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IC Communication Competency 6: Establishing Shared Knowledge

Current models of communication acknowledge that it is not feasible for all information associated with a message to be encoded in language; a large amount has to be inferred by drawing on background knowledge. In intercultural communication, people typically have less background knowledge in common, and so it is particularly important to allow deliberately for this in planning interaction.
Case Study Example: Establishing each other’s research interests
The eChina-UK teams found that the establishment of shared knowledge was a particularly important issue. On some occasions, a project leader was very effective in ensuring that meetings started with an opportunity to establish shared knowledge. For example, in one meeting, the Chair started as follows:
Uh this afternoon is a chance for us really to explore the research issues, tell each other what we’re doing, tell each other what we hope to achieve what we’re aspiring to, and it would be wonderful if we could perhaps focus on the use of technology in learning, if that was of interest to you.”
This was followed by a valuable time of individual sharing.
On other occasions, however, it was much more problematic, especially when people were not consciously aware that there were any differences in their mutual knowledge. For example, for one of the eChina-UK projects, it emerged after 18 months of collaboration that the procedures for validating online courses were very significantly different in the British and the Chinese universities concerned. The British members had simply assumed that validation would need to take place prior to the delivery of the course, whereas that was not in fact the case for the Chinese partner university. The project members had not spent enough time at the beginning of the project establishing shared knowledge around quality assurance regulations and procedures.
cift_arrow.gif Tip: At the beginning of a project, don’t start working on the shared task too quickly. Spend time sharing and asking about relevant background information.