The high-impact approach to knowledge sharing

GovLoop's Andrew Krzmarzick reports on a recent online debate about the best approach to fostering knowledge-sharing networks

GovLoop’s Andrew Krzmarzick reports on a recent online debate about the best approach to fostering knowledge-sharing networks.

Would you rather be part of a garage band or an organized dodge ball team?

At GovLoop, we have been known to call our members rock stars. Heck, we even have a T-shirt with Uncle Sam playing the guitar with “Gov’t Rockstar” boldly emblazoned across the chest.

I didn’t appreciate the appropriateness of that moniker until a conversation broke out in our knowledge management group about the differences between formal and informal networks.

Related story: Knowledge management’s generation gap

Bill Brantley, a human resources specialist at the Office of Personnel Management, got the ball rolling when he posted a question about formal knowledge groups. He made the case for using a more controlled environment to facilitate knowledge sharing.

John Bordeaux, director of knowledge innovation at the Stupski Foundation, said, “We cannot conscript knowledge sharing.” He characterized formal knowledge-sharing efforts as “not that far from those miserable failed group projects assigned us during high school.” He said he’d rather be in the garage band (an informal group that gets together once in a while to jam) versus the dodge ball team (a formal network with rules and scheduled game times).

Forced Marriages

GovLoop founder Steve Ressler, a guy who knows something about informal networks, agreed. “I’ve been part of too many agencies with formal knowledge portals, and it just doesn’t work…because they always are no fun, very stodgy, boring. Informal groups come together because of passion and need to share and desire to share.”

“Passion is core,” Brantley agreed, “but it has to be coupled with trust. Forcing the knowledge relationships is as counterproductive as a forced marriage.”

Hmmm.… Do we have any examples of a forced marriage in government?

“Look to Intellipedia,” Bordeaux said. OK, so he didn't compare Intellipedia to a forced marriage, but the site did compel 16 agencies to put their preferences aside to share information more effectively.

The Intellipedia Model

Bordeaux explained the challenges of a community such as Intellipedia: It “tapped an inherent interest in sharing. However, because the core work processes don’t recognize this behavior, it has yet to transform intelligence production.… It’s a matter of changing how work is viewed. If you keep closed-loop work sacrosanct and tell people ‘share when you’re done,’ you’ll get minimal compliance and near-zero value.”

So the real question for government is: How can we create informal networks within a system that is built on formal, controlled exchanges of information?

Social media advocates suggest that new Web-based tools are the key to fostering a fresh exchange.

A New Vocabulary

In fact, the Defense Department is attempting to create a culture shift by changing internal language and encouraging the use of the term "mission media" instead of "social media."

But doesn’t that attempt to control language ironically formalize what should remain informal?

“The fact that people embrace Twitter, Facebook, wikis, etc., does not mean they embrace the sharing culture implied with those technologies,” said Tony Pryor, a former program analyst at the U.S. Agency for International Development. “The problems in making social media into mission media are similar to the problems we had been discussing earlier in this thread.”

Feels a bit like a garage band vs. dodge ball kind of situation, eh?

I like being a rock star in the garage band.


About the Author

Andy Krzmarzick is the community manager for GovLoop, a social network for people in and around government.

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Reader comments

Tue, Jun 8, 2010 Sterling

Powerful, simple solution: internal blogs. Here's how it works. Everyone has a right to blog with restrictions (don't post classified info, etc). People should be ENCOURAGED to blog also. These people will be criticized and praised all at once for their efforts, but they'll get conversations going. And that's something that's need.

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