posted 28 Apr 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 8
Charting the KM roadmap
As part of the UK's Local Government Programme, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is undertaking a Knowledge Management National Project. Dagmara Kodlubanski and Alasdair Mangham discuss the development of the KM roadmap that forms an essential part of this project and covers aspects such as information management, organisational learning and knowledge generation.
The ultimate focus of knowledge-management strategies in private-sector organisations is to increase competitive advantage by enabling companies to innovate more effectively than their rivals or drive down production costs, although ideally a combination of both. Organisations that manage knowledge effectively understand that the key is to focus the outputs not only on the organisation itself but also on its customers. Many local-government KM strategies focus on the organisation’s change and development as if they are independent entities that only have occasional interaction with exterior domains and actors. There is often an over emphasis on process and intra-organisational communication without a clear understanding of what the ultimate purpose of the exercises might be.
Local authorities, like many large organisations, use the knowledge they hold in their organisations poorly. By understanding what knowledge assets they already hold and where gaps in their knowledge or strategies exist, it should be possible for local authorities to develop better focused and more efficient citizen-oriented services.
The Knowledge Management National Project is part of the UK’s Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s Local E-Government programme (www.localegov.gov.uk) and is led by Wiltshire County Council. The national project consists of seven work streams:
- Knowledge-management roadmap;
- Information-asset register and single information database;
- Improvement planning for comprehensive performance assessment;
- Customer-facing programme;
- Tacit knowledge;
- Proof of concept – strengthening communities in rural areas;
- Community engagement with policy development.
The roadmap workstream will incorporate all of the work coming out of the other strands of the Knowledge Management National Project, which includes all aspects of information sharing and information management. It will also create links to other national projects that are relevant in this area.
The challenge facing local government is similar to that facing all organisations in the knowledge economy: to deliver more with the same or fewer resources. In both public and private sectors, organisations must overcome three main obstacles before they can reach a state of comprehensive knowledge sharing and re-use that benefits the whole organisation. They must understand:
- How to identify and correctly describe know-how so that it will benefit the organisation;
- How to develop a culture within the organisation that not only encourages the provision of information for sharing but also encourages people to ask for advice and help from people outside of their immediate environments;
- What systems, both electronic and human, to put in place to ensure the efficient flow and distribution of knowledge.
One of the most important aspects for the roadmap is to demonstrate how knowledge management should be integrated within the existing organisational practices and not become just another initiative among the dozens that local government is required to respond to.
The roadmap will aim to seek examples of good practice from both the private and public sectors. It must create a synthesis between existing initiatives within local authorities – such as Best Value Reviews, which aim to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and economy of public-sector functions, or Charter Mark, a tool that helps local government focus on the customer - and knowledge-management good practice.
The roadmap project will be made up of four key components.
This component will identify good practice in information-management policy and make recommendations on how to implement organisation-wide or domain-specific information-management policy and accompanying systems. It will identify the role that managing information plays as part of an organisational KM strategy. This component will link into work that is carried out in workstreams two and six described earlier.
Many businesses in the new economy use customer data as part of their KM strategies, exemplars of such practice are Amazon and Dell computers. Local authorities collect vast amounts of data about their customers but do not use it in any co-ordinated way for policy making. This component will look at what lessons can be learnt from the private sector and how data collected through initiatives such as Charter Mark, complaints, planning consultations and censuses, for example, can be used effectively as part of a knowledge-management strategy. This component will link with the work carried out in workstreams three and four.
An essential part of any knowledge-management system is the ability to communicate knowledge, ideas and data throughout the organisation. This component will identify good practices in the use of an intranet, and other means of inter-organisational communication in both the public and private sectors. IT will also provide local authorities with a checklist for better leveraging existing communication channels to create a knowledge-generating environment. This component will relate to the work being carried out in workstream seven.
The learning organisation
At the centre of the knowledge organisation is the ability to link organisational learning with improved performance. As David Garvin says, “A learning organisation is an organisation skilled at creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behaviour to reflect new knowledge and insights.” The learning component will seek examples of ‘best practice’ in this and look at ways that existing initiatives, such as Investors in People and the Best Value Review process, can be used to create a knowledge-focused organisation. Work from workstreams three and five will relate to this component.
Initial knowledge generation
The methodologies used for this knowledge generation were primarily surveys, reviews of literature, documentation, consultation with key stakeholders and critical analysis of both local KM-based, e-government developments and KM state-of-the-art technology. This work helped to identify the main stakeholders and issues to discuss during the initial knowledge-gathering workshops.
We held workshops in January and February 2004 with officers who work in areas where KM can help improve current practices. These areas and roles were identified during the initial knowledge-generation part of the project. The workshops defined their existing practices, gathered user requirements and learnt how they felt these practices could be improved.
