posted 28 Mar 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 7
Stealth KM: Winning Knowledge Management Strategies for the Public Sector
In Stealth KM, Niall Sinclair issues his personal manifesto for approaching the adoption of knowledge management (KM) within government organisations, based on his hard-earned experience within the Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), a large bureaucratic Canadian government department. Sinclair had been transferred to PWGSC from his previous position in the Treasury Board of Canada where he looked after policy and governance issues associated with information management within the federal government.
Sinclair’s narrative is an autobiographical review of the personal lessons he learned as the director of KM and information management initiatives at PWGSC. However, I do not believe the PWGSC embraced or adopted his proposed approaches – that was not his fault, but reflects the challenge of working in such an unwieldy bureaucracy. I would therefore hesitate to refer to Sinclair’s purported wisdom and advice as ‘best practice’, since he did not actually have the opportunity to implement any sustainable KM practices in his role.
The first part of the book amounted to a rant about his bad experiences in the Canadian civil service. He creates a mosaic of anecdotal and experiential information; but at no time reveals any gems that could prove useful to someone trying to implement KM in a government department. For example, in his chapter ‘Marketing Knowledge Management Successfully’ he presents a number of very titillating sections that immediately catch the reader’s attention:
Why market knowledge management?
Challenges to successful marketing;
How to market knowledge management effectively;
The marketing plan;
Marketing knowledge management for basic knowledge needs.
In this sparse section, he proposes by the end of three paragraphs that, “if you want to have any chance of a successful outcome for a KM initiative,
it is vital to conduct some sort of marketing campaign around it”.
He then suggests that the term ‘knowledge mobilisation’ (instead of ‘knowledge management’) successfully stimulated an understanding of KM among staff at the PWGSC. But he provides virtually no evidence to demonstrate how this term alone, which was not original to Sinclair, actually helped the individuals involved. But, nevertheless, that was basically it for, “Marketing Knowledge Management Successfully.”
I was really hoping for much more substantial practitioner material. If Sinclair had described in more detail his internal approach to marketing KM at PWGSC, the reader could have derived significant insight into the critical elements of a marketing strategy. For example, he could have described the details of the marketing campaign – who, what, where, when, how, and how much – or the challenges surrounding the ambiguity and contradictions associated with the concept of KM for civil servants.
This would have fleshed out material of value to public sector KM practitioners and consultants.
Alternatively, Sinclair could have compared the numerous and varied strategies that were being used in different Canadian federal government departments that were experimenting with KM at that time. Any one of these would have been much more valuable to a practitioner who was mandated to launch a public sector KM program. Instead, the reader is left with the advice that the introduction of a new term is an effective method for marketing KM.
Graphs and more graphs
In our emerging KM profession we are constantly deluged by an incredible volume of monographs by professed, self-made experts. We have access to compilations of sage advice and witty narratives that should orient the applied practice and supplement our ‘tool box of techniques’. Although some of Sinclair’s stories are witty, he needs to add much more meat to his material to make it wise and valuable.
Nonetheless, this book has one saving grace. Chapter eight, ‘Successful Knowledge Management: Case Studies from the Public Sector’, provides the reader with five detailed case studies: the US Federal Aviation Administration; the UK Government’s KM National Project; the Australian Bureau of Statistics; the UK Government’s Working Without Walls initiative; and, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Sinclair was not directly involved in any of these initiatives, yet he reports the cases in such depth that they would be quite useful to graduate students as well as practitioners who want to learn more about best practices in the public sector.
It is regrettable that the first two parts of the book did not reflect the level of rigour, detail and discipline present in chapter eight. If nothing else, I suggest you buy the book for the knowledge nuggets in this chapter alone.
The author of this book review, a North American-based knowledge-management specialist, wishes to remain anonymous. Any correspondence arising from this review should be sent to the editor, Graeme Burton: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stealth KM: Winning Knowledge Management Strategies for the Public Sector.
Author: Niall Sinclair