussions that will be filmed. To instigate the journal entries and  group discussions dancers will be asked, in the first instance to ‘talk about what they think the week will be like’, and then, ‘to recall their experiences of this choreographic process’. These prompts will provide the dancers with a neutral starting point for discussion that refrains from placing importance or emphasis on any particular theme or topic. They will bring into light ‘topics of mutual interest’ (Manen, 1989, p.98) which signal something important or of value to the dancers, therefore providing a starting point for me in terms of understanding their tacit role in the choreographic process.

Holste, J. S. Fields, D. (2010) ‘Trust and tacit knowledge: sharing and use’. Journal of Knowledge and Management. 14, (1), pp.128-140. 

Manen, M, V. (1998) Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive pedagogy. Ontario, Canada: The Althouse Press.

 Nelson, R. (2009) ‘Modes of practice-as-research knowledge and their place in the academy’, in Allegue, L. Jones, S. Kershaw, B. Piccini, A. (eds.) Practice-as-research : in performance and screen. Hampshire, UK: Pelgrave.

Noaka, I. Takeuchi, H. (1995) The knowledge-creating company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press.