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Roadmap for KM governance at the federal level
Push continues for expanded federal KM infrastructure

From the Sept. 11 attacks to Hurricane Katrina to the buildup to the war in Iraq, it isn't difficult to come up with examples in which improved knowledge sharing and collaboration within the U.S. government could have helped save lives.

But does the federal government need a chief knowledge officer (CKO)? Could someone acting as the face of federal knowledge management raise its profile and better explain the benefits of collaborating across agencies?

That's the contention of the Federal Knowledge Management Initiative (FKMI), a subgroup of the Federal KM Working Group (KMWG), a community of more than 700 federal employees, contractors and academicians who share their progress (and frustrations) online. The KMWG, launched in 2000 as part of the Federal CIO Council, is charged with identifying best practices in KM within and beyond federal agencies, encouraging the dissemination of information related to the KM discipline and ensuring the development of competency profiles for agency chief knowledge officers.

Seven points

"We don't yet have a federal CKO or a federal center to serve as a centralized resource for agencies in carrying out their own knowledge management efforts," says Neil Olonoff, a knowledge manager working in the CIO office of the Army Surgeon General.

To fill that leadership void, the FKMI developed a seven-point roadmap for formal KM governance at the federal level, with these goals:

1. Federal knowledge management center. Establish a hub that would serve as a centralized resource for agencies in carrying out their own knowledge management efforts. The center will provide consulting and serve as a clearinghouse of federal KM resources, such as software, expertise and lessons learned.

2. Federal CKO position. Establish a CKO position that would coordinate with federal departments to explain the benefits of sharing knowledge and collaborating across agencies.

3. KM governance. Enact governmentwide  policies, standards and practices that specify the general direction and intent of federal knowledge sharing efforts.

4. Awareness campaign and Web presence. The goal is to communicate the serious need for KM and distribute content "from those who know to those who need to know."

5. Knowledge sharing culture in the federal government. Change the federal mindset from "need to know" to "need to share."

6. KM skills training for federal workers. By learning KM competencies, federal employees will also acquire a deeper understanding and appreciation of the value of knowledge sharing.

7. Meeting the challenges of the retirement "age wave." KM includes knowledge retention, an effort to reduce "brain drain" due to thousands of retiring baby boomers. The other side of the coin today is the federal challenge in recruiting Generation Y employees, who have been raised on Web 2.0 and social computing tools.

Olonoff, who has been a driving force behind the FKMI, notes that while some agencies, such as NASA and the Department of Defense, are bright spots and have strong KM programs, there are no policies, standards and direction to help other agencies make similar gains.

"KM has not always been seen as a high priority, because there are misperceptions about what it is," Olonoff says. But even assuming agency leaders understand its importance, they have to have the political will to make those changes, he explains. He sees his initiative's role as making a strong case for a more formal KM plan that crosses agency boundaries.

Whether that broader initiative is ultimately successful or not, some chief knowledge officers are making progress at the agency level. KMWorld interviewed three CKOs recently, and excerpts of the following interviews can be found on page 9, KMWorld September 2011, Vol. 20 Issue 8.

Three CKOs discuss their internal KM initiatives:

Edward Rogers

Edward Rogers, Ph.D., joined NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in 2003 to help its employees do a better job at cooperation and project management. At Goddard, he found that the scientists do a good job of collaborating and that technicians have good process controls in place for recognizing if a bad part shows up. "The piece that is missing is how we do our work," Rogers says. "Projects are what we do." Problems were often related to project management.

Rogers worked to instill several new learning organization practices, including a "pause and learn" process for studying what went wrong and right on a project; case studies to reflect on project management insights; and common lessons learned, in which a diverse panel of experts convenes to review cases and look for patterns that increase risk of failure.

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