Changing the Knowledge Management Tides and Why it Matters: The Federal HR Wiki

Oct 24, 2016

Imagine this – a go-to member of your organization just retired, a furlough is approaching, and now no one knows what to do. What communications need to go out? Who is considered ‘excepted’? Can the daycare center stay open? In the absence of mind-melds, how do you make expert knowledge easily accessible to newer team members? The Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG) at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Office of Human Resources was confronted with the specific challenge of how to transfer complicated programs to new owners with no familiarity, so their team decided to build a tool to solve their specific problem and a host of others along the way.

A network of human figures.

The SIG team specializes in creating, innovating, and piloting new programs, then spinning them off to other Divisions to maintain. They regularly have to address the problem of how to take someone who knows nothing about a program, and get them up to speed quickly and effectively to ensure the program doesn’t suffer during the transition. The HR Wiki was the answer! The team built the HR Wiki – a user-friendly knowledge management tool for guides, processes, documents, and more. It is easy to use, both in creating content and consuming it, has excellent search functionality, and can be expanded to suit any office or type of work. In addition to the tool itself, the SIG team has integrated the Wiki with existing processes and tools such as Excel, Visio, Google Calendars, Sharepoint, and more, ensuring that newly-hired employees have what they need to start contributing as soon as they arrive. Transitions facilitated by the Wiki have been so seamless that the HR Wiki team won approval to expand the Wiki tool to other parts of NIH’s Office of Human Resources.

Industrial robotic arms building the word WIKI.

It hasn’t always been easy. While most embrace the importance of knowledge sharing and want to consume reference guides themselves, few feel like they can take time out of their already packed schedules to build guides for others. The SIG team has devised strategies to make it easier for subject matter experts to put their expertise to paper.

First, the SIG team acts as a consultant and builds out rough draft pages that the experts merely need to tweak to finalize. The team also began convening “Wikithons,” which are fun, collaborative meetings where subject matter experts set time aside to create content pages while the SIG team provides technical support, content consulting, and tips and tricks. Not everyone needs this support, but many have expressed that they value these opportunities to learn tricks for collaboration, planning, and knowledge management.

Once others in the Office of Human Resources saw the benefits of using the Wiki-like tool, more and more groups wanted to use it. That is when the Strategic Initiatives Group realized that they could help other organizations across government with knowledge management. The barrier to this was funding; the SIG team needed support to begin the expansion of this project outside their small team.

When the SIG team learned about the HHS Secretary’s Ventures Fund program, it was a perfect fit for the HR Wiki. The Ventures Fund provides growth-stage funding and support to HHS employees with innovative ideas for how to dramatically improve their Office, Agency, or the Department’s ability to carry out its mission and scale an innovation. After being selected as a finalist in the Ventures Fund program, the Federal HR Wiki has been able to grow and reach many more agencies than initially anticipated. Originally, this tool was used for knowledge management in a small team. Now, the SIG team plans to open the interface up to 2,000 additional users—and you could be one of them!

Although current users are primarily within NIH, the SIG team’s goal is to expand it across the HR offices in the Department of Health and Human Services so that all HR professionals can share and benefit from the knowledge of their colleagues. The sky is the limit when it comes to the HR Wiki. There are no technical barriersto expanding this tool to other business areas or even other Departments.

There has already been great interest in this from a number of federal agencies. Additionally, there is increasing interest in developing shared services across government, and realizing economies of scale. Most recently, in August 2016 the Modernization and Migration Management (M3) Framework has been promoted through the GSA as a way to streamline and share mission support services such as financial management and human resources across government. The Federal HR Wiki developed by the SIG team is a great example of how these efficiencies can be actualized.Are you interested in exploring the possibility of using this new technology in your office? Feel free to reach out to the Federal HR Wiki team via email! This post was originally published on the HHS Idea Lab Blog.