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Discovering America – Knowledge Management in USA Government Organizations

1 July 2011
Ofhir Kariv
statue of libretiy

As part of the preparations for the launching knowledge management process at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the content manager at IT department and the writer of these lines (a state diplomat), we were invited to participate at knowledge management conference for government organizations that took place at the beginning of May in the U.S.The conference, celebrating its 12th year, was organized by FOSE institute and was held in Tyson Corner, Virginia. There were 400 people from a variety of US government agencies, representatives of the private sector, academics and a few representatives from foreign countries, like Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Israel, attended. The conference has been organized in four parallel sessions: innovation in knowledge management, legal knowledge management programs updates, knowledge management tools and techniques in government organizations, knowledge management in the DOD (Ministry of Defense).The presence of various agencies at the U.S. Department of defense as well as military, air force and U.S. Navy representatives. Many sessions were about managing knowledge in these organizations. One of the conference’s session was entirely dedicated to the Department of Defense.According to the conference, the field of knowledge management in the US government (at least in many agencies represented in the conference) is ahead of the government sector in Israel for many years. While most government agencies in Israel (except for a few) are in their very early stages (if at all), many U.S agencies and government organizations have been implementing knowledge management for quite many years (5-15).Here are the topics rose at the conference that I find relevant to myself in the ministry of Foreign Affairs in Israel, as well to some other similar organizations:


The place of knowledge management in the organization

  1.  The senior management’s support is essential to any knowledge management process. Senior management must openly demonstrate support to all members of the team in all organization’s levels. Regular meetings of the core team, as well as the prioritizing knowledge sharing updates and discussion in departmental meetings, will help keep the project moving.

  2.  The Chief knowledge officer (CKO) and Knowledge Architect is a member of senior management and is its point of contact for all implementation issues. The officer oversees the development of all major support tools and systems, knowledge sharing partnerships, and information access restrictions.

  3.  Knowledge management is a self-sufficient field, existing on its own in parallel to other headquarters units in the organization (IT, human resources and more).

  4.  Team members of Knowledge management activities are involved in reorganization and changes of work procedure and process, and in some cases, also initiate and led these processes.


What I learned about knowledge management processes:

  1. It became clear again that there isn’t an easy by-the-book or uniform format for knowledge management solutions. Every organization adjusts the tools and procedure to its needs and characteristics.

  2.  Full implementation of the complete system, including the adjusting of work processes and organizational culture change, are the process whose results can be seen 4-5 years after its beginning.

  3.  It was recommended to begin and proceed on two parallel tracks - are correlated with each other;

    a. Strategically – defining, selecting and handling issues and long-term projects, with the level of complexity and the high costs and organizational implications and cultural complexity.

    b. Implementing quick wins and fast pilots programs - choosing projects, that are practicable within a period of 1-3 months, at low cost. These pilots serve to test work conceptions, methods, technologies and cultural compatibility as well as helping to raise awareness, increasing the motivation to use a tool for promoting knowledge management and process development within the organization.

  4.  In general, the most popular tools include: organizational wiki (and its various applications), knowledge communities, organizational social networks, corporate sites, team sites, experts and procedures database.

  5.  In many conference sessions, there was a discussion about moving the focus from working with documents to work with knowledge-based entities.

  6. The participants were able to identify clear benefits that knowledge management brings to various government organizations (increasing the effectiveness of the organization, efficiency of processes, improving professionalism and quality products, preventing loss of professional knowledge and more). These involved the recognition of its independence of enterprise knowledge management and allocation of proper resources - managerial inputs, human resources, and budgets.


In conclusion, despite the fact that many of the tools and methods presented at the conference were known to us, both from the literature and implementation of application done in Israel, it was impressive and inspiring to see an adaptation of knowledge management of large-scale (mostly in more significant numbers than accepted in Israel), over time and especially in a public and government work environment, which could be considered less open to this field. In addition to new connections, new professional knowledge and backup to popular conceptions, we returned with hope and renewed faith that the knowledge development field has an essential strategically role and promising future also in Israel's government and public sectors. 

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