Good ideas for managing knowledge from B.C.'s public sector

In this section we identify some good ideas in the B.C. public sector related to the areas of the self-assessment guide. These good ideas provide some innovative ways to improve knowledge sharing, generation and use that may be appropriate to your organization.

Note: We have not evaluated the effectiveness or utility of these practices ourselves. These were volunteered by individuals we interviewed at all levels as actions that they believed were working well or particular projects that they were proud of related to knowledge generation, sharing and learning.

1. Ministry of Housing and Social Development Review Boards

Leadership and Strategy: Identifying specialized knowledge and creating roadmaps for future leaders


The Ministry of Housing and Social Development brings together the “responsibility for housing with social development and support to assist all British Columbians in achieving their economic potential” (Service Plan 2009/10) It employs approximately 2,700 people in a variety of roles and settings.


Like many other public sector organizations, the ministry was challenged by the need to identify and develop future leaders, while ensuring that mission-critical knowledge was not lost when staff retired.

The Practice

The ministry had adopted the process of using “review boards” through which to conduct performance evaluations of managers and supervisors. In 2008/09 this practice won a Premier’s award. The review board starts with, supervisors who assess their staff. This performance evaluation is then brought forward to a ministry-wide committee. What is unique about this process is that it:

  • identifies what knowledge the employee has and whether or not there is a need to transfer this knowledge;
  • provides the ministry with an organization-wide perspective of their specialists, their senior high performers and those with potential for future leadership positions;
  • allows the ministry to identify where knowledge may be at risk;
  • provides an opportunity to build capacity for the future; and
  • allows staff and managers alike to think beyond their particular work units.


2. Ministry of Transportation

Leadership and Strategy: Working to be knowledgeable owners of highway design


The Ministry of Transportation has responsibility for the planning, engineering design and maintenance of the transportation infrastructure across the province. This includes geometric, highway safety, electrical, traffic, bridge and geotechnical design. Prior to 2002 the majority of highway engineering design work was carried out within the Ministry by public service employed Professional Engineers (P. Eng) and technicians. However, in 2002, as part of an overall reduction in the Public Service, a decision was made to reduce the capacity of internal engineering design capability and to contract a good portion of this work to the private sector.


In addition to the move to contract-out services, over the next decade, the Ministry was expecting a high rate of retirement and were challenged to recruit and retain professional engineers.

In order to effectively manage its engineering services contracts the ministry recognized the need to retain the ability to be ‘knowledgeable owners’ of the transportation system. For highway engineering design this meant retaining and training, as required, design engineers with enough experience to effectively oversee the work of the engineering services consultants. As one ministry employee stated:

“If you are going to criticize someone about how they play the piano – you better have some idea of how to play that piano yourself’."

The ministry recognized that it was at risk of losing key professionals with the knowledge to oversee the highly technical projects related to highway design. It currently takes at least four years of post-graduate experience for a graduate engineer to obtain her or his professional certification (P.Eng). The ministry has an Engineer-in-Training (EIT) program whereby newly graduated engineers are hired to work in a variety of situations and projects for four years to gain sufficient experience so they may apply for their professional certification. However, with limited in-house design work it was difficult at times to provide these young professionals with enough exposure to engineering design work.

The Practice

As part of their succession and strategic planning, the ministry recognized that it had to find ways to establish opportunities to provide more engineering design experience than was currently available. To do this, the ministry set up or expanded in-house engineering design teams operating out of the Kamloops and Prince George regional offices. In addition to recruiting design engineers, the Ministry was now also able to provide more design experience to those in the existing EIT program.

Although there remain challenges in ensuring that the ministry has the right level and breadth of engineering technical expertise, having some expanded design in-house is helping the organization better oversee the work of engineering consultants.

3. Financial Key Stream Project

Networks and Communities: Risk assessment process


The Financial Key Stream Project was initiated in 2006. It is a cross-government project that is jointly led by the Office of the Comptroller General and the BC Public Service Agency to build the internal capacity in government’s financial positions. It includes a number of inter-related strategies to support recruitment, retention and performance in financial roles across government. One of the critical aspects of the key stream project is looking at financial roles from a cross-government perspective and viewing people in financial positions as a community that work both for a ministry and collectively for government as a whole. In that way, the project works across organizational boundaries to target critical positions for succession, recruitment, retention, training and career development through mobility and other activities.

The nature of financial roles across government varies considerably. Positions range from the financial clerk with responsibility for transactional processes, to chief financial officers responsible for strategic financial and organizational management as well as specialists providing technical support and advice. With this variety comes variability in terms of the knowledge required to ensure business objectives can be achieved. Some of these positions require years of specialist education and on the job experience, while others require people to have both technical competencies and a high level of tacit strategic knowledge.

In 2007, a workforce analysis for key financial positions identified trends that will significantly impact the financial capacity of government. For example, it identified that upwards of 850 new staff will be needed to maintain the current numbers. At the same time, the skills and knowledge of many financial staff were and would be sought after in the open market.


