Knowledge Management in the Federal Government: A 2010 Update

Originally published October 26, 2010

As has become customary, it is time for our annual update on what is happening in knowledge management (KM) around the federal government. Every year since 2000, we have taken advantage of our knowledge management conferences, now officially the 1105 Knowledge Management Conference Series, to report on the latest and greatest in KM around Washington, DC, and the rest of the public sector.

This year’s event was held in May and the conference was collocated with the Cloud Computing Summit and also with the Open Government & Innovations Conference. This was both a first and also a natural since in so many ways it symbolized the convergence of reality around what the Obama Administration has been advocating through its IT and management agendas. In effect, “Open and Innovative Government” starts to define the attributes of good government that we aspire to, and the cloud is becoming the obvious platform for managing the shared resources that are needed to address the vast amounts of bits and bytes being generated, processed, stored and shared for knowledge management. This provided us with a natural theme for the events, “Knowledge Managed in the Cloud is the Catalyst for an Open and Innovative Government.”

The excitement on the scene was quite evident, and there were a lot of innovative features that were tested in many of the sessions. Continuous Twitter displays surrounded the main presentation screen in plenary events and spewed tweet streams about the main speaker and presentation. Social network analysis was conducted with certain tweet strings. Sentiment analysis was done on Washington Post stories and the White House website. Word cloud resumes were used to introduce keynote speakers.

And, as we always do in these events, we surveyed the attendees in order to learn from these KM practitioners in government what their agencies are doing in the discipline. This year, with close to fifteen hundred participants between the collocated conferences and exhibits, we had an excellent resource pool from which to understand what’s happening around the federal government.

We must always remind our readers that the survey respondents are not a scientifically representative sample of government so we cannot claim the numbers to represent anything more than the universe of respondents or at best a segment of the conference participants. Yet, given that this event is the prime forum for federal KM practitioners, the results do yield valuable anecdotal insights as to what is happening in knowledge management in the public sector.

Participant demographics are also interesting. About 85% were government employees, and of these approximately 30% were from defense agencies, 61% from civilian agencies and 9% from other. (Other in this case means from state, local or foreign governments.) In effect, this year’s collocated events brought together government practitioners from across the United States and around the world, including representatives from Canada, Japan, Albania, South Korea, Norway, Kenya, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates, and representatives from the Italian, Indonesian, and Japanese embassies.

This year we had the first change to the questionnaire in over a decade. While it is still a very simple one pager, we have now added some lines to allow respondents to identify specific Web 2.0 initiatives implemented and social media that they were using. We continue to ask a question related to how long their organization has been involved with knowledge management and the different stage of their initiatives: considering, planning, designing, implementing, deploying or production. The difference is that now they can answer this for all the traditional KM sub-disciplines as well as for the tsunami of social media that have hit the federal space.

KM in the federal space is clearly now a mature discipline. On average, agencies reported they have been doing KM for more than 8 years. In fact, almost 40% had been at it for more 10 years.

So what exactly are they doing? In our page survey form, we listed a significant number of KM initiative types for respondents to choose from and mark as many as applied. The list included most of the classic KM initiatives such as communities of practice, document management, storytelling, data warehousing/data mining, portals, e-learning, customer relationship management (CRM), taxonomies, expert locators, collaboration, social network analysis, etc. But we also took the large Web 2.0 category from the past and broke it down into wikis, blogs and social media, allowing respondents to indicate up to another 5 social media that they might have been working with.

In summary, the most frequently mentioned categories were communities of practice, collaboration and portals. That was not unexpected. Close to 100% of the agencies mentioned that they were involved with these things, though, of course, some were planning or considering, others were designing and implementing, while others were actually in full production. Data warehousing/data mining has continued to grow, given the increased interest in business intelligence, and it was mentioned in about 3 out every 4 responses.

This year, though, we started to get a much better handle on what was happening on that Web 2.0 front. Bottom line is that there has been a blossoming of activity. Fully 88% of the respondents said they were utilizing wikis in their agencies and 80% were working with blogs.

In terms of social media, by far Facebook was the most popular with 15% of respondents mentioning it. If you add that number to the mentions of Milspace, a military social medium with much of the Facebook functionality, we almost hit the 20% mark. Twitter came in a distant second, being mentioned by almost 7% of respondents, although one could see a significant momentum in the government segment of the twitterverse just by looking at how much tweeting was actually going on in the conference. Lastly, there were non-trivial number of check marks next to YouTube/MilTube, Flickr, LinkedIn and Second Life.

In all, it is safe to say that KM is alive and well in the public sector, especially the federal government. Given the continuing challenges facing the country, it brings us a ray of hope. As we start to fully engage health care reform, stimulus spending and financial regulation, there is an ever more important and urgent role to play by the knowledge management and business intelligence disciplines and its practitioners. Avanti!

  • 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

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


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