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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Jan/Feb 2007

Jan/Feb 2007
Issue No:
Vol. 70 No. 4
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Internet Watch

Expanded CoP Web Site Encourages Knowledge Sharing on Highway Topics

by Kevin Monaghan

Business cultures are changing rapidly to take advantage of new technologies. Today, the concept of knowledge sharing through new interactive online tools is taking hold in more and more public and private organizations. As collaboration becomes a central concept in workplace culture, several State transportation agencies, such as the Virginia Department of Transportation, are beginning to implement or investigate knowledge sharing tools and practices in their daily operations.

Since 1998 when the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) first online "Community of Practice (CoP)" was launched, FHWA has become a leader in knowledge management and use of online communities to share knowledge in the transportation community. Most recently, FHWA's efforts were recognized as a "Top 20" initiative in the 2006 IAC Collaboration and Transformation SIG's awards and as a "Best-Practice Partner" in 2005 by the American Productivity and Quality Consortium. Currently FHWA operates more than 30 online communities addressing 250 topics.

Online Community

The Web site,, is a gateway to online internal FHWA and external CoPs. In contrast to typical Web sites, which provide one-way information delivery, CoPs provide a "home base" on key topics where people can discuss, share, network, and learn. These Web-based tools are designed to facilitate knowledge exchange and promote workforce development within the highway community. Each CoP offers users a range of tools to share knowledge and gain insight regarding a particular issue of concern to the highway community. FHWA CoPs cover a wide range of topic areas including Alternative Contracting, National Highway Visibility, Value Pricing, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Process and Documentation, Environmental Streamlining and Stewardship, and Work Zones.

These online communities bring together stakeholders from across the highway community, including FHWA staff members and staff from other Federal agencies, State and local governments, municipal planning organizations, research entities, industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations. For example, the Re:NEPA community engages this broad set of stakeholders in an open exchange of knowledge, information, experience, and ideas about NEPA, related environmental issues, and transportation decisionmaking. As a result, the highway community can explore the transportation decisionmaking process through discussion, research, assistance, and education that is directed toward a better, streamlined, and solution-oriented process for balancing transportation needs and the social, economic, cultural, and natural environment.

Peter U. Eun, a safety engineer with the FHWA Resource Center Safety and Highway Design Technical Service Team, is a regular user of the internal, FHWA-only "Safety Exchange" CoP. "[The site enables users] to find the answers...they were looking for," says Eun. "The site will help people do their jobs better and more efficiently. The ultimate goal is for people to get the information they need and apply it to help save lives."

A Successful Collaboration

The communities offer discussion areas where users can post questions, ideas, and comments and respond to posts from others, creating an online dialogue. Users also have access to reference areas, where they can post and/or download relevant and useful information. Reference materials, both past and present, include policies, guidance, memos, articles, and photos. Event calendars offer a space for members to post upcoming events, and member directories serve as expertise locators to enable users to contact other individuals with expertise in a particular topic area.

"The discussion feature enables people to ask questions of their colleagues or make comments on a point/topic," says Eun. "But the Safety Exchange is an internal community—meaning only those within FHWA have access. Thus discussions can be open and honest."

FHWA currently is implementing additional functions. The site will adopt a new tool for knowledge sharing called "Knowledge On-Demand," a set of online, multimedia presentations from FHWA staff on key technical and program topics.

"I think the on-demand access to a group of experienced practitioners with similar interests is one of the most useful parts of the site," says Lamar Smith, team leader of the Training, Technical Assistance, and Technology team in FHWA's Office of Project Development and Environmental Review. "The site also offers easy-to-use question formats, engaging discussions, informative searches, and daily notices of new information posted, and it is updated routinely."

For more information, contact FHWA Chief Knowledge Officer Mike Burk of the Office of Professional and Corporate Development at 202-366-8035 or

FHWA's "CoP" Web site is shown here.