The B.C. public service was facing a significant challenge in being able to recruit, retain and develop financial staff to meet future demands. However, the variability and breadth of financial positions made it challenging to target scarce resources to strategies that would have the greatest impact. In other words, the key stream project needed to identify where to focus efforts to ensure that critical technical or specialist knowledge as well as those in senior strategic positions was managed to ensure continuity and performance into the future.

The Practice

Among other initiatives, the key stream project developed a risk assessment framework to help identify the significance of potential losses of knowledge. The framework helped to identify the risks associated with specific positions or groups across government by identifying:

  • the immediacy of the threat of loss, e.g., whether someone was expected to depart within 1 year or over 5 years; and 
  • the significance of the impact, e.g., the nature and importance of the knowledge the person had and whether or not that person was actively engaged in knowledge-sharing.

This tool was used to help identify where both immediate and long-term action could be undertaken to mitigate the risks associated with knowledge loss in the government’s financial roles.

4. Policy Community of Practice

Networks and Communities: Building knowledge and relationships across organizational boundaries to improve policy work


Over the years across the public sector, several large and small communities of practice (CoP) have assembled to discuss topics ranging from performance management to policy work – meeting in places as formal as board rooms and as informal as pubs. The Policy CoP has been a fairly long-standing group that is recognized by many as a success. It was first launched in 2003, chaired by Joy Illington, who at the time was working as a Deputy Cabinet Secretary.


Policy analysts across government were isolated and had little interaction. As well, with government downsizing, it made sense to reduce duplication and share resources to be more efficient. There was also an identified need for analysts to increase their experiential learning. As one interviewee said:

 “There is only so much that formal educational programs can teach you about policy work. You need to learn from others who have done the job before.”

It was also clear that Cabinet and the deputy ministers expected more consistency in cabinet submissions and that cooperation amongst policy staff was needed.

The Practice

To launch the CoP, all ministry policy units were sent an invitation to attend. It was recognized that whether an analyst was working on childcare or fish policy, he or she shared basic skills with other analysts. It was also recognized that there were common tools and approaches that could be shared to improve policy work across government.

The group met in various venues and worked to set a tone of empowerment. There was space for each person to speak about his or her interests and opportunities to find issues that spanned multiple ministries. Said Joy Illington:

“It didn’t matter if you were an ADM or a junior policy analyst; we worked to reduce those traditional hierarchies – because often those hierarchies are an impediment to innovation and learning.”

The CoP is still active in its sixth year partly because of a recognized need to rotate the convener role among interested volunteers. This has helped to keep meeting agendas fresh as the community engages in learning and problem-solving around topics including consultation strategies and legislation development. It meets on a regular basis and has an active SharePoint site for members to access. The membership now includes more junior level analysts than when it first began, but as one member put it:

 “This is excellent, the group has changed to address an identified need.”

5. Interior Health Authority

Experiential Learning: Learning after to enhance the culture of care in a regional hospital

The following is an example of using storytelling and narrative capture as a way of learning after an event. Following a sentinel event in a regional hospital at Interior Health Authority (IHA), a project was initiated to better understand the culture of care and compassion being practiced at the hospital and to find ways to improve patient care.


Across B.C.’s health system, many people receive high-quality care. However, there are times when a patient may experience an adverse effect. Learning from these events is part of developing a culture of trust and continuous improvement. In 2006, a sentinel event occurred at IHA, which brought the health authority under intense scrutiny. Several investigations were undertaken, all in the spirit of improving decision-making and building a culture of care and compassion.


Understanding and finding ways to truly understand and improve workplace culture is not an easy task and requires novel approaches. In this particular case, the environment and the decision-making processes were complex. Ultimately, the staff, managers and professionals involved needed to see the whole picture before they could find ways to improve their approaches, attitudes and behaviours. Different groups (e.g., nurses and physicians) had different perspectives on the countless number of interactions that occur on a day-to-day basis. It became clear that the environment and decision-making was not formulaic, but dependent on circumstances. In other words, applying simple rules and policies was not going to solve the problems or support a change in culture.

The Practice

 Working with an external consultant, an organization development consultant within IHA collected approximately 400 stories from staff, managers and various health care professionals involved. They also collected stories from patients and families. Each story-teller was asked to analyze his or her own stories by answering a number of questions about the stories. A software tool was used to help people see patterns that emerged from the stories. A proxy group of approximately 60 people from a variety of backgrounds was then brought together in a large workshop where the participants collectively made sense of the data, including the narratives and the patterns that the individuals had played a role in formulating. The process provided physicians with key insights into the perspective of nurses when it came to care planning.

From this work emerged 30 action items that were “owned” by management, staff or both jointly. Some of these items were aimed at improving decision-making processes, while others were quick fixes related to equipment or facilities. Many of the action items were more relational in nature – for example, how to behave and speak with each other.

The long-term outcome of this project was a shift both in the styles of senior leaders and in the staff themselves, who became more engaged in developing and organizing ways to improve clinical care. As Terry Miller, the organizational development consultant, stated:

 “Which do you think would be more effective? An external consultant or an administrator saying ‘you need a code of conduct’ – or a group of employees who say ‘we need to develop a code of conduct for ourselves?'"

