Knowledge management a key cog in Open Government Initiative

Panelists at cloud conference say KM can help manage the culture change

Knowledge management (KM) techniques are integral to supporting the government's Open Government Initiative and managing the culture change that goes with it, panelists agreed May 3 at the 2010 Cloud Computing Conference, held by 1105 Government Information Group.

Introducing KM into an agency is the same type of change that goes through a process, said Susan Camarena, chief knowledge officer at the Transportation Department's Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Part of that process, she said, is learning how to manage expectations. When she was starting up the KM program at FTA, "I had to go in knowing what knowledge management was and what I was talking about," she said.

KM officers also have to have a strategy for implementing knowledge managment and educating employees and communicating with them about it, as well as being accessible and seting up metrics to benchmark progress, she added.

The bottom line is that KM is about connecting with people. "Collaboration is our bread and butter," she said.


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Don't expect change to happen quickly, panelists said. "Every time we have a new administration, there are new priorities and objectives and a lot spinning of tires, but rarely do we actually get traction," said consultant Mark Amtower. Change is slow in [the government sector] for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the executive is not built to move fast in new directions.

Barbara Pearson, head of KM staff for the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and Open Government champion for the department, said that managers can gain acceptance for new initiatives and reduce the cultural impact by breaking innovative support programs into smaller pieces.

One way to handle the cultural change incurred by new initiatives is simply to tackle it head on, said Rachel Lunsford, special assistant to the chief technology officer at the Veteran Affairs Department. Don't overthink it, she added.

In an effort to introduce innovation to major initiatives at VA, Lunsford's team refused to accept an entrenched can't-don't-won't culture. "We didn't plan up front for any kind of culture change," she said. "We just did it. And it worked. It's easy to break that can't-don't-won't-cycle." Lunsford said that one approach was to solicit ideas from lower-level employees by asking, "What would you do?" Employees offered up more than 3,000 ideas, she said.

Panelists identified the top culture-shock absorbers in government when implementing knowledge management and Open Government programs:

  • Identify champions and advocates early on.
  • Tie what you do into the bigger plan.
  • Break the huge task into manageable pieces.
  • Know that change involves risk.
  • Get employees involved.
  • Establish a social media center where everyone can talk and contribute ideas without retribution.
  • Give yourself permission to fail. Then try again.
  • Use social media but don't forget traditional means of communication, including phone calls and going to lunch.
  • Mentor backwards and up to gain buy-in for your program.

 

About the Author

Richard W. Walker is a freelance writer based in Maryland.

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