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KM tackles tough e-gov challenges

This article appears in the issue June 2007, [Vol 16, Issue 6]
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Knowledge management tools and techniques are helping to support e-government initiatives aimed at some of the world’s most challenging issues, including poverty, national security and healthcare. At the E-Gov Institute’s Fifth Annual KM Conference in April in Washington, D.C., participants learned about innovative KM strategies to address those problems.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) established the Accelerated Microenterprise Advancement Project (AMAP) to help identify and promote innovations in microenterprise development that can more effectively alleviate poverty and contribute to economic growth. The philosophy of microenterprise development is to put modest resources in the hands of individuals who can use them directly to establish viable businesses, thereby increasing employment and improving livelihoods. AMAP includes three components: microfinance (small-scale credit, savings and insurance); enterprise development (linking microenterprises to competitive markets); and policy (promoting favorable business and investment climates).

“After an evaluation of our microenterprise program several years ago, we concluded that our funding could have much greater impact if we also invested in knowledge management,” says Stacey Young, senior knowledge management advisor for microenterprise development at USAID. “By capturing the lessons we’re learning and making them available to the microenterprise development industry at large, we can extend the impact of our microenterprise investments well beyond the projects we support directly.” The result is microLINKS, a Web site devoted to knowledge sharing among practitioners working in microenterprise development.

The microLINKS site offers a multitude of resources, including documents, audio presentations and discussion groups. Powered by collaboration software from Tomoye, the site facilitates interactive participation. For example, practitioners host monthly online “Speaker’s Corner” conferences, which focus on a particular theme. Participants discuss the theme online, and at the end of each three-day conference, the discussion material is organized and preserved on microLINKS. The knowledge management program also includes monthly in-person breakfast seminars and after-hours presentations. Participants who are not local can participate by phone as they view the presentations online.

A valuable platform

Organizations receiving support through AMAP are required, by the terms of their contract, to participate in knowledge sharing. “Making KM an explicit part of the project is important in achieving our goals of leveraging our investment,” says Young. “However, many practitioners not associated with USAID also join in the discussions or host them.” Practitioners view the site as a valuable platform, through which their activities can gain recognition and lessons learned can be shared.

Microfinance received increased visibility and recognition as an important force in addressing poverty after the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Muhammad Yunus in 2006 for his establishment of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Through microLINKS, many different organizations have benefited from the insights that their colleagues in diverse geographic locations and cultures have gained while working in the emerging field.

Wikis add dimension

In the intelligence community, the ability to respond rapidly and with the best possible information becomes more pressing every day. Dr. Calvin Andrus, CTO of the Center for Mission Innovation at the Central Intelligence Agency (cia.gov), sees considerable potential in the use of wikis to document and share up-to-the minute information.

“The 21st century is moving a lot more quickly than the 20th century,” Andrus says. “Wikis can provide a new dimension in an overall KM strategy.”

The self-organizing and self-correcting nature of wikis allows knowledge to be processed more dynamically than in highly structured information bases. Contributing to wikis is simple for users, which brings a real-time capability into knowledge sharing that other mechanisms rarely match. Also, the feedback process is nearly immediate and adds value.

“When people comment or disagree,” says Andrus, “we become smarter collectively.” In addition, the shared ideas will trigger derivative thoughts in others who read the information—thoughts that might not have been sparked without the wikis.

By presenting information in a non-hierarchical, intensely hyperlinked format, wikis offer a way of overcoming the limitations inherent in information silos.

“Each piece of information becomes more valuable because it is linked to other pieces,” Andrus explains, “and those connections often are not evident with traditional methods of presenting information.” The wiki developed by the Center for Mission Innovation has a search engine to allow targeted exploration as well.

Needed incentives

In addition to creating links among different pieces of information, wikis can also help connect individuals from different organizations. “By deploying wikis on classified networks and granting appropriate access, we can put many different communities together to share knowledge and feedback,” Andrus says. But, he adds, building in an incentive and reward structure for adopting the model will be essential to its success, and sometimes that is the toughest hurdle.

Remote access

Many of the important advances in e-government activities in healthcare are taking place at the state and local level. In San Diego County, the Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) launched a program called Mobile Remote Workforce Innovation to improve services to at-risk children and families, while decreasing costs. After carrying out an operational assessment indicating that public health nurses had to contend with an array of administrative tasks that interfered with service delivery, the county redesigned a number of processes to increase efficiency.

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