Communities of practice take shape in Air Force

Knowledge Now brings together airmen with similar interests

In an era of asymmetric threats and workforce demographic pressures, finding ways to share experiences and shorten the learning curve for military personnel has become crucial. Not all information has to be shared through formal channels. Nor should it, when speed is of the essence, or when it's specialized knowledge for a specific group of people.

But the military is hierarchical by nature, which can make it difficult to cut through the structure to deliver information quickly to a target audience.

To address this, the Air Force is establishing Internet 'communities of practice,' where sites will bring together widely dispersed groups to share information and solve problems.

At the annual Air Force IT conference, held recently in Montgomery, Ala., officials for the service's knowledge management program, Air Force Knowledge Now, made the pitch to military and civilian personnel. Joining an existing COP or establishing a new community for an unserved information need, they said, will save time and money while giving users better tools to do their jobs.

AFKN has been identified as a center of excellence within the armed services, said Connie Sawdey, president and owner of Sawdey Solution Services Inc. of Dayton, Ohio, and a contractor that supports the program.

'It's getting people with experience and knowledge connected' to those facing some problem for the first time, she said. It is about providing 'opportunities and ways to facilitate collaboration to capture pieces of tacit knowledge'stuff you know but that's not written down.'

The Gartner Group estimated that 80 percent of an organization's knowledge is tacit, Sawdey said, making it essential to establish mechanisms for identifying, capturing and transferring personal practices, experience and expertise from one group to another.

Bill Miles, program manager for Triune Software Inc. of Beavercreek, Ohio, which holds the contract for AFKN, said there are more than 4,700 communities of practice and more than 120,000 users registered.

The biggest user of knowledge management systems'the largest community'is the financial-management community, said Maj. Jerry Perkins, Air Force technical manager for knowledge management. He cited Combat Comptroller, a COP geared to providing deployment-related financial-management tools as one example of the user group.

Among the advantages that AFKN offers is a universal structure, Sawdey said.

'Each community is functionally identical to any other'the same tools, capabilities, repository. What's different is the membership, the content shared [and] the purpose for existence,' she said.


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