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PRESERVING AND USING INSTITUTIONAL MEMORY THROUGH KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT PRACTICES SUMMARY This TRB Synthesis Report documents practices regarding the preservation and use of insti- tutional memory through knowledge management (KM) practices of the 50 U.S. state trans- portation agencies (STAs) and the Canadian provincial transportation agencies. There are a number of important reasons for STAs to better preserve and manage institutional memory, including: · Facilitating and expediting training and succession management in light of the unprecedented numbers of long-term STA employees who are retiring or otherwise departing; · Needing to build on past understandings and improve efficiency when providing the information and knowledge so that managers, professionals, and technicians can deliver agency programs effectively, on time, and within budget; · Doing more with fewer resources; · Answering requests from legal staff for information to support agency positions in litigation; · Integrating historical perspectives and lessons learned into current transportation agency activities and decision making; and · Striving to respond efficiently and accurately to requests for information from elected officials, media, historians, researchers, and the public. Because these needs are increasing in magnitude and urgency at a time of diminished agency resources, this synthesis study is both timely and appropriate. Of the 38 transportation agencies returning questionnaires [34 U.S. state departments of transportation (DOTs), three Canadian provinces, and one Canadian city], seven reported having a successful KM process robust enough to continue through staff and administration changes. Nineteen STAs in all reported having a KM-related program in existence at some organizational level and in varying states of development. Thirty-three STAs reported that they are making efforts to retain the knowledge of retiring employees. Specifically, this synthesis documents STA practices, at a practical level, for preserving and enabling use of internally generated knowledge resources--that is, on those materials, knowledge, and resources in the unique possession of individual STAs at the program, policy, project, and project detail levels. It also contains an annotated literature survey, interviews, and other resources detailing practices from transportation and other types of organizations. For this synthesis study, the following definitions of key terms apply throughout: · Institutional memory--"the body of knowledge, formal as well as informal, that is essen- tial to the continuous and effective functioning of the agency at all levels" (contributed by Dr. Howard Rosen, University of Wisconsin, Madison). · Knowledge--"the combination of data and information, to which is added expert opin- ion, skills, and experience, to result in a valuable asset which can be used to aid decision
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2 making. Knowledge may be explicit and/or tacit, individual and/or collective" (Euro- pean Guide to Good Practice in Knowledge Management, Part 1, 2004, p. 6). · Knowledge management (KM)--"a trans-disciplinary approach to improving organiza- tional outcomes and learning, through maximizing the use of knowledge. It involves the design, implementation, and review of social and technological activities and processes to improve the creating, sharing, and applying or using of knowledge" (Australian Stan- dard, 2005, p. 2). Therefore, throughout this report, the term "knowledge management" or its abbreviation, KM, refers to business management practices that maximize use of knowledge, whether the organizations are government agencies, businesses, or non-profits, and regardless of where the "home office" is located. Throughout this report references and understandings are drawn from the global commu- nity. A literature survey was conducted to identify trends and practices utilized both within and beyond the U.S. transportation community. Indeed, as the annotated literature survey reveals, KM is an international phenomenon. The trend worldwide in the current global econ- omy is to treat knowledge as an asset. Organizations are increasingly integrating knowledge into the overall management of organizations by establishing KM-specific business strate- gies and processes. Many of the most helpful references came from non-U.S. sources. The literature survey revealed that KM processes are recognized as the business processes underlying the management of knowledge as an asset, comparable to physical, financial, and human resource assets. The literature survey focused on examples of very current practices from a wide range of organizations, practices, and literature types, as opposed to more theo- retical or evaluative literature. An effort was made to include references that are reasonably accessible to STA employees who, although they may have KM responsibilities, may not have easy access to major academic libraries or document repositories. In short, the empha- sis is on the practical application of KM practices. The literature survey focused first on standards or guidance documents issued by inter- nationally recognized standards-developing organizations. These types of documents are useful because they emerge from a broad consensus process and therefore offer a distilled view with input from many quarters. Most documents of this type are "international," in that they were not issued by U.S. standards-developing organizations. Indeed, as our literature survey annotations revealed, KM is an international phenomenon, with excellent references from the International Standards Organization (ISO), The European Committee for Stan- dardization (CEN), Australia, Great Britain, and Denmark. Probably the most helpful overall treatment of KM as a business process is documented in the five-part European Guides to Good Practice in Knowledge Management published by CEN. The framework or context within which KM as a business process, at both the organi- zational and the personal level, is carefully demonstrated within a strong overall business focus. This is important. As seen from the questionnaire results, there is weak implementa- tion among STAs of KM as an intentional, purposeful business process. Knowledge is gen- erally not seen as an asset of sufficient importance to warrant organization-wide attention. Gathering some key concepts from these Guides, the organization needs to define its mis- sion, vision, and strategy in regards to KM. A culture of motivation is necessary, in which people are respected, feel a sense of trust, belonging, and empowerment. Knowledge activi- ties are seen as an integral part of wider business processes, and should be value adding, clearly communicated, understood, and accepted. Roles and responsibilities must be made clear. Individuals need to be acknowledged and rewarded for their contributions. The envi- ronment must be conducive for people meeting, working together, and sharing ideas and experiences.
