posted 3 Aug 2005 in Volume 8 Issue 10
Knowledge shared = Knowledge squared
What constitutes a ‘knowledge-sharing’ organisation? By Michael Allen, head of knowledge management, DVLA.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in the
DVLA has an ambitious programme of transformation in both internal and externally facing cultures and systems. Knowledge management (KM) is seen as a part of the process of modernisation and efficiency in knowledge and information sharing. This article is concerned with the process of understanding what is a ‘knowledge-sharing organisation’, and how we can put measures in place to make judgements on the value of sharing.
There is a long history of exploring the true meaning of ‘managing knowledge’, and there is still some uncertainty on the boundaries of the subject of KM. It is a subject that impacts on, and influences, many of the older disciplines of management. This article is not concerned with direct answers to these issues, but more with the pragmatic approach of assessing the opportunities KM can offer. Acknowledgement is made that certain areas of KM will be organisation specific, but more importantly, it is critical that KM – however it is defined – addresses the key issues in the firm’s knowledge horizon. Positioning KM, and its associated stakeholder engagement, is an important part of the process of delivering a managed knowledge environment.
The approach recognises the value of information as both a tangible and intangible resource, and the cost of inefficiently processed or lost information. There are issues around the links between the structure of the agency and the ways in which relevant information is passed between departments and sections. In common with many organisations we have various legacy systems of providing information, which may not have been reviewed. There is considerable sunk-cost investment in both individual and corporate information.
Knowledge management is concerned with opening up the explicit information areas such as electronic document and records management in order to support agency transformation plans, meet modernising government guidelines and deliver greater levels of information efficiencies. It is also concerned with the knowledge that we as individuals hold, and how this tacit knowledge can be identified, recorded, shared and leveraged out to support key business factors.
Three key external drivers are identified as a starting point for the review of the knowledge and information environments. These are the resource-based view of strategy; the forthcoming implementation of the EC Directive on the Re-Use of Public Sector Information (and increased focus on the economic and social value of information created in the public sector); and recent challenges posed by access legislation.
Resource based view of strategy
A resource-based view of strategy is based on the ways in which resources and capabilities of a business are structured in line with external environmental scanning to formulate strategy. Resources include tangible, intangible and human, and the concept recognises that strategy is concerned not only with using the firm’s resources and capabilities to maximise returns, but also with building core competencies for future development. A view can be taken that all businesses already have highly efficient processes that drive the tangible resources – buildings, logistics, IT architecture etc, many of which are outsourced,
The real factor in strategic differentiation is seen in the use of intangible resources, and the ways in which these are built into the capabilities of the organisation:
Information and knowledge sharing;
Brand value, reputation and image;
Flexibility of organisational structures and design;
The ability to integrate, build and reconfigure internal and external competencies to address rapidly changing environments.
These are the areas that are seen to provide sustainable success. The strategy of a business, therefore, is built around the relationship between these internal capabilities and the industry sector key success factors1.
Supporting this concept, there are a number of models and frameworks that allow us to define where value is being added through the information chain, which opens up the potential of an information mapping exercise.
The key point is the focus on the culture of the organisation as a primary capability.
The ability to find and transfer information and knowledge around the agency is a key part of this capability. It is a central theme of the government white paper on modernising government, joined-up working practices and the agency transformation strategy – and, of course, there are already good examples of this in the agency. Our intention is to build on these good examples, put into place consistent information deliverables and develop an appropriate measure of knowledge-sharing performance.
The second primary driver is in the increased attention being given to the information that is produced in the public sector, and its social and economic value to the community.
The starting point for this interest is the contrast between the two economic models of the
The EC and US are roughly comparable in economic size, but the comparisons between the value generated by information generated in the public sector differ considerably – in the EC the economic value may be E68bn per annum. In the
New regulations are being introduced in the
The main objective is to promote the re-use of information held by public-sector organisations, and to stimulate the information industry economy.
The new regulations will establish a framework for making re-use easier and more transparent, the main elements being:
Details of charges where appropriate;
Responses within set time limits (20 working days, in line with FOI);
Asset lists – an obligation to produce a list of material, published and unpublished;
Complaints procedures in place.
This has an impact on the way we view the extensive range of information produced on a daily basis. What can be re-used by the commercial sector, how is the information managed, do we have consistent search terms and licence agreements – all these form part of the comprehensive overview required of public-sector organisations in the UK.
Information access legislation
The third main strand is in the changes to access legislation – the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Environmental Information Regulations and the existing Data Protection guidelines. Human rights legislation could also impact.
This is not just a question of dealing with FOI enquiries, which are answered after consideration of exemptions. Future consideration should be given to the fact that legislation will be further consolidated by case law – and by judgements made on the public interest test by the information commissioner. At a broader level, the guiding principles of the FOIA are to build greater levels of openness and transparency in decision making in the public sector, leading to the potential for increased levels of proactive publishing of internal information, as the culture of access develops. The FOIA is predicated on transparency of decision making, and effective information audit trails of the supporting documentation for those decisions and actions. This reflects changes in attitude to corporate governance and accountability. This in turn requires better and faster searching systems of the information that we hold in all the various locations, versions and formats. This leads us back to the original discussion on information handling – the ability to store, locate and retrieve information quickly and effectively, and forms the basis of the EDRM (electronic documents and records management) project currently being implemented.
