Results and Discussion
As noted in the review of literature on knowledge management in the previous pages, successful knowledge management projects are based upon a strong link to a business imperative (Skyrme and Amidon, 1999, p. 117). In other words, there is a specific need for knowledge creation, sharing, or transfer. One can look at the situations faced by Department of Defense public affairs professionals and likewise see the need for a knowledge-based system in which knowledge can be shared, created, and transferred. Public affairs professionals of all services often find themselves working together in joint operations, but rarely communicate with each other outside of these situations. Often they approach problems from different, but similar, perspectives. Often it takes too much time to form into a team among different service members. Another example of the need for a knowledge based system is that public affairs practitioners often face similar challenges, no matter what commands they represent. They often seek advice and solutions from previous cases and individuals who worked on previous cases. Currently, there is no central depository of public affairs lessons learned, after action reports, or sample public affairs plans for the entirety of the Department of Defense that can be accessed by all public affairs practitioners. The authors believe that should a website meet these needs, it would be well-received by the public affairs community and be widely used. Therefore, we project that the results of this study will support Hypothesis 1.
Stemming from the first hypothesis and using Nonaka’s spiral of knowledge theory, the authors project that as use of the website becomes more widespread, individual public affairs professionals will broaden their knowledge and share more knowledge with other individuals in the field. As the knowledge transfers through individuals, it will become incorporated into the various public affairs offices throughout the Department of Defense, leading to better performance by both individuals and the public affairs community as a whole. Therefore, the authors project the evidence found in this study will support Hypothesis 2.
Appendix B provides a breakdown of the results of the pretest survey. Of the 39 participants, 33 of them, roughly 84.6 %, view themselves as decision makers within their environments. Of primary interest is the tools used to make decisions. Recall that question 4 of the survey (see Appendix A) reads, “When solving PA issues, what resources do you use?” As one can see from the results, most base their decisions on their own prior experience first. However, others’ experience is the second most popular choice. This ranks above consulting regulations and military or public affairs publications. This suggests there is already information and knowledge sharing taking place informally between individuals. This point is further illustrated by the answers to questions 5 and 6, which read, respectively, “Do you currently share your PA experiences with other commands? And do you currently share your PA experiences with other services?” The majority of individuals do share information with other commands inside and outside their respective services.
The responses to questions 4 and 7 show that current use of public affairs websites to assist in decision-making ranks relatively low. Recall above that question 4 explores use of public affairs resources, and question 7 reads, “How do you share your PA experiences with others?” The reason for this lack of use of the web could be that the current websites that are administered by the individual services may not be administered in such a way as to promote the sharing of knowledge. Recall from the review of literature that many organizations place undue emphasis on technology and assume that just by setting up a website they have successfully accomplished creating a knowledge-based organization. In reality, they have only created a knowledge warehouse and need to ensure the knowledge is usable. While one might view the responses to questions 4 and 7 as discouraging for this study, the response to question 12 is highly encouraging. Thirty-two of the respondents, roughly 82.05 %, claimed that a public affairs knowledge-based website would be helpful to them in solving public affairs problems. Further, the open-ended question in question 13 elicited feedback on what types of knowledge should be included on such a website, and the response to question 14 shows that there is a desire for web-based sharing of information and knowledge.
Questions 8 through 11 illustrate that not much is known about the current Capstone Projects and provide indications that very few people in the public affairs community use them as a resource to help them in public affairs challenges. Question 8 asks the participant if he knows what the Capstone Projects are; question 9 asks if the participant has ever used them; question 10 questions whether or not the projects were helpful; and question 11 is an open ended question that asks participants who had use the projects to the major strengths and weaknesses of the Capstone Projects. Comments about the projects indicate that the ideas conveyed in the project may not be fully developed and are too theoretical to be of practical use. One should note, however, that the overwhelming majority of respondents had not heard of the projects. We believe that once packaged in a usable manner, the projects will become highly used. This will be proved or disproved during the posttest survey.
Because of the lack of time to complete this study, we have not conducted a posttest survey. Since the pretest survey results indicate a need and desire for a knowledge-based public affairs website, we believe the results of the posttest survey will indicate that public affairs professionals of all services are sharing information and knowledge via the website. Further, we believe the results will show that the website is helpful to them and will better their performance, thus elevating the performance level of the Department of Defense public affairs profession as a whole. These findings will support the hypotheses identified previously in this paper.
The content analysis of the 45 web-accessible Capstone Projects allowed for observation of natural patterns of themes and key terms common among the projects. This allowed us to do two things. First, content analysis allowed us to group the projects by common themes. We observed 16 different categories into which the Capstone Projects fit. The categories are listed below as follows:
1. Community Relations 9. Media Operations
2. Crisis Communication 10. Military Health Care
3. Defense Reform 11. New Technology
4. Education, Training, and Doctrine 12. Public Affairs Credibility
5. Ethics 13. Public Affairs Planning
6. Intercultural Issues 14. Public Affairs
7. Internal Information 15. Public Opinion
8. Joint Public Affairs 16. Recruiting and Retention
A detailed list of the categories and the projects that fall under each is provided in Appendix C. Many projects fit into more than one category. While this deviates from the traditional sense of content analysis, this particular feature is instrumental in providing easy browsing capability for users. The second thing content analysis allowed us to do is to identify key words. We identified 288 key words and terms, including 45 different theories, that were applied in the Capstone Projects. The key words are listed in Appendix D. The identification of key words will enable a search engine to easily identify terms that most individuals would use to search projects.