6. Climate Action Team

Knowledge Base: Enhancing information on land use through networks and technology


The Canadian Forest Service (CFS) is tasked with fulfilling Canada's mandate under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to measure the change of land status from forestry to other uses.


To build an inventory of land status, the CFS was using satellite imagery and a Geographic Information System (GIS) to then delineate the areas of interest. The challenge was that it was sometimes difficult to determine why the land had been cleared. For example, was it for timber, harvest or agriculture? The information required to confirm land use was located in different databases that within organizational boundaries.

The Practice

A B.C. government manager who works with the Climate Action Team in the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands has built positive working relationships across organizational and jurisdictional boundaries. Thus, when the CFS needed to improve their inventory of land use, they turned to the Climate Action Team manager. This manager was also able to use standard software and technology to enhance the knowledge base of the CFS.

The CFS sent Geographic Information System (GIS) files in a Google Earth format to the team as e-mail attachments to outline their areas of interest. The manager set up a collaboration using Live Meeting to include CFS and ministry staff, and started up Google Earth on his computer. With Live Meeting, the others could see the GIS e-mail attachments on his screen. As he clicked on each outlined area, all participants could see what CFS was asking for. As they spoke, the manager opened map layers from sources including the GeoBC public website, and layered information such as Agricultural Land Reserve, lot lines and different types of ownership over the Google Earth imagery. Some questions were answered immediately.

Later, building on what he had learned, the same manager heard that a provincial agrologist in Kelowna needed key information within 20 minutes. The manager used the “link” button on the phone to call out to a CFS specialist who might help. The “invite by e-mail” function on Live Meeting brought the agrologist into a brainstorming session and the three of them were able to assemble accurate information within the 20-minute timeframe – something that would not have been possible without the networks that bridged the organizations and the knowledge-sharing technology in place.

7. GovSpeak@Work

Knowledge Base – The use of a wiki in the B.C. government


Governments around the world are famous for their use of acronyms. Most public servants have experienced the feeling of missing out on part of a conversation because they couldn’t keep all the acronyms straight. An estimate on the B.C. government’s @Work site suggests there are more than 14,000 acronyms in use across the public service.

For new staff, being asked on the first day of work something like “Do you have the BN for the ADM regarding LDB regulations?” or “Can you find the GLE for PHSA?” can be particularly challenging. For administrative staff, keeping up with changes and circulating new acronyms is a time-consuming task.

The Practice

The idea came from a director in the Ministry of Finance, who recognized that there were many employees keeping and updating lists of acronyms all around the province’s offices. Recognizing that valuable administration time was being taken up by this task he had the idea to develop a wiki for acronyms:

 “Even though this is a simple example, my philosophy is that every little bit helps and I particularly value the time and purpose of our admin staff.”

The site is called GovSpeak and is made available across the B.C. government through the internal @Work site. GovSpeak provides one central location for access and uploads of new acronyms, their definitions, related links, sources and contacts. This simple tool can potentially save hours of administrative time and support staff in learning or keeping up with this language.

8. Office of the Chief Information Officer – Knowledge and Information Services Branch

The Bridge and EBSCO Pilot – Improving access to explicit knowledge assets to support evidence-informed policy and decision-making

The Context

The Knowledge and Information Services Branch (KIS) in the Office of the Chief Information Officer is promoting the development of ‘evidence-informed policy and decision making’ across the B.C. Government. Explicit knowledge assets like academic and government research along with the know-how of skilled policy analysts play an important role in the development of public policy. Quick access to these knowledge assets can help policy analysts define a particular problem, identify the type of interventions that have been successful and develop attainable solutions.

The Challenge

The challenge for the B.C. Government is in supporting policy analysts and decision makers alike in having quick and easy access to the valuable knowledge assets available both within and external to the public service. For example, policy makers have limited access to academic research to inform policy. In addition, explicit knowledge assets developed by government, such as program evaluations and research/policy papers, may only be accessible to a particular program area or Ministry. Both of these limitations can create barriers and inefficiencies in the development of evidence-informed policy.

The Practice

It was recognized that facilitating the sharing of research and policy papers on particular issues across organizational boundaries would have benefits. These benefits include reducing duplication of cost and effort, as well as enhancing the speed at which evidence is available for policy-making. To support more evidence informed policy the KIS branch has developed The Bridge (a government-wide on-line knowledge base to support access to knowledge assets critical to good policy making).

The purpose of the Bridge is to link policy-related publications and organizations on issues that have a significant impact on citizens and the Province. The Bridge includes a collection of resources for evidence-informed policy. It links to research organizations and notices of policy-related upcoming events, as well as to research articles including scoping reviews and other research and decision support information and resources.

It also acts as a gateway to an assortment of corporate subscriptions, including the EBSCO Academic Search Premier pilot subscription. This pilot subscription provides access to a large, full-text database including nearly 3,500 scholarly publications and approximately 2,600 peer-reviewed publications on a range of topics from the humanities to social and medical science. A corporate approach that will enable permanent access to this valuable resource for evidence-informed decision making is currently underway.