The Challenges In Building a KM Program in the Federal Government

It’s difficult to build a sustainable KM program in the federal government. Some thoughts on why.

1. The Planning, Budgeting, Appropriation Cycle time is not responsive to immediate requirements. Other than end of year fallout money, planning for KM implementation spans multiple fiscal years.

2. Temporary Nature of Political (Leadership) Appointments can drive ambiguity in the agency’s mission priorities including a strong focus on that political appointee’s individual agenda and resource priorities to support that agenda. KM is rarely on it.

3. Appreciation for the Necessary Investment in KM that must span multiple fiscal years. End of fiscal year fallout monies may support an initial effort for a KM initiative but there are very often no funds for follow up or follow through. If the KM initiative delivers some value, momentum and buzz can build, value can be seen, but then there is workforce frustration because the effort and its ensuing value is not further supported. Is this just another management initiative?

4. Knowledge Leadership and Accountability is viewed as a position, not a role. The agency leadership is not communicating the value of KM as a solution to a business or operational problem faced by the agency where the ability to capture and reuse knowledge can make a measurable difference in the outcome.

5. Sense of Urgency does not exist. It’s been my experience that KM gains momentum when there is sense of urgency where the inability to effectively capture and share knowledge can have tragic or catastrophic consequences. This sense of urgency does not generally present itself in the civilian agencies where it should with a few exceptions (e.g. Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center). Compare to the military where knowledge sharing and collaboration is fundamental to mission success and embedded in operational workflow.

6. Unclear KM Link to Mission goes hand in hand with Sense of Urgency.

7. Viewing technology as the KM Solution and focusing only on the technology. We know that technology is an important enabler for KM success, but it is not the total solution which also includes focus on people/culture, process, content, and KM structure and governance.

8. KM is Not Embedded and Supported as Part of Workflow which means that it is very likely viewed as extra work, and not as a fundamental part of the way work is done. (Translation: I have too much work to do so asking me to do anything “extra” is not something for which I have time.)

9. KM — There is no one giant step that does it, it’s a lot of little steps that drives sustainability.