Ask GovLoop on Knowledge – Bottlenecks of Knowledge Management

Governments encounter fundamental problems in their attempts to come to grips with knowledge managment. Before governments can improve their knowledge management they should have a clear picture of the bottlenecks. Some of these include:

Loss of knowledge
Knowledge hoarding
Reinventing the wheel
Poor decisions
Inability to learn
Lack of concern
The “I learned it on my own and so can you” attitude

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Claudia Boyles

I would add … failure to differentiate between knowledge and information and poor cultural/environmental support for collaboration (probably a subset of knowledge hoarding)

John Jorgensen

Lisa, what are your proposed workarounds for the bottlenecks? All of the above require leadership to levy expectations, provide alignment of organization members’ effort to the organization strategy, and ensure that all members play as part of the team, rather than as individuals. One key method to encapsulating knowledge is to analyze the organization’s processes for critical information flows; by identifying information required to keep processes moving, one can energize the producers of those data by showing them how much their input matters to others. Of course, one must document the findings to ensure that you keep alignment between the processes and organizational goals and strategy.

Niva Kramek

John – I like your ideas. I would add that a lot of bottlenecks could be eliminated by having more librarians, archivists, and records managers on staff. Reference librarians to help you find external resources are valuable, but having more internal people, whose primary function would be to document all aspects of organizational processes – including all contacts – would prevent hoarding & loss of knowledge. Everyone should contribute to working past bottlenecks, but specific people at different levels should be charged to lead the knowledge management processes. I suggest people with library or records management training.

Ada (HangFong) O'Donnell

I agree with you. The upper management has to be serious about this subject thus allocate resources and fundings to knowledge management. Knowledge sharing and documentation has to be part of the job description. No one wants to do extra work and share the information that can build their niche in the workplace. Frequent sharing of best practices should be promoted among co-workers.

John Jorgensen

Niva and Ada, I agree with you both, but – I think the lesson to emphasize is ‘concentrate on what you are doing, not how you are doing it’. Simple procedures to aggregate work products into common repositories, using crawlers across those repositories to do automated indexing, and then pushing RSS feeds to workers in the organization (‘See what documents have been generated in the last X days!’) will be effective at institutionalizing knowledge sharing without being intrusive. Permanent solutions – hiring librarians and building big systems – will lose support and funding over time because they won’t have active constituencies behind them. It’s urgent that we capture corporate knowledge in a way that is transparent and does not cause additional work.

Processes can add a line to the document route sheet – after approval, send a copy of document or artifact to the following network location. It need not be complicated – just something to grab work products. Likewise, backups can be crawled and indexed to start linking work products and work areas, thereby giving people a better idea of who’s working on what issues. Cross-knowledge is very important. But it’s all enabled by leadership consciously considering what their organization does and how it keeps doing what it’s supposed to be doing.

Pat Rupert

Whew, what a subject. Starting from the top;
I like Steve and Claudia’s additions, essentially no known reason (within and environment) to share.
Johns reply is well presented and states you must be familiar with the information flow necessary for your process(es), then document the same. Niva suggests specific individuals should be tasked with managing the organizations knowledge, Ada agrees and adds it ought o be a part of everyone’s job.
John follows up with some good suggestions for indexing critters (documents, info on work processes/products, etc…), however, I think there are two big areas ripe for improvement that we rarely try very hard at.
First, you get what you measure. If an organization routinely measured (and I don’t mean a subjective assignement of value by your supervisor) ‘sharing’ (however that is defined), you will get sharing. Period. Some organizations do this well, particularly those who rely on innovation for success.
Second, we (the collective organization) have to realize we are not just sharing with people on our current time scale, we are sharing with people we may not yet know, in a location we are not familiar with (very important for organizations with multiple sites at geographically remote locations). The tough part about this is the categorization of knowledge and storage in an easily retrievable state. Wikis are the best thing I’ve seen to share with someone you don’t know now and don’t’ know where.