The website model created (see Appendix E) is based upon the six steps of knowledge packaging identified previously in this report. Figure 4 below provides an illustration of what factors have played a role in meeting the criteria established by the six steps.
During the first step, identifying the knowledge to be packaged, considerations were made from what type of knowledge is valuable to an organization. In addition, the pretest survey identified informational and knowledge-related needs as conveyed by the participants. Finally, the Capstone Projects themselves represented a large portion of knowledge. Categorizing them helped further identify the information and knowledge offered in them.
The second step of knowledge packaging is to segmenting the audience. This is important because one must know with whom one intends to share the knowledge. In the first step, we identified what the knowledge is we want to convey. The second step simply identifies a target for that knowledge. Breaking down the audience into segments is done based upon need. In this case, needs are slightly different according to rank or billet. We propose using demographic information from the pretest survey to help determine the segments. One should note that this step is not yet complete due to lack of time to complete this study.
The third step involves customizing the content of the knowledge according to each audience. We have partially accomplished this through application of knowledge obtained in the review of literature as well as through use of demographic information taken from the pretest survey. This step refines the knowledge as it pertains to the different segments of the audience. For instance, the needs of a media officer will be slightly different from that of a press chief. This step is also not yet complete.
The fourth step is to choose a format for the knowledge package. Factors that played into this were our team’s consideration of the need for ease of management. Because military public affairs professionals are serving all over the globe, in different time zones, and in accordance with different priorities, it appears that a web-based knowledge system is the best choice for format. It is relatively low cost and can be supported through existing computer networks. Another consideration was the fact that the pretest survey results indicated a preference for a web-based system over other means. We believe that a central authority should manage this website. One possibility is to have the authority rest at the Defense Information School. As the central location for training and educating public affairs professionals within the Department of Defense, the Defense Information School already overseas much of the flow of knowledge through formal schools. It should follow, then, that oversight of this system would be similar to already-existing programs and could more readily fit here than in other organizations. Another possibility for management is for the Department of Defense Public Affairs Plans Section to provide oversight and management of the website.
The fifth step in the knowledge packaging process is organizing the content. This was primarily accomplished through content analysis and applying the results of the pretest survey. By categorizing the Capstone Projects into common themes, we have allowed the user to browse the site and easily find what he needs. Further, identifying key words will allow the user to search for terms he already knows he needs to research. Other information, such as public affairs directories, public affairs plans, and after action reports, are included in easy-to-browse categories based upon current web-design practices.
The final step, market testing, has not been accomplished due to the short time allotted for this study. The posttest survey can be used to accomplish this step, and future researchers should incorporate respondents’ input into bettering the website. It is important to note, however, that enough time should pass between the establishment of the website and the survey to allow individuals to get used to the site, employ it in their problem-solving, and form an opinion as to whether or not the site is helpful to them.
Time was a critical factor in this study and is the foundation of most limitations. The first limitation is the generalizability of the pretest survey. Since we had less than four weeks to complete this project, we conducted a survey that combined elements of volunteer sampling, convenience sampling, and snowball sampling to obtain a number of responses that we believed would give us at least somewhat clear indications that the data is accurate. We realize the demographics of the participants are not entirely representative of the Department of Defense public affairs population, nor was the survey a random sampling. Follow-on researchers may want to conduct a truly random pretest, provided they are afforded enough time.
In addition, we did not have time to conduct a posttest survey. The posttest survey must be performed after enough time has passed between the establishment of the website and the public affairs community has had a chance to understand and use the site. Only then will a valid assessment of the benefit of the knowledge-based system be obtained.
Time was also a factor that limited our ability to fully design and implement the website. While we were able to create a model that includes Capstone Projects as well as other public affairs information and tools, we were not able to actually get into the specific knowledge. We were only able to create the categories. This poses a problem for a couple reasons. First of all, as it stands, the website is not of use to anyone except future researchers who hope to further this project. Second, by not going into depth on categories other than the Capstone Projects, we are not able to identify potential future problems in managing this knowledge base.
We have established that in order for people to use the website, it must be useful to them. There is an even more basic need that has to be met as well. If public affairs professionals are going to use this knowledge-management tool, they must also know about it. Therefore, any future research into this matter must also include publicity for the website and encouragement of its use, at least initially. One could construct the best website possible that provides public affairs solutions to myriad challenges, but it still would be completely useless if no one knew it existed. Future researchers should consider the following means for publicizing the website to the public affairs community:
1. Service public affairs websites
2. Defense Information School classes
3. Letters or electronic mail to public affairs practitioners from service headquarters
4. Personnel or manpower website links
5. Public affairs conferences
This study should be exciting to members of the public affairs community, as it represents an attempt to better the performance of public affairs professionals individually and as an organization. Through the adoption of solid knowledge management practices, specifically a web-based knowledge program, the sharing, transfer, and creation of knowledge will be possible, allowing greater insight into how we practice public affairs and what means are most effective in the fast-paced, often chaotic, world of military public affairs. Researchers may further explore knowledge management theory to determine which types of knowledge and information are of most use to public affairs professionals. They may learn how to segment the audience better in order to foster a quicker transfer of knowledge from one source to another. They may further refine the steps to knowledge packaging, or they might even attempt to combine this research with other studies to determine the effectiveness of a particular public affairs tactic or message and then link that back to determining how big a part knowledge sharing or management played in the decision to use that tactic. The point is that the possibilities to further this study are limitless, and further research into this area is highly likely to yield practical applications for the public affairs community for years to come.