The Incoming Administration: Transition, Decision Making, and the Value of Knowledge Management


As the next administration transitions into power in January 2021, it will face many domestic and foreign policy and national security challenges. How will it be a knowledge-based decision-making process?

How much and how often will learned lessons objectively support decision making, even if learned across previous administrations? How will the next administration create value from its accessible knowledge, regardless of the source of that knowledge? 


A Major Challenge Area – Iran Nuclear Deal of 2015

For example, a major challenge area will be a decision about re-engagement in the Iran nuclear deal of 2015. This raises three questions for me: 

The first question is common to many:

  • “What can we expect will be the national security and foreign policy towards re-engaging Iran in this deal from which the US withdrew in May 2018?” 

 The second and third questions may not be common to many and must be asked:

  •  “What lessons have we learned over the course of years of engagement with Iran (and other participants) in the creation, negotiation, and realized and unrealized outcomes of this deal? 
  • “ What value can and will we create from our learned lessons in the creation, negotiation, and realized and unrealized outcomes of this deal?” 

The answer to the first question, based on President-elect Biden’s statements, seems to be re-engagement since the President-elect has stated he wants to return to the deal, and further develop a follow-on agreement if Tehran begins to honor its commitments. How will this be decided? [Note: To be clear, I am not advocating any specific political or national policy outcome.]

A Performing and Learning Approach to Decision Making

As a long-time knowledge management practitioner, what I am advocating is a focus on “performing and learning” as a basic foundation for any decision-making.

For the Biden administration to: 

  • Look objectively and unemotionally at the learned lessons from the decisions made during the preceding period of performance across two administrations.
  • Understand the reasoning for the decisions made and the evidence and insight relied upon to make those decisions. And based on this approach, incorporate the varied subject matter expertise from demonstrated subject matter experts regardless of political affiliation. Multiple lenses on the same subject increase the probability of a higher quality “best value” decision and outcomes incorporating any necessary tradeoffs.
  • Analyze the current outcomes of those previous decisions and what new insights have been revealed, what projections or expectations have been borne out, and how can they be relied upon to make future, better, and higher quality decisions regarding re-engagement “why” and “how.” 

These are the tenets of a knowledge management approach to decision making that should be front and center not only in this particular challenge area but also in the many other policy and governance challenge areas that the new administration will face. 

Unemotional, evidence-based, analytical, understanding history and learned lessons — it is about “performing and learning.” It shouldn’t be hard…but I know it will be.

This article was also published in RealKM Magazine.