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3 Many actual day-to-day practices were derived from the literature. There are a wide range of activities from many disciplines documented in the literature. It is this eclectic, trans-disciplinary approach that our literature sources indicate is fundamental to success. Some categories of practical practices, some of which might be termed "technical" and others "human resource," are: · Content management, · Knowledge taxonomies, · Groupware, · Online communities of practice, · Enterprise portals, · Social network analysis and design, · e-learning, · Storytelling and narratives, · Wireless tools for knowledge mobilization, and · Innovation and idea management systems (Knowledge Management Tools and Tech- niques, 2005, pp. 121). This study indicates that, just as the management of other asset types requires specifically skilled professionals such as in the case of financial assets, accountants, budget experts, fore- casters, banking, or financial analysts, and so on, so too do certain professions play lead roles in the management of knowledge assets. In our definition, KM is described as "trans-disciplinary." This is an important concept that implies that certain facets or functions of historically separate professional disciplines are being intermingled to create something new. Many disciplines may find a home under the KM umbrella; however, the most important are organizational science and human resource management, computer science and management information systems, library science, and information management. KM acts as an umbrella under which the skills of these historically separate disciplines are integrated in what may be hitherto unknown ways to create a single, increasingly coher- ent business management process. These disciplines have long histories with disparate philosophies, professional cultures, habits of mind, and skill sets. In some organizations, they may be in direct competition. The challenge of managers is to mesh the various necessary skill sets into a single integrated business process without destroying what is valuable and necessary from each. It is easy for professionals to be dismissive or even unaware of the capa- bilities of professionals from other disciplines. For example, the librarian may underestimate the skill needed by computer scientists for ensuring robust, reliable, secure handling of large databases with business-critical content. Likewise, the human resource manager may have a simplistic understanding of the complex practices developed over decades by librarians worldwide to properly procure, organize, codify, maintain, and provide access to collections of literally millions of intellectual resources, including books, periodicals (in hardcopy or electronic format or both), CDs, videotapes, websites, virtual collections, content-only data- bases, etc. In turn, the information technologist may be naïve about or unappreciative of the human resource professional's skill in forming high-performing work teams, managing suc- cession strategies, and establishing cultures conducive to knowledge sharing. That said, although professionals as described earlier drive the KM business process, all staff must be involved. Just as every employee shares responsibility for taking stewardship of the physical resources of an organization--using facilities wisely, minimizing waste of space or utilities, conserving on electricity, storing hazardous materials properly, maintain- ing equipment under their care, etc.--so, too, must all employees engage in stewardship over knowledge assets as is appropriate given their individual business responsibilities.
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4 Thirty-three STAs reported specific efforts to capture the knowledge of experienced retir- ing or exiting employees, which indicates that there is widespread recognition that this area warrants attention. Key findings show that · The exit interview was the most common effort made. · Rehiring arrangements on temporary or contract basis are common. · Seven STAs reported having a succession plan process in place. · A few STAs assign individuals to document expertise. · A few STAs assign knowledge-capturing tasks to senior staff. Overall, the questionnaire data do not show that STAs typically have purposeful, ongoing enterprise-wide programs to deal with leave-taking in a methodical manner, on an ongoing basis, as part of the normal business process. As shown in the literature survey, many organizations embed KM practices into their nor- mal business processes to ensure that employees stay on the job, retirements are anticipated, and leave-taking is not an unexpected event, but a normal part of the human resource side of the KM business process. Questionnaire results did not reveal that ongoing, day-to-day purposeful programs and practices for sustaining internal knowledge transfer as a normal business process that engages all employees and provides a smoother path for staff leaving and changes is wide- spread among STAs. Nineteen STAs (including New Brunswick, Canada) have adopted elements of KM pro- grams or are trying to do so. The questionnaire defined the practices generically, and made clear that it was the practices themselves that were of interest, regardless of the terminology used in the agency to describe them. From the questionnaire results, it was determined that most KM efforts are being made by individual work units, are what could be termed "piecemeal" projects, or are pilot programs. Although these may be very useful and effective within their work units, overall agency-wide KM business strategies that permeate the culture and help define how business is done throughout the agency were not commonly found to exist. In addition, few STAs reported procedural or policy documentation that broadly define and support KM business practices. From the many initiatives and processes reported by STAs, it was found that there is sub- stantial attention paid to institutional memory issues and specifically implementation of KM practices in the individual STAs at some level or by some individuals. However, a commonly acknowledged understanding of KM business processes among agencies was not found in a manner similar to, for example, that of physical or financial assets. Some STAs stand out. Certainly, Virginia, with its Knowledge Management Office and range of practices is one. Its program is approximately two years old, according to the respon- dent, but enjoying robustness within the agency. Texas, with its forensic pavement program and other initiatives, is another. The Texas Department of Transportation (DOT) sees the forensic pavement program as a possible model for future initiatives. The California DOT, challenged by a large decentralized agency, has many sharing in the responsibility. It also has a unique History Program established by formal written policy in 1984, which created a History Center in the Library and a statewide History Preservation Committee. The Ohio DOT has a strong KM initiative derived from its library function, with robust attention paid to bringing external knowledge into the organization in a sophisticated, systematic manner, and with strong ties to transportation-rich repositories. Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio reported enterprise-wide KM programs, with Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Brunswick, Pennsylvania, and Virginia indicating that although they had enterprise-wide programs, they were in "roll-out" phase.
