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Scope of Work
This study examines the formation and operation of knowledge networks in the public sector. The research is based on seven empirical cases involving groups of agencies in New York State. In each case, agencies are engaged in programmatic or administrative innovations that depend on the sharing of knowledge and information across multiple organizations. We identify the dimensions of success and their relationship to how organizational, technological, and political factors influence results. The study has developed an enhanced model of knowledge network formation and operation in the public sector. In addition, this research has resulted in recommendations to practitioners about planning and implementing knowledge networks.

This three-year study has addressed the following research questions:

  • What are the defining characteristics of successful knowledge networks in the public sector?
  • What activities comprise the processes of planning and implementing these networks? How does the order or combination of activities affect results?
  • What organizational, technological, and political factors influence public sector knowledge networks and how can they be measured? What is their relative importance at each stage of the planning and implementation process? How sensitive are they to different environmental conditions?

Existing research on these questions has applied a number of disciplinary lenses and identified an abundance of characteristics, activities, factors, and conditions as relevant to effective knowledge networks. The complexity of the environment in which knowledge networks develop is mirrored in the complexity of the research insights, yielding an understanding of this phenomenon that is both confusing and incomplete. This complexity is especially unsatisfying for practitioners, who have little guidance from the research literature that would help them maximize their chances for developing successful knowledge networks. This work develops a more coherent model of the way these networks function.

This study employs action research methods with actual public sector initiatives as they were being developed, together with a study of one successful benchmark initiative. Each of the seven initiatives has been studied as a distinct case, using a comparative case study design. Because of CTG's unique project-based collaboration with New York State government agencies, the researchers in this study have exceptional access to these organizations, their staff, their partners, and their customers. The findings from these case studies help clarify the factors that lead to successful knowledge networks, as well as leading to results that can be immediately applied in government operations.

The knowledge networks examined in this research are treated as a combination of interorganizational relationships, policies, information content, work processes, and technology tools and architectures brought together to achieve collectively defined purposes. The conceptual framework identifies the main types of influences, processes, and outcomes to be examined and posits ways in which they interact to influence the success. This framework has guided the data collection and analysis. The results of the analysis have lead us to revise and expand the framework to better reflect the results. The revised framework, and the resulting propositions about influences on knowledge and information sharing, will form the basis for further research and serve as guidance for building and operating future knowledge networks in the public sector.

The Seven Initiatives Led by State and Local Agencies

The seven projects represent an array of critically important innovations in public services and public management. Their success relies in large measure on the understanding, creation, and implementation of knowledge networks. In each case, public agencies are designing and instituting major changes in the philosophy and operation of key service and administrative programs. They are moving away from centralized, command and control management models toward collaborative and distributed ways of working. Each initiative involves multiple governments and organizations and is led by the agency listed below.

  • Evaluating Services for Homeless People NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Bureau of Housing Services This project involved development of a Web-based system to compile information allowing government program managers and nonprofit service providers to assess the effectiveness of the housing, health, education, and training programs delivered to the more than 30,000 New Yorkers who are homeless at any one time.
  • Accessing Childhood Statistical Information NYS Council on Children and Families This initiative involved the creation of a publicly available Web-based repository of statistical indicator data about the health and well-being of the state's children. The clearinghouse is designed to vastly improve the accessibility and timeliness of information that government agencies and nonprofit organizations use to design, implement, and evaluate programs and policies that serve children.
  • Streamlining Municipal Technical Assistance Office of the NYS Comptroller, Division of Municipal Affairs This project involved creating an internal information system to keep track of the thousands of documents and customer contacts generated by this regionally-based division that oversees and provides technical financial management assistance to more than 10,000 local government entities.
  • Improving the Central Accounting System Office of the NYS Comptroller The goal of this project was to redesign the 17-year-old central accounting system, which is the backbone of financial and budgetary operations in New York. While the earlier stand alone system was created mainly with the Comptroller's Office in mind, the new system was designed in cooperation with its users in state and local agencies to reflect their needs, technical capabilities, local conditions, and existing systems.
  • Planning Strategic IT Investments New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications This project involved developing a comprehensive process to manage information about the city's technology systems and enable strategic information technology investment decisions. The new model includes information about best practices, current systems, and new information technology and management investments made in every city agency.
  • Designing a New Property Assessment System NYS Office of Real Property Services This initiative involved creating a new process to allow town and county assessors to supplement physical property assessments with an annual statistical adjustment based on a market analysis system that relies on the sharing of up-to-date valuation and sales data across jurisdictions.
  • Creating a Geographic Information System (GIS) Repository NYS Office for Technology and NYS Library [ Dead Link ] This project, which serves as a practical standard for a successful knowledge network, involved creating a Web-based clearinghouse of geographic information that promotes the sharing of spatial data sets statewide. The resulting NYS GIS Clearinghouse represents the state's first successful attempt to create a jurisdiction-wide information resource available to both public and private sector contributors and users.