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Knowledge Management in the Federal Government: What’s Happening?

Originally published October 19, 2009

In an earlier article, I spoke about celebrating the tenth annual knowledge management conference, now formally known as the 1105 Knowledge Management Conference Series, in April. I also reminded readers that every year at this conference we survey the attendees in an attempt to learn from them – knowledge management practitioners from the public sector – what their agencies are doing in knowledge management (KM). This year, there were close to a thousand participants between the conference and exhibits and hence a good universe from which to get a sense of what’s happening around the federal government.

What did the attendance demographics look like? Mainly government employees and contractors supporting government with a sprinkling of academics, journalists and other interested parties. Survey respondents from civilian agencies (i.e., the Departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Health and Human Services) and defense agencies (i.e., Army, Navy, Air Force, DOD) were evenly matched at 42% a piece. The remaining 16% were from academia, private companies and state, local and foreign governments.

We’ve tried to maintain consistency over the years by using the exact same six questions dealing with the length of an organization’s involvement with knowledge management; the stage of their KM initiatives and the disciplines concerned. Respondents are also asked for comments and new ideas on how to advance knowledge management in the federal government.

Knowledge management is maturing in the federal environment. Our survey now shows that on average agencies have been involved with a KM initiative for more than half a decade (5.3 years to be exact) with one organization indicating involvement for over 20 years.

When we ask what stage their initiatives are at – considering, planning, designing, implementing, deploying or production – we show that projects currently in production outnumber by a factor of two those reported in 2002.

The most interesting results from this year’s survey were in respondents giving us a glimpse of what they are doing within knowledge management. We traditionally provide a list of sub-disciplines including an “other” category. The original list included: communities of practice, document management, storytelling, data warehousing/data mining, portals, e-learning, customer relationship management (CRM), content management and collaboration. This year, because of the surge in Web 2.0 technologies, we added wikis, blogs and social networking sites to the list. And we were not wrong in doing so, since the survey showed an inordinate amount of activity in these areas.

Collectively, Web 2.0 initiatives outranked all others. Almost a quarter of all KM initiatives listed were involved with Web 2.0 in some way. Furthermore, 60% of all respondents were reporting wikis, almost that many were working with blogs and a third reported social networking sites. All in all, a very impressive showing of activity.

With respect to the other sub-disciplines, we saw a return to the early years with portals being the most frequently mentioned (13%) followed by content management and collaboration (both at 11%) and communities of practice (10%). As a percent of respondents, this means that almost 90% of agencies are working with portals and almost 80% with content management and collaboration.

Among the suggestions from the participants on how to advance knowledge management in the public sector, there were two persistent themes: 1) the need for better marketing or P.R. for knowledge management and 2) more sharing among the federal agencies. It seems that in spite of the maturing of federal knowledge management, there is still much that must be done with respect to educating the leadership. And even more important given the subject matter, there has to be more outreach so that agencies have a place and an approach to learn from each other. With respect to this last point, there has clearly been some progress. There is now a revitalized Federal KM Working Group site and there are Web 2.0 ventures such as Govloop.

Summarizing, knowledge management in the federal government continues to advance and progress strongly. There is clearly a core community of practitioners that knows knowledge management is here to stay. This administration is a clear supporter, and that will provide additional incentives for the discipline in the public sector.

SOURCE: Knowledge Management in the Federal Government: What’s Happening?

  • Dr. Ramon BarquinDr. Ramon Barquin

    Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

    He had a long career in IBM with over 20 years covering both technical assignments and corporate management, including overseas postings and responsibilities. Afterwards he served as president of the Washington Consulting Group, where he had direct oversight for major U.S. Federal Government contracts.

    Dr. Barquin was elected a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Fellow in 2012. He serves on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee; is a Board Member of the Center for Internet Security and a member of the Steering Committee for the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Quadrennial Government Technology Review Committee. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. 

    Dr. Barquin can be reached at rbarquin@barquin.com.

    Editor's note: More articles from Dr. Barquin are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel


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