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The Importance of Preserving Institutional Knowledge in the Public Sector

One of the important steps that an organization can take is improving its knowledge management programs. Knowledge management can be used to describe numerous initiatives, but the central goal is to preserve institutional knowledge. Organizations have taken different approaches to knowledge management, by either using a high level software service or other low cost initiatives to track records, policies and procedures.

Part of the challenge of knowledge management is identifying what the most important components of the organization are to capture. Once that information is captured, HR professionals need to think about how to share the information with the right people to make informed decisions. Like most data, it is important that the right information is being provided. Thinking about what decisions need to be made based on operational data is a critical step in knowledge management.

Some strategies that have been used for knowledge management is cross training initiatives, mentoring programs, improved documentation and a centralized spot for records. All are great and can help assist in knowledge management, but the data needs to be used to help agencies make informed hiring and staffing decisions.

There are dozens of reasons why agencies need to preserve institutional knowledge within an agency. With the looming retirement of the baby boomer generation, it will be essential to codify their knowledge and share with employees. Also, with many employees now mobile and teleworking, the way knowledge is shared is changing. Cloud technology is being used more and more to share resources, and telework is an important consideration when you think about sharing knowledge, processes and organizational policies.

Other important factors I see impacting the public sector is the increasing competition from the private and non-profit sectors. Knowledge management programs can be used to retain employees, and serve as a way to keep the most talented employees within an agency. I’ve heard of story-telling as a way to share knowledge in organizations, this would be a good way to keep people invested within the agency. To stay competitive with the private and non-profit sector, the public sector needs to consider everything that they can provide to a prospective employee. Looking at knowledge management, it is just one part of making sure they are competitive and operating as a well-run organization.

I’d be curious to hear how formally agencies have approached knowledge management, or if it is generally looped into other initiatives within the agency.

What policies do you have in place for knowledge management?

This post is brought to you by the GovLoop Human Resources and Training Council. The mission of this council is to provide you with information and resources to help improve government. Visit the GovLoop Human Resources & Training Council to learn more.

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David Dejewski

I think preservation of knowledge is important, but I’m struggling to put it as the “central” goal of a good knowledge management program. Part of KM is preservation, but it’s also about sharing, creating, validating, leveraging, and retiring.

I did my graduate work in the School of Engineering at GWU on Knowledge Management. I’ve come in contact with many KM enthusiasts, experts and wanna-be’s. I think we have so few formal KM policies for two reasons: 1. it’s partially understood by many – usually what’s understood about KM is different from organization to organization 2. commercial industry has glommed onto one aspect or another (like technology or document management) and used it as a buzz word to sell their wares. As a consequence, KM has become watered down and often rejected by many.

The best representation of what we were taught can be found in the Organization Development disciplines. I’d offer that holistic KM practitioners can borrow pretty liberally from the OD community if they are interested in creating policy around KM.

Pat Fiorenza

Thanks for your comments David – I was reading through a variety of different resources and the definitions are quite expansive. The theme that I kept picking on when I was reading was related to continuity and keeping processes aligned. Even comments on how KM will help new employees and get them quickly trained. Also lots of things that you had mentioned – sharing, creating, etc. It’s interesting to me, and makes me wonder how much process is actually structured around KM and how much of it is just occurring organically within an organization. Maybe this is something (for some organizations) that does not require a formal plan? Different for each organization – but an interesting exercise to think through. Thanks again, will take a look at Organization Development link you shared.

David Dejewski

Pat – You’re intuitively picking up on a real phenomenon: much of what we study in KM is occurring organically. It helps to keep this in mind (and say it often to groups you’re working with) if you ever find yourself in the position of developing a KM program. A lot of it occurring organically, but it may not be labeled. It may not be optimized. It may be inadvertently be getting buried by other stuff.

I used to keep private notes when I walked a leadership group through a KM program. It was a sort of framework that I would “hang” things on when they came up. By engaging the people in conversation, I would often uncover KM elements already in place. I would note them and later put them on display for whomever I was doing the work for. Often, all we had to do was connect a few items together, apply metrics or market a little differently. In some cases, of course, new capabilities needed to be created or acquired, but in all cases, they were less than people feared.

The same is usually true for policies. Often, they exist and only need to be tweaked. Sometimes, old ones need to be moved out of the way so new ones can work. If you’re in search of policy, it helps to take inventory of what’s already there.

Pat Fiorenza

Those are really interesting observations…thanks again for your comments, looks like I got some more reading ahead of me on KM. Interesting topic to me.

Ilyne Miller

Thanks for starting this conversation, Pat. One thing that really struck me in your post was your mention of HR professionals sharing the information. First of all, if it’s information/knowledge that’s being captured in HR for HR folks that’s an appropriate statement. However, unless it’s only an HR shop, the information/knowledge that’s captured and shared about various topics within an organization is best maintained within that particular organization where it is most relevant. HR and IT do not and should not, in my opinion, “own” KM. KM is everyone’s responsibility. HR and management are responsible for creating an environment where people are encouraged to share their knowledge. In the past, the mantra was knowledge is power so no one would share (not if they wanted to move up in the organization)…times have changed…it’s now sharing knowledge is the expectation.