Friday, March 25, 2005

Communities of Practice at the Federal Highway Administration

Hey! You know those rumble strips that are on the side of the road that wake you up when you drive off... the implementation of those are credited to communities of practice at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The FHWA is an interesting agency, in case you are wondering what the W in their acronym stands for its for Way in highway. That one got me too.
FHWA does not build the roads, they oversee the safety aspect for land, air, water, and railroads. They ensure that the nation’s transport system is safe for public use, or they oversee the safety of civil aviation, and they monitor and operate the waterways for trading. It's like that BASF advertisment that used to come on, "We don't make the product, we make the product better."

So knowledge is their only asset. They have knowledge of how to build safe roads and waterways and their job is to impart that knowledge to agencies at the local level so they can comply with the safety requirements. FHWA therefore chose communities of practice as their approach of choice to enable this knowledge transfer.

Well, they have all the good habits of other successful best practice partner organizations, such as executive buy-in, strong community administrators, etc., but FHWA has two things the others don’t have. One is public communities and two is a balanced scorecard for measuring the effectiveness of their community program. Being a government agency they want to engage their constituents and hear what they have to say and they do that through their communities. For instance there is a community that caters to people who are going to be displaced as a result of land acquisition for highways. The community gives its constituents a forum to express concerns. So FHWA has spent some time figuring out how to interact with public forums and has had to deal with educating its workforce on what can and cannot be shared on public forums.

The Balanced Scorecard approach, (they call it that and they have tried to keep the quadrants as close to the "original" balanced scorecard as possible) has four quadrants. Customer results, Business results, Initiative growth and processes, and outreach and leadership activities. FHWA captures results under each of these quadrants and tries to quantify as much of it as they can very conservatively for reporting purposes. As a result of their structured approach to measuring outcomes, communicating with senior leaders about the continued effectiveness of communities of practice has become very easy. After all if saving lives is in your mission statement, you have to find every possible means of making that happen.

Hope you all have a great weekend and a Very Happy Easter to all.

5 comments:

emily said...
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Jessy said...
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