How to know what you know: improving knowledge management in government


Good research and information are essential for good decision-making, and when budgets are tight, getting the most value from your organisation's research is vital - but also challenging. Many governments are focused on improving their knowledge management, and with the right approach, you can overcome common obstacles and deliver transformative results

In practice, however, driving more value from research can prove challenging. There are several obstacles that can stand in the way of the effective use of your knowledge and research. Thankfully, with the right approach, all these issues can be resolved.

Five common challenges to overcome when driving value from your knowledge:

  1. No clear oversight of current and previous research
  2. Research is unintentionally duplicated
  3. Research is difficult and time consuming to access
  4. It is unclear which research is the most useful
  5. Research findings aren't widely shared

We will take each challenge in turn, providing a brief overview and sharing insights into how to effectively overcome them, based on our extensive real-world experience.

1 No clear oversight of current and previous research

When you are committed to making evidence-based decisions, you require the most comprehensive access to research evidence possible. Put simply, you need to know what you know.

However, many departments lack strategic oversight of the evidence base, including their own previously conducted and current research. Research is often commissioned by separate people, in separate departments, and stored in multiple places.

As a result, it can be hard to fully explore robust, relevant research evidence, both internally or externally funded.

The solution

Provide one point of access to all research - a single research evidence directory or 'portal' where staff can find the newest and most relevant research that they need to make well-evidenced decisions.

2 Research is unintentionally duplicated

This is a natural consequence of the previous issue. When lots of research is being commissioned, but people aren't aware of what currently exists, duplicated or overlapping research is inevitable.

Especially in these times of tight budgets, researching information that has already been discovered is not an effective use of resources.

The solution

If you don't already, include a review of existing relevant research as part of the commissioning process. In tandem with this, make it easier for your staff to be able to check current research, by storing existing research documents in a more readily accessible way. This leads us to the next issue.

3 Research is difficult and time consuming to access

Traditionally, when research is held by specific departments, other staff requiring access need to manually request it, then wait for whoever has access to locate and share the relevant document.

This process consumes countless hours on both sides. Also, by their nature, researchers want to be researching, rather than servicing requests for documents.

The solution

Make it simple for anyone to access the information by switching to a 'self-serve' digital approach. That way, when staff urgently need a research document for a meeting, they can quickly find it themselves.

This solution also frees up hours every week for researchers to do what they do best - analysing research to extract actionable insights. The time-saving efficiencies can be substantial. From our own experience, as one of the users of our research portals put it, "If the platform wasn't there, there would be an extra 14 weeks' work for someone." (Cognni customer)

4 It is unclear which research is the most useful

Not all research is created equal. When resources are limited, it makes sense to invest in research that proves the most useful. There are many well-intentioned pieces of research that end up digitally 'gathering dust' or keep getting commissioned out of habit despite outliving their usefulness. Similarly, some research documents may be rarely used by one department yet prove invaluable to another. The challenge is how to tell one from the other.

The solution

There's truth in the maxim that what gets measured, gets managed. There's no substitute for hard data, so incorporate some way to record how often different documents are opened or requested into your systems. Ideally, use a semi-automated system, to reduce admin time.

The results of this tracking may surprise you and will lead to more effective and efficient commissioning of future research.

5 Research findings aren't widely shared

The best research can transform decision-making. So, it follows that the more widely that research is shared, the bigger an impact it can have. Solutions and best practice in one area are often transferrable to others. However, this cannot happen if research sits on a shelf (physical or digital) or in a silo.

The solution

Champion wider sharing by encouraging staff to update colleagues and share new research. As a start, this can be done manually using existing systems. For a more streamlined approach, consider a digital system which can simplify processes and boost engagement.

This more connected approach will help eliminate silos and foster greater collaboration, so that organisations become more than the sum of their parts.

Making research more

By implementing these solutions, you can make your research more clear, useful, accessible, efficient, and connected. All of which will make it more valuable to your organisation.

For this reason, focusing on driving value from your research is one of the best decisions you can make.

Gareth Ratcliffe Oct 2022

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