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An Update on Knowledge Management in the Federal Government

Originally published June 10, 2008

This year’s Knowledge Management Conference was held, as it has been since the year 2000, in April at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, DC. As we have done at all these events, we surveyed the attendees in relation to their agencies’ knowledge management (KM) initiatives. There were close to eight hundred participants in attendance at the conference and exhibits. They were mainly knowledge management practitioners from the public sector at large, but primarily from the federal government.

While the survey clearly is not a scientifically representative sample of the public sector, the results do enable us to understand a bit better what the current state of knowledge management is within the federal government.

As in the past, we need to provide the reader with a profile of the conference participants and respondents to the survey. First, who came to this conference? Attendees formed a fairly representative slice of government, including supporting private sector personnel from contractor organizations who are knowledge management practitioners. Eighty-four percent of respondents were federal employees – subdivided with approximately 50% from the civilian agencies (i.e., the Departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Health and Human Services, etc.) and 34% from defense agencies (i.e., Army, Navy, Air Force, DOD, etc.). The remaining 16% came from private companies contracted by the government, plus state, local and foreign governments as well as academia.

The international representation was diverse with participants coming from Barbados, Canada, Dubai, Germany, Israel, Japan and Puerto Rico.

We’ve been careful to maintain consistency; hence, we’ve continued to use the same questionnaire with six simple questions that we first used at the 2000 conference. The questions deal with the length of the attendees’ organizations’ involvement with KM, the stage of their KM initiatives and the disciplines concerned. We also ask respondents for new ideas on how to advance knowledge management in the federal government.

This year’s results again continued to demonstrate a maturing of knowledge management throughout federal agencies. On average, the agencies have been involved with a knowledge management initiative for almost five years, and the percentage of those that have been involved with KM for more than four years is 47%, up from 38% just one year ago. Furthermore, if we compare it with the 2002 survey, the percent of federal enterprises doing knowledge management longer than four years was only 10%. In 2008, there were almost three times as many respondents that indicated that they had an initiative in place for more than four years versus those that were involved in KM less than two years.

What attendees are doing in their KM initiative, as well as what stage they are in, has also changed. With respect to the stage, we asked attendees to indicate whether they were considering, planning, designing, implementing, deploying or in production. The participants were permitted to score more than one stage if they were involved with more than one initiative.

This question produced a mixed bag of results. Twenty-two percent indicated in 2008 that they had an initiative in full production mode, significantly higher than the 14% reported in 2007. However, there seemed to be a shift in terms of new entrants, with 8% indicating that they were considering an initiative versus 11% in 2007.

In order to precisely determine what they are doing within KM, we provided a list of possible subdisciplines for them to mark, as well as allowed them to describe other new things that they were engaged in. Here is the list that the survey provided: communities of practice, document management, storytelling, data warehousing and data mining, portals, e-learning, customer relationship management (CRM), content management or collaboration.

In years past, especially the early KM years, portals were always the most frequently mentioned activity. This has clearly changed as the discipline has matured. Yes, portals are still high, but collaboration, content management and document management outrank them. This is the exact same order in which they appeared in last year’s survey, although the percentages differed somewhat.

Bringing up the rear one more time are customer relationship management and storytelling, with the latter leading CRM by only one percentage point.

Furthermore, there were many other disciplines and functions that were reported as part of their KM initiatives. Among them were: alignment of KM and corporate strategy, scenario building, social networking analysis, expert locators, lessons learned efforts, KM training, KM culture molding and geospatial KM. As we could have surmised, the participants reported much activity through the ever present standard bearers of Web 2.0: wikis and blogs.

And there was no lack of new ideas on how to advance the discipline. Among the many intriguing suggestions were the following:

  • Provide KM education for decision and policy makers;
  • Share KM success stories and post them on YouTube;
  • Establish a KM Center of Excellence for the federal government;
  • Create a federal KM vanguard to serve as a leadership cadre; and
  • Establish standard KM protocols.

In addition, there were several pleas to assist in educating the incoming administration on the benefits of knowledge management.

In short, we have once more taken a snapshot – even if quick and dirty – of knowledge management in the federal government. And we can say that it is alive and well, and that the core community of KM practitioners continues to be dedicated to applying their discipline for the common good.

  • 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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