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5 When it came to STAs that indicated their KM programs were robust enough to continue through staff and administration changes, the list shortened to eight (see Table H1 in Appen- dix H). Ten STAs reported that their programs were not evenly supported or well communi- cated by management, and four indicated that their programs might not survive a new budget cycle or top administration changes. This suggests that even enterprise-wide recognized pro- grams are not well-embedded as a normal, ongoing KM business process, and knowledge itself is not necessarily seen as a strategically important business asset. This conclusion is supported by the few STAs that reported using metrics to gauge the effectiveness of their KM programs (see Table H3 in Appendix H). In addition, eight STAs have training or mentoring programs to help staff transferred to new jobs, new hires, or those new to leadership understand the agency's KM practices and how to make the best use of KM resources (Table H4, Appendix H). As to points-of-contact to which individuals may turn when information is needed, the preponderance of responses indicated that there is typically no specified central point of con- tact or office with coordinating responsibilities, and that employees have to "know where to go." The most common responses were that · Individuals must go to different work units, depending on what is needed. · On an informal basis, individuals go to knowledge individuals or supervisors. · Individuals spend a lot of time figuring out where things are. This finding may point to inefficiencies in business processes, because searching for inter- nal documents and information can be an important source of non-value-added activity, espe- cially for professionals, who are most likely to need the information to carry out their work, and whose labor costs are relatively high. Note that those STAs that have formal libraries were more likely to indicate them as the central point-of-contact. Taking these examples of STAs developing KM as a business process together with exam- ples from the literature sources surveyed, one can conclude that the worldwide trend is to develop KM business processes ubiquitously throughout organizations with strong support and recognition from every level of management. The literature survey lists management standards that incorporate and even require that knowledge and document practices be embedded into the management process. Worldwide, countries, international organizations, and individual com- panies and government agencies are integrating KM practices into their business processes. Taking into consideration the responses to questions regarding cultural receptivity, authority, leadership, day-to-day responsibilities, and management expectations, manage- ment attention in the STAs can be characterized as "passively positive." In other words, there is does not appear to be aggressive or assertive leadership from the executive level; however, neither is there pervasive or persistent negativity. One can conclude from the job titles of those with KM responsibilities that most KM practices occur from bottom-up or middle-out initiatives. The data do not indicate that managing knowledge as a valuable asset is a top pri- ority of top-level STA executives. There is a lack of normal, ongoing established business processes, similar to those for physical, financial, and human assets. Most STAs with KM programs have at least one professional librarian on staff. There is at least a correlation and there may be a causal connection. Of the original 19, five did not have a professional librarian on staff, and one of those hired a contract librarian to help with certain functions. One--Idaho--has a formal library but no professional librarian on staff. Although librarians traditionally are valuable in managing the interface between the agency and the world of external information, their professional skills are needed in an enabling role in internal KM implementations. It is incumbent on librarians to merge their skills with infor- mation technology (IT) and human resource professionals to build organization-wide robust comprehensive KM programs.
