Feds get a grip on what managing knowledge means

The GCN Reader Survey is intended to provide data on trends in government IT. This survey on knowledge management is based on a telephone survey of 100 government GCN readers.

Knowledge management is often seen as a diffuse and difficult-to-understand management practice.

But many rank-and-file government IT managers and specialists in a GCN telephone survey feel they have a handle on it.

Fifty-eight percent claimed to have a clear understanding of the concept and how it might be beneficial to their agencies' missions.

Another 18 percent said they had a partial understanding of it, while 24 percent said they didn't get it at all.

'Knowledge management seems to be the latest buzzword,' said a mathematical statistician at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington. 'I need to be made more clear on exactly what is meant by it.'

'I'm not sure if knowledge management is a new name for something we already have, and I'm not clear about what its attributes are,' added an Air Force IT specialist in Washington.

The federal Knowledge Management Working Group, at www.km.gov, defines KM as 'the discipline dedicated to more deliberate means of people creating and sharing knowledge'data, information and understanding in a social context'to make the right decisions and take the right actions.'

Some respondents in the survey found a challenge in finding and sharing information.

'Finding and using intellectual capital is the challenge,' said a General Services Administration IT manager in Washington.

'Getting collaboration from all departments is a challenge,' said a Social Security Administration IT specialist in Baltimore. 'But the sharing of information among the different areas I feel is a good tool.'

A majority of respondents'55 percent'identified knowledge management as a valuable tool for meeting mission objectives. But just over a quarter thought it was another management fad.

Still, the practice has been taking hold across government in recent years.

In the survey, just over half of participants reported that their agencies have knowledge management programs.

Among those who reported no programs, 57 percent said it would be beneficial to have one. Forty-eight percent said their agencies have a chief knowledge officer or equivalent.

Another challenge for agencies is developing strategies to acquire and collect knowledge before it walks out the door.

'We're losing our senior people,' said a computer specialist for the IRS in Miami. 'The challenge is how to replace that loss of knowledge.'

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