Large organizations depend on the knowledge of their employees to pursue the organization’s mission. In a state department of transportation (DOT), responsible staff from any part of the agency—engineering, finance, project management, among others—develop and apply mission-critical knowledge. Increasing DOT reliance on external consultants and contractors challenges an agency’s ability to maintain its employees’ mission-critical knowledge. Employee knowledge gaps—for example, lack of awareness that contractors are not developing adequate project documentation, unfamiliarity with the reasons for important design decisions, or inability to properly use and maintain software and equipment provided by contractors—can be costly and pose risks to the DOT’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities to the public. In this context, the term “knowledge” refers to what exists inside the human brain, as opposed to “information” which can exist on paper or in other formats, independent of any person. Knowledge is built over time through education, work experience, and interactions. It enables people to make good decisions and act in an effective manner. For DOTs, knowledge is critical to accomplishing the agency’s objectives. Whether it has to do with the technologies of transportation and infrastructure systems; management and administration of projects for planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of these systems; or the on-the-job experience gained though actual project development, response to emergencies, interactions with the public, and the like—knowledge is essential. DOT employees can gain and maintain mission-critical knowledge through direct experience, interactions with colleagues, reference to codified information in project files, or other sources. Reliance on external consultants and contractors threatens to reduce the agency’s knowledge base and, in turn, the agency’s performance. In such areas as facilities design and construction (especially under design-build and other such procurement mechanisms), large-scale emergency response, system planning, and large-scale maintenance outsourcing, essential technical and experiential knowledge may be developed and retained by the external contractors unless the agency takes explicit action to ensure knowledge capture and active learning by staff. Knowledge capture is a process for transforming human knowledge into codified information, for example interviewing contractor personnel and summarizing important lessons and techniques these individuals have learned in their work for the DOT; recording these lessons and techniques in various ways; and making them available to others. Active learning occurs when DOT staff work directly with contractors or consultants.
The objective of this research was to develop guidance for DOTs on how to capture, learn, and maintain essential, mission-critical knowledge from the work of external consultants and contractors. The guidance is intended to be applicable across all DOT program areas, with an emphasis on project development and delivery; and to address knowledge capture, active learning, and overcoming the obstacles to effective use of these techniques. The guidance will assist agency personnel to identify and focus on those areas that represent the greatest agency risk associated with inadequate staff knowledge of work done by consultants and contractors.