When collecting information or doing research, I have found this collection of 'Ps' to be a useful way to organize the information, sequence intelligence gathering activities and ensure domain coverage.
The most valuable connections are to people. Here I think of domain experts, authors, writers, opinion makers, consultants, brokers, analysts, scholars, maverns, connectors, gatekeepers. These people 'in the know', have extensive social capital, large personal networks, domain cache and reputations. They are often the first to be informed of new developments, they know the context and the history, they can serve as quick filters and they know the questions to ask. Build your people network first.
Where to go, where like-minded folks gather. This could be professional associations, clubs, web pages, listservs, web conferences or blog rings. If you know some thought leaders and can 'hang' in the most advantageous places you are already 60% of the way there. What is now needed is to acquire some domain terminology - know their language and key concepts.
Understanding and empathy for the key issues and concerns helps you ask interesting questions, gains attention and shows you have done your homework. If you need to gather participation, facilitate conversations, appreciate social groupings or arrange things, a neat list of the current and emergent issues will provide a clear and engaging structure.
Get a grasp of the benefits, the particular advantages, the rationale and the expected spin-offs. Clarification here helps to appreciate the drivers, what is in it for the players and enables you to position and place your attention to gain cooperation and improve collaboration.
Drilling down to the core assumptions, the 'rules' and guiding logic helps to see where disparate parts fit. Getting participants to explicate the domain principles quickly raises the level of discourse, surfaces area where there is uncertainty, strong disagreement, divergent beliefs and practices. Talking principles is an easy way around quagmires associated with standards, pet frameworks and personal models.
Collecting proven solutions to common recurrent problems is a powerful way to gather and sift community expertise and experience. Helping the participants describe the forces at play, sift and test for optimal solutions that work, having a bounded specified context within which the pattern operates, helps structure domain knowledge. Expanding patterns into a connected pattern language, lifts discourse to new levels, enables the location of gaps and allows the community to talk effectively at high levels of abstraction.
An appreciation of the market, the products and services available gives an immediate feel for the domain needs. It is always useful to classify the tools, services and organizations active within the domain.
We often come to think our collections are 'knowledge', but they remain gatherings of information until engaged by a community, interpreted by individuals, verified and tested in use.