New York Center To Study Knowledge Networks in Public Sector

New York Center To Study Knowledge Networks in Public Sector

By John Makulowich Senior Writer

A proposal to research so-called Knowledge Networks has garnered the University of Albany's Center for Technology in Government a $1 million award from the National Science Foundation.

The research grant, the largest in the center's six-year history, will be used to investigate public-sector knowledge networking, which includes the array of relationships, policies, information, processes and information technology tools that organizations use to reach their collective goals.

Part of the National Science Foundation's Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence program, which ends with this award cycle, the grant covers the study of seven initiatives led by New York state and local agencies that rely on sharing knowledge and information across many organizations.

The key government partners in those initiatives are the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, NYS Council on Children and Families, Office of the NYS Comptroller, New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, NYS Office of Real Property Services and NYS Office for Technology.

Among the goals of these initiatives are assessing the effectiveness of services to homeless people, designing one of the state's key financial systems and determining the information required to make sound investments in new technologies.

According to Center Director Sharon Dawes, a knowledge network is not just technology, but a combination of interorganizational relationships, policies, information content, work processes and technology tools and architectures brought together to achieve some purpose that multiple organizations share.

"We expect that the formation and operation of knowledge networks in the public sector are influenced by such variables as the nature of the problem they address, the characteristics and experiences of the individual and organizational participants, their technical capacity and infrastructure, the legal and policy framework that circumscribes their work, the structure and management philosophies of the organizations, the way they identify and solve problems, how they distribute costs and benefits and more," said Dawes.

The CTG research will test those preliminary ideas and try to understand the full range of organizational, political, technological and economic factors that influence network formation and operation.

Added Dawes: "Our early thinking is that functions that already incorporate a lot of interdependence; for example, areas where a state agency must work through local governments or nonprofit organizations to deliver a service will be good candidates for knowledge networks. Programs where the technology tools and skills are consistent from one participating organization to another also seem more amenable to knowledge network development. Again, these are ideas to be tested."

Over the three-year life of the award, the center, located at the University at Albany/State University of New York, will produce three kinds of user information: guidelines in the form of a handbook for managers; articles for publications that address a practitioner audience; and presentations for professional conferences. (The types of guidelines produced in other CTG projects are available on their Web site: www.ctg.albany.edu/resources/toolbox.
html.)

The focus of the center has been to improve the business of government through research into the policy, management and technology issues confronted by local, state and federal agencies.

This knowledge networking project is one of 31 proposals awarded a total of $50 million in grants by the National Science Foundation through its Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence (KDI) program. The goal of this research is to create networked systems that increase the availability of information, develop a better understanding of the nature of intelligence, design new ways of advancing knowledge through discovery and provide a forum for multidisciplinary research about knowledge investments.

One person who will monitor the grant is Daniel Newlon, an NSF economics program director and project manager for the KDI award to the center.

He said he was intrigued that the center's proposal was the only one submitted that addressed a large and important theme: reinventing and decentralizing government so it is more responsive to the citizenry and more efficiently and effectively run.

"What attracted us [the NSF review board] about this proposal was the issue of knowledge sharing and the problems and difficulties in working across different programs. This is a neglected area, especially given the high priority in state and federal governments of doing more with less," Newlon said.

"From our standpoint, we could not have a more highly qualified team to tackle the issues raised. And the different projects are well-chosen to evaluate how knowledge is shared," he said.

For Newlon, the concept of a knowledge network covers the effect of technology on decentralized operations in business and government. The Internet is the most dramatic example yielding a significant rise in the availability and accessibility of information.

Asked if he was surprised by the low number of submissions in this area, Newlon said he was, but pointed out that CTG was ahead of the research curve.

"We do have an initiative in our continuing Digital Government program that addresses the overall effect of technology on government operations," said Newlon. "My speculation on why CTG was the only proposal is that this area has tended to be dominated by applied research, for example, how do I get my government agency to perform better.

"Overlooked have been basic research questions, such as what lessons can be learned, what measures do we use and what are the modeling techniques to systematically use," he said.

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