Now that the workshops have taken place, we are carrying out a telephone survey of 300 local authorities in England to establish a baseline of current knowledge-management practices. A report on the workshops and the survey results will be published at the end of April 2004.
We have invited experts in each domain to a follow-up workshop. They will present their ideas of good practice to the group and join breakout groups to discuss how these ideas can be transformed into practice within a local-authority environment.
We will use all of the information gathered when writing the roadmap. The roadmap itself will be available online and will allow readers to add comments, rate the pages, add links or ask questions about each page. The online roadmap will also contain a self-assessment system that allows users to see where their organisation is in relation to the four key areas described earlier through an online questionnaire and by viewing the results in a spider graph.
Additionally, Camden is producing a system to support communities of practice (CoPs) in an online environment. The purpose of the system is to not only create a repository for tasks and information associated with the community, but to also facilitate the creation of new knowledge.
To achieve this task the team tried to look for new methods aside from current knowledge-management techniques and paradigms such as storytelling. A visit to London’s Tate Modern gallery and inspiration from Marcel Duchamp provided the necessary spark. For those unfamiliar with Duchamp and his role in art history, he is the father of installation art. The principal of installation art is to encourage the viewer to make associations between the objects presented within the context of a gallery space. The associations and meanings that the viewer takes from the installation will be guided partly by the objects that the artist has presented and the pre-existing knowledge that the viewer may have of the artist’s intentions. For the most part, their take on the installation will be based on associations generated by their own experience. In effect, each viewer will create his or her own unique interpretations of the objects, which creates a new work of art.
The dotKnow system, developed as part of the National Project on Knowledge Management, works on the same principal. When a user looks at an item in the file-storage area or views another user’s blog they are presented with associations by the system itself, such as ‘other users who downloaded this file also downloaded file X’.
Each user has their own clipboard so that they can make their own associations related to a file or other knowledge objects present on the site. For example, a member of the community of practice may read a document posted in the system’s file repository, read a discussion thread on the site about the document and be reminded of an article that they read on the BBC’s website. Using their clipboard they can create an association between the documents held on the CoP’s site, the thread in the discussion forum and the link to the BBC article that they can refer back to for their own use in the future.
The dotKnow system is based on an open-source toolkit called OpenACS. It is a subsiting system built on top of content-management software that can run on either the PostgreSQL open-source database or Oracle. The subsiting application enables the creation of multiple communities of practice on one instance of dotKnow. To create a subsite the user must complete an application form that is forwarded to the administrator. This enables the organisation to maintain some control over the types of communities that are created and provides a monitoring system to ensure that duplicate CoPs are not created.
Once the CoP is approved, the user is given permission to become a subsite administrator and he or she can start inviting people to become members of a group. The dotKnow CoP system gives users easy access to relevant stored knowledge through queryable metadata and convenient mark-up user interfaces. The system encourages collaboration (in open or closed groups) by providing a place for the exchange of knowledge objects (this can be anything from Word documents, links, blogs, image files and calendar entries, for example) that also exist on individuals’ clipboards. dotKnow consists of the following key areas of functionality:
- Home – A description of the CoP with a logo-upload option;
- Members – Administrators can approve and manage members;
- Calendar – For uploading events;
- Clipboards – A centralised place where individuals can store and manage all their knowledge objects, ratings (individuals can rate a knowledge object from one to five, for example), related objects (suggestions of other objects that are similar or relevant), comments on knowledge objects and categories (an individual can categorise knowledge objects using the defined site-wide standards or those customised to their own community of practice);
- Frequently asked questions;
- File storage – Which supports most file formats;
- Forums – Discussions;
- Weblogs – Personal posts;
- Browse category – Search tools;
- Administration – Group administrators can manage group members.
The dotKnow system will be trialled with four communities of practice in June and
July 2004 before forming part of the product set for the National Project in August. The system will be released on an open-source license.
The roadmap will, in effect, create a constituency of key players from local authorities tasked with implementing knowledge management within their own organisation. Rather than being a definitive ‘how to’ guide, the roadmap will provide information on where to start, signpost existing KM activity, as well as create a network where experiences, knowledge and best practice are shared willingly. This kind of collaboration will produce an evolving roadmap, kept up to date with each new experience, and will ultimately be owned by the local authorities themselves.
The National Project closes on the 12 August 2004. We will hold a final conference showcasing the products of all the workstreams in September. For more information on September’s seminar and the national project as a whole, please contact the Knowledge Management Programme Office on +44 (0) 1225 713150 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information on the roadmap to knowledge management and the dotKnow system, please contact Dagmara Kodlubanski on +44 (0) 20 7974 2038 or email@example.com.
1. Garvin, D., ‘Building a learning organisation’ in Harvard Business Review (HBSP July/August 1993)
Alasdair Mangham is e-services programme manager at the London Borough of Camden. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dagmara Kodlubanski is e-services project officer at the London Borough of Camden. She can be contacted at email@example.com