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Public Roads - November/December 2001

Guest Editorial

Editor's Notes

FHWA's Knowledge-Sharing Initiative Wins Award

On Dec. 4, Mike Burk, the chief knowledge officer for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), accepted a Government Technology Leadership Award on behalf of the agency. The award was presented by Government Executive magazine and the Federal Technology Service, and it was presented to FHWA for its Transportation Knowledge-Sharing Initiative, which was honored in the category for "breaking down barriers between offices, agencies, departments or between federal, state, and local governments."

The award is affectionately called a Gracie because, according to Government Executive, it "embodies the spirit and foresight" of Rear Adm. Grace Hopper. Hopper, known as "Amazing Grace," served for 43 years in the U.S. Navy and was an acknowledged trailblazer in technology. Government Executive describes her this way: "[Her] mantra was innovation and bucking shortsighted strictures of government bureaucracy. She pushed the computer industry to adopt standards and a rigorous design discipline on everything from networking to software development. ... She set her clock to run counterclockwise to remind subordinates, peers, and bosses alike of the benefits of unconventional thinking." Hopper is also given credit for being the first person to use the word "bug" to describe a computer glitch when a moth got stuck in a circuit and disrupted a large computer.

This award is quite a feather in the hat of FHWA's fledgling knowledge-sharing program. The competition was fierce and the standards were tough. A record 266 federal, state, and local projects were nominated, but only 11 Gracies were awarded. The judging was conducted in three phases. Government Executive described the process: First, Cheryl Ward, chief of staff of the Federal Technology Service, selected 30 finalists, which were placed in one of six categories. "Then, the 50 members of the new Academy of Government Technology Leadership voted online for the best projects. Finally, a panel of judges reviewed the academy's verdicts and made the final recommendations."

FHWA's knowledge-sharing initiative is "a model for sharing information across the spectrum of government agencies and even the private sector," said Government Executive.
"Knowledge management can be described many ways, but the definition that seems best suited to FHWA is the process of capturing and sharing a community's collective expertise to fulfill its mission," said Burk. "Knowledge management takes advantage of an organization's most valuable asset - the collective expertise of its employees and partners."

"The transportation community is made up of people of outstanding ability, experience, and professionalism," Burk said. "By improving the way we create, share, and gain access to these experiences and the accompanying knowledge, knowledge management will enable us to raise the level of expertise throughout the community to the mutual benefit of all participants."

The secret to organizational success, according to Burk, is to have "a collaborative, innovative, and pervasive knowledge-sharing culture that is always engaged in the activity of learning. Encouraging people to share information, instead of hoarding it, is the essence of knowledge management."

Bob Bryant

For more information about FHWA's Knowledge Management Program, see "Knowledge Management: Everyone Benefits by Sharing Information" in the November/December 1999 issue of Public Roads, and see "Communities of Practice" in the May/June 2000 issue. These articles are accessible through (Select Public Roads from the list of periodicals, then click on archives, and then select the specific issue.)