How to Find Answers Within Your Company – Would Quora Work?

Making sure that people get the right answer to questions is vital to the success of a business. From a compliance perspective, it’s important that questions in the compliance domain get answered correctly. It’s just as important that compliance professionals can find the correct answers to their questions.

On one side you have GRC, trying to answer questions related to governance, risk and compliance  in an integrated platform. But lots of questions will still be ad hoc and outside the information in the GRC systems.

One of the latest Web 2.0 darlings is Quora. It’s a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by the community.


I found Quora mildly interesting, but a compliance nightmare.

From the perspective of a lawyer, answering legal questions in a public platform is fraught with peril. I found most of the legal questions to be vague and incomplete. It’s an easy trap for a less-careful lawyer to inadvertently create an attorney-client relationship or legal liability. For financial professionals, you can easily trip over the requirements for record-keeping and preapproval if the answer related to financial advice. (I have only answered questions about snowboarding.)

I view Quora as another knowledge management platform placed in the public web. It’s interesting to see it work, but I’m skeptical of its viability. I’ve seen many question and answer platforms come and go. Quora adds the improvements of requiring registration, community run organization and rating of answers.

Quora seems to still be at the stage of altruism. People are asking questions and answering them out of curiosity and the willingness to share. The marketers and self-serving, underemployed consultants will come eventually and fill it full of inane answers and ads.

Once the shiny newness wears off, what will keep someone coming back to contribute content? That has always been the problem of knowledge management. It’s hard to get the experts who really know the answer to contribute their response. A recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review drove home this point: How to Find Answers Within Your Company.

Knowledge Markets

Altruism will only last so long and a person’s willingness to contribute will wane as the next fad comes along the web. The challenges and the needs are different when you bring a knowledge market, like Quora, inside your company.

The first generation of knowledge management was all about centralized systems. They produced mixed results. They ignored the market for knowledge and just imposed a top-down centralized structure to try capturing work product.

How to Find Answers Within Your Company points out that the system failed to place a value on contributed material or, if it did, the value was fixed. The failure to gain contribution was largely a failure to understand the economics of contribution. Bebya and Van Alstyne point to three forms of incentives: spendable currency, recognition for expertise and the opportunity to have a positive impact.

You can’t fix the price. Information that is more valuable than the price is less likely to be created. Experts won’t waste their time. When information is less valuable than the price, less-expert workers will volunteer just to get compensated. This is the classic knowledge management problem, getting the experts to contribute and highlighting the best content. The paper offers examples of knowledge systems that added a marketplace to better value and price contributions.

It’s not just about cash. Take FourSquare as an example. They use gameplay to encourage people to check-in to locations. Earn a badge or try to become mayor. They also offer the cash reward of specials offered by merchants.

For anyone interested in improving their ability to capture knowledge, the article provides lots of other great insights in what works and does not work in knowledge markets.