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By Steve Kelman

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Crowdsourcing knowledge management

At the National Contract Management Association World Conference, I had an interesting chat with Steve Gluckman, a Kennedy School mid-career Master in Public Administration grad from a few years ago and currently a senior executive at ASI Government.

ASI Government is filled with ex-government contracting officers and advises government organizations on acquisition strategies and on improving the capabilities of their procurement workforce.

Steve will be coming periodically to Cambridge during the fall as a fellow of our Center for Business and Government, working on a project on knowledge management in government – that is, how do we get needed advice and information to new employees and to functional specialists often dispersed in cross-functional project teams?

He has an interesting approach to the topic. Steve notes that traditionally agencies have tried to build expensive database-like knowledge repositories, developed by contractors and chock-a-block filled with various kinds of information. The problem is that these repositories often go largely unused. He wants to explore various ways to get information and advice to appear more spontaneously and organically from the people in an organization, and from existing sources.

I mentioned to him that I often discuss with my executive education students their use of informal communities of practice among functional experts in government, where people ask questions and share ideas. I have been surprised by the proportion of the functionals in these classes who report using these sites -- generally about half the students. At this point, we hardly know anything about what makes these sites work and how to make them more useful to people.

We were talking about the "like" button, a popular feature of Facebook, as a tool for flagging useful information for people. We wondered why Google doesn't introduce a similar feature for documents that people find through Google searches. It could even go into their algorithm for deciding which items come up higher in their searches.

I remember reading once that some consulting firms have an equivalent to a "like" button on the databases of reports on consulting engagements their consultants write after an engagement -- an important source of these firms' knowledge capital -- where others who read the document can vote that they found it helpful. Occasionally, the number of votes one's reports have gotten is a factor in the consultant's performance appraisal. We wondered whether agencies that have internal social media sites might establish some sort of lessons learned report function with a similar "like" capability -- and maybe even make it part of the performance plan of some journeymen-level employees considered to have valuable knowledge.

Gluckman wondered whether there are any examples of kinds of decentralized ways to spread knowledge in organizations of which blog readers are aware -- in addition to the crucial role of mentors for new hires and the dramatically underestimated value of the watercooler -- and could share as comments on this post?

Posted on Jul 18, 2011 at 12:09 PM


Reader comments

Fri, Sep 2, 2011 Pat Conway Fort Lee, VA

Steve...in response to your and Steve Gluckman's question as to whether or not there are examples of decentralized ways to spread knowledge in (and beyond geophraphically bound) organizations, the answer is categorically yes. Matter of fact, stimulating these knowledge flows is one of my primary responsibilities within a supported population of approx 449,000 Army Soldiers and Civilians, worldwide, and the examples of how these folks use it for mentoriship, experience sharing, point of need learning, performance support, and overall virtual teaming is quite substantial. Too difficult within this setting to provide details, but whether it be a Soldier in a foreign country seeking advice from peers on how to safely conduct a convoy, a in Army Civilian seeking guidance from a mentor on how to navigate their career, or the new spouse of a deployed military member needing help during a natural disaster, these crowdsourcing knowledge sharing initiatives are used (in our place) to the tune of about 14,000 "knowledge transactions" a week. Hope this comment adds value to your efforts. Thanks

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