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6 There are currently few human resource professionals assigned to KM responsibilities in STAs. A review of the current literature and the practices of two institutions with well- developed KM programs, NASA and the World Bank, revealed that their current KM pro- grams incorporate human resource professional expertise. Indeed, their skills are paramount in helping organizations deal with tacit knowledge, knowledge transfer, incorporating new understandings or lessons learned into training programs, incorporating KM skills and com- petencies into performance evaluation and award systems, facilitating workshops and com- munities of practice, establishing mentoring systems, social network analysis, facilitating after-action face-to-face meetings, etc. The World Bank, and other organizations revealed by the literature survey, have harnessed IT skills to set up sophisticated, transactional web-based databases, and use web portals and other web-based technologies to manage KM resources. NASA, for example, is seeking to harness web technology in a more sophisticated fashion by pulling together "views" of employees, from résumés to project descriptions to project charging systems, to identify expertise. It is apparent that strong IT skills, in a supporting role to core operations, espe- cially in the area of web portal design and integrated transactional databases, are important in organizations where KM pervades the culture. The literature survey revealed that both IT and library science skills play important enabling roles in the KM business process. Based on the responses to questions regarding specific practices, tools, and techniques employed, STAs use those that can be characterized as more traditional practices, which see knowledge capturing as mostly a by-product of normal work in the form of compiling and keeping normal work documentation by means of a records management system. Some STAs are implementing enterprise-wide electronic document management systems to manage, store, and provide ongoing access to this type of documentation. Most efforts appear to be in the area of documentation, which is very important, especially as organizations move from hardcopy to e-documentation. Indeed, both NASA and World Bank interviews revealed that the first phase of KM implementation involved a conscious and major effort in document management, which became an institutionalized ongoing platform to support other initiatives. Current understandings of KM, as revealed by the literature survey, however, revealed human-resource-oriented methods as of vital importance. STAs use these methods less fre- quently. Such approaches include communities of practice, knowledge-generating teams, oral interviews, lessons learned, face-to-face workshops, or social network analysis, all of which specifically target implicit knowledge in people's minds. Also, more complex IT-oriented approaches, such as transactional portals tying multiple databases together for project man- agement, sophisticated staff expertise identification through databases, advanced web-based approaches, such as team-share or "push" technologies, or incorporation of enterprise-wide taxonomies to apply subject tagging to content repositories are less often used by STAs. When it comes to storing KM resources, the biggest concern is in discrepancies between storage and preservation of hardcopy as opposed to electronic resources. Practices for hard- copy appear to be well ensconced in traditional, well-developed records management pro- grams. Practices for electronic resources, however, are less well defined, and seem to be based mostly on format rather than on the type of document or content. For example, in the hardcopy environment, one could expect very different handling practices for, say, an agenda for a specific meeting as opposed to a formal final project report. There was no clear indica- tion that this kind of differentiation in handling based on type of document or content has been resolved for the electronic environment. This also proved true regarding the question on destroying or making knowledge resources obsolete. In most STAs, there does not seem to be an overall focused strategy to provide clear access paths to explicit KM resources. The emphasis appears to be on which department "owns" it, rather than on the end-user who needs it. The results show that in most cases the user must "know where to go" depending on the nature of the resource. In the matter of identifying and
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7 finding stored KM resources for application to current work and decision making, the most common responses indicated that overall, it depends on which work unit is handling the resource. Individual STAs reported a variety of finding tools, mixtures of databases and man- ual (hardcopy) indexes, databases, clearing-house-type websites, and knowledgeable individ- uals. A few states reported an intranet portal, which presumably offers a "one-stop-shopping" approach by means of some kind of unified display screen with links to various resources. Iowa and Minnesota reported on electronic document/records management systems. The Virginia DOT noted that an effort to create an enterprise-wide taxonomy is underway to allow searching of multiple repositories simultaneously. However, a clear strategy of providing a kind of "one-stop-shopping" approach conceived of from the point of view of the employee looking for and needing the resources rather than from the work unit that "owns" the resource was not apparent. Once the resources are identified, however, most DOTs reported that physical resources, at least, are stored in reasonably convenient and accessible locations, and that decisions to move or destroy records are done carefully, probably the result of well-established records management programs. Seven DOTs reported a high priority to get KM resources available to the desktop, however; two have a "push" or proactive system. Therefore, perhaps one can conclude that hardcopy resources are more readily available than electronic ones. Overall, the main conclusion from the questionnaire results is that institutional memory practices exist at some level in at least 19 STAs; however, overall strategic intentionality or conscious effort are not strongly evident in most STAs on an agency-wide basis. Exceptions are documented in the case studies. In general, the main conclusion is that institutional memory practices exist at some level in at least 19 STAs; however, overall strategic intentionality or well-implemented business processes are not present. As revealed in the literature search and interviews, KM practices are generally not as well defined or measurable as other business processes. In recent years, KM practices have been implemented as an underlying internal process to support organiza- tion's evolution into customer-oriented, team-based, highly flexible, global enterprises, where internal knowledge is viewed as a major asset. There is not a set protocol or clear path for implementation such as may exist, for example, in the management of financial assets. Thus, it takes creativity and careful strategizing to implement KM practices that actually deliver ben- efits and are embedded in day-to-day operations. According to CEN Workshop Agreement 14924-1, efforts in many organizations have typically taken an IT approach initially; however, the Agreements were written specifically to help organizations align culturally and socially to take advantage of knowledge sharing within and beyond their organizational boundaries. This people-centric approach adds value to technology-focused initiatives. The goal is to put in place the cultural, human, environmental, and technical ecology necessary to take advantage of collective knowledge.