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National Governmental Knowledge Management: KM, Adaptation, and Complexity: Part Two

July 24th, 2008 · 8 Comments

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The Organization of Knowledge Management in National Governments (continued)

A second possible answer to the question of how to organize KM in National Governments is to organize it in a decentralized way across national governmental agencies and inter-agency teams. Each Governmental unit, or inter-agency group, would have some KM personnel and would be responsible for doing what it could to enhance knowledge processing and Knowledge Management within their local agency or inter-agency group. KM personnel in the agencies and groups would be responsible to the heads or chiefs of the agencies, groups, and problem-solving teams they are a part of. KM personnel then would be charged with implementing the will of these heads and chiefs. Formal organization transcending agencies and inter-agency teams would be avoided, and the National Government implementing such a possibility would leave it to the KM officers and personnel in each locale to self-organize external relations with other locales, including establishing friendship groups, communities of practice, conferences, committees, and using whatever other communication venues and means they needed to employ to create an informal, emergent, National KM system.

This second possibility which I’ll characterize as formal, decentralized, “local KM,” has the advantages of decentralization, some measure of distributed problem solving, and also the potential for self-organization and emergent National KM patterns across locales and inter-agency teams, including the centralized executive staffs and structures of the Government. But it also has a number of crippling disadvantages.

A) The first of these is the “strategy exception error.” That is, by subordinating KM personnel to local heads and chiefs, this possibility subordinates the function of enhancing knowledge processing, to the requirements of existing strategy. The error here, is that that strategy can be inconsistent with the adaptive function of KM, in that it may make no provision for enhancing the knowledge processing on which the content of strategy itself depends. To avoid this strategy exception error, KM personnel need a measure of autonomy from line authority and an ability to define for themselves where knowledge processing in the locales and other groups needs to be enhanced.

B) Another major disadvantage of this decentralized local KM pattern is that it contains nothing formal to prevent “stove-piping” and constant re-invention of the wheel in locale after locale, and across inter-agency groups and teams as well. Stove-piping can be reduced by encouraging and enabling self-organization across locales, groups, and teams. But unless there’s a central authority to do this and to provide some enabling resources it won’t happen.

C) A third major disadvantage of the decentralized local pattern is the failure to recognize the fiduciary character of KM for National Governments, and to provide a structure for regulating KM performance in the Government that connects KM to its fiduciaries. Since adaptation is an essential function for Governments, on which all else depends, it can be argued that the innovation performance of the Government is a matter that must receive continual oversight from the Government’s trustees.

In National Governments, those trustees are the legislators. Theirs is the fiduciary responsibility to ensure that the adaptive capacity of the Government and its innovation performance are at a sufficiently high level to meet the Government’s severest challenges. Under the decentralized local pattern, again, there is no direct connection of KM personnel to the fiduciaries, and therefore line executives are free to interpret the function of KM in terms of their everyday, routine needs, or their need to solve specific problems rather than in terms of the function of KM to enhance knowledge processing.

A third possible organization for National KM is one in which we add to decentralized KM, a National Government KM Center for 1) Performing KM Research and Development, 2) Coordinating information availability about KM and knowledge processing including information about KM R & D performed elsewhere, 3) funding KM programs and projects across the National Government, and also 4) evaluating the impact of KM and knowledge processing activity across the decentralized, partially self-organizing clusters of KM activity. In other words, this Center would be a combined “clearinghouse,” KM scientific research center, funding source for programs and projects, and evaluation agency.

This National Government KM Center would not have direct line authority over the KM staffs and activities in the various locales, even though it would fund their programs and projects. Nor would it be housed with or subject to the central executive authority in the National Government. That authority would have its own KM activities and staffs, which in both the second organizational possibility and in this one, is viewed as just one of the “locales” in which KM activity would be formally constituted.

The National Government KM Center would function autonomously relative to the Executive, and would be directly responsible to the Legislative Authority which would directly fund it and evaluate its performance. In its evaluation function, the KM Center would function like the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in the United States (perhaps it should be called the Knowledge Accountability Office, the KAO), and would report to the Legislative Authority and also to the Executive, on the state of KM and knowledge processing in the National Government. In its R & D function, the National Center would operate like a National Laboratory, but with a specialization in creating knowledge about how to enhance Knowledge Management and Knowledge Processing. In its Information Clearinghouse Function, the National Center would serve as a coordinator of information and knowledge generated in locales related to KM and knowledge processing. In its funding source function, the National Center would provide the support for agencies, groups, and inter-agency teams, to actually perform KM programs and projects to enhance knowledge processing in the various locales including inter-agency problem solving teams. And in its evaluation function it would serve as the mechanism of National Government-wide KM performance accountability to the legislative fiduciary.

Among the above possibilities, the third is the one I like best. First, it does nothing to undermine self-organization in knowledge processing and KM. So the first possibility can be implemented within the framework of the National Governmental KM Center alternative. Second, the second possibility of implementing decentralized, distributed KM in locales, while preserving self-organization in knowledge processing can also be implemented within the framework of National Governmental KM. Third, in addition, however, the third possibility would meet the three problems with the second possibility I pointed to earlier.

Thus, the “strategy exception error” would be ameliorated, by making sure that local KM chiefs and staffs can get funding for projects that will strengthen both the strategy-making process (an activity relying on knowledge making) and also the full range of knowledge processing in various domains, regardless of whether local agency chiefs have formulated strategies that emphasize the importance of adaptation and problem solving. Also, the National Governmental KM Center would ameliorate the inevitable tendency to locale-based stove-piping, by enabling knowledge and information sharing and also collaboration across locales and agencies through its knowledge and information sharing programs and facilities, its cross-locale funding of projects and programs, and finally making available its evaluation reports including information about KM impact evaluations.

Finally, the third problem, that of implementing KM as fiduciary function of the national Government is solved by the third possibility since, the National Governmental KM Center itself would be directly accountable to the legislative authority, while all of the local KM functions, though continuing to be formally accountable to executive authority, would also be accountable to the National KM Center and ultimately to the legislative authority because they would be dependent on both for much of the information and knowledge, research findings, funding for programs and projects, and impact and performance evaluations they need to function.

Are there disadvantages with this third possibility for National Governmental KM? I’m quite sure there are. But, this is after all just a blog post and must stop somewhere. At this point, I’d like to open up this subject for discussion. In full confidence that these disadvantages will very quickly be revealed.

Tags: Complexity · Knowledge Integration · Knowledge Making · Knowledge Management

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