We also recognise a possible tension between a process of continued knowledge sharing (with increased numbers of communities and forums) and legislative requirements under access legislation, which require us to have a comprehensive information audit-trail policy and procedure.
A knowledge-sharing organisation?
Although there were good individual examples of the practice in existence, the concept of ‘knowledge management’ is new to DVLA. We held key assumptions of individuals being the source of knowledge creation, but that as efficiency requires individuals to specialise in particular areas of knowledge, then one of the key tasks is knowledge integration. In common with many KM initiatives, we were anxious to capture and transform knowledge from the organisation and its stakeholders, increase the vitality of who knows what, embed a knowledge-sharing culture and assure an enabling network. These broad aims require measures to be in place in order to report to the wider community our progress towards becoming a knowledge-sharing organisation.
A knowledge audit was used to gain the baseline assessment of the relative state of knowledge sharing, to understand ‘the way we do things around here’.
We have defined KM as the process of structuring and utilising information and knowledge in a way that supports critical business areas. The baseline audit was designed around three areas: of access to knowledge and information, motivation as a part of the business culture, and business value.
To ensure stakeholder buy-in we worked from the business objectives and key external drivers, and discussed the approach with the main stakeholder groups. The aim was to design and test the audit with minimal ambiguity, and in plain language, which we tested in trial group presentations. The audit was made as user friendly as possible, and launched with parallel publicity, giving the reasons behind the initiative.
We felt it was important to have a view on potential outcomes – without being too prescriptive, what did we expect to achieve? There was certainly an underlying aim of using the audit to raise the profile of KM. More specifically, there were aims of understanding how people work: have we the most appropriate systems to support that work, and do we have an enabling culture? These questions were grouped around access, motivation and value. These formed the structure of the audit. A further set of outcomes are grouped around the use we intended to make of the audit – to establish a baseline for comparison, identify gaps, align KM more specifically with business benefits, and use the quantified results to give authority to a balanced scorecard measure on knowledge sharing. Stakeholder buy-in was therefore established by identifying the capability/key success factor relationship at an early stage.
A second feature of stakeholder engagement was to provide feedback. We had criteria – to make it quick, for example, we published initial high level results on the intranet. We also published the free-text comments sections on the intranet, followed by publication of the full results, without attempting to hide ‘difficult’ findings. Each directorate was able to compare organisation-wide results alongside comparative figures for their own area, to pick up on discrepancies. There was a discussion area for all staff to use, and we ensured that we could cut and slice the information according to user need.
Using the knowledge from the audit
Ralph Waldo Emerson is reputed to have said, “Knowledge exists to be imparted”. We had shared the results of the audit to the wider community.
We also shared the findings with our knowledge-sharing group, which was able to further refine the outcomes. This group is representative of the whole organisation, and acts also as a focus group for KM initiatives and their impact. There is close alignment with other agencies in the DVO Group and the Department for Transport (see side panel), with a common theme to the KM strategy across all the agencies – an example of sharing knowledge (about knowledge) between organisations.
Importantly, we were able to establish the context of managing our knowledge against the background of identified business requirements, and the broad approaches of access legislation,
Although it is outside of the scope to flag up the results of the audit here, the process, along with other techniques in KM led to a re-thinking of the operational structures that allow us to handle these key strategic assets of information and knowledge. The new structure is divided into management information and reporting, information policy and standards across the business, and KM.
The management information and reporting workstream reflects the use of information to support business activity and to report on the outcomes of that activity. Management reports and the wider context of lead indicators in balanced scorecard give measures on performance. Critically, the area of information policy manages the relationship between the requirements of access and
The process, therefore, has been to try to locate this ‘new’ activity of KM into a mature organisation in a way in which there is clarity on value and purpose. The resource based view in strategy allowed comparative analysis to be made of the tangible parts of information as a resource, the intangible aspects of knowledge, and the core capabilities of the business, including culture. These in turn are matched against actual and emerging key success factors, such as the impact of the FOIA and
The approach is to position KM at the point of maximum impact, using some generic tools and techniques (such as an audit), but still recognising the organisation-specific context of much KM activity.
Throughout the process we used a slogan to try to convey the message of the value of information and knowledge around the organisation, and this has become our aspiration: ‘Knowledge Shared = Knowledge squared’. It may not be mathematically correct, but it does give a succinct view on the effective utilisation of the knowledge resource of an organisation in supporting business transformation.
1. Grant, Robert M: ‘Contemporary Strategy Analysis’ 5th ed, Blackwell, 2005, is a useful guide to the impact of resource based views in strategy.
2. Weiss, Peter: ‘Borders in Cyberspace: Conflicting Government Information Policies and Their Economic Impacts’. www.primet.org/documents/weiss%20-%20Borders%20in%20Cyberspace.htm. Accessed