Knowledge Management and Technology Planning for Head Start Programs

Knowledge Management is the practice of systematically identifying, capturing, and organizing the information and knowledge of an organization to achieve that organization’s goals. Program directors and their management staff can use this resource to further their understanding of knowledge management techniques and learn how to integrate KM practices as part of their technology planning.


What is Knowledge Management?
Why Knowledge Management
How Can Knowledge Management Benefit a Head Start Agency?
Understanding Tacit and Explicit Knowledge
Data, Information, and Knowledge
People, Process, and Technology

What Is Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management is the practice of systematically identifying, capturing, and organizing the information and knowledge of an organization to achieve that organization's goals. The knowledge and expertise of your staff and partners is the greatest asset of your organization. Moreover, knowledge management is . . .

      getting the right information
                                              to the right people
                                                                           at the right time.

Why Knowledge Management?

shelf with books
  • Allows Head Start programs to operate in a rapidly changing environment
  • Provides directors with an advantage to respond quickly to complex challenges
  • Provides needed access to current and comprehensive information that ensures quality services to children and families

Information may be physically captured but logically lost.

How can Knowledge Management benefit a Head Start agency?

  • Helps Head Start programs to save time, money and effort — not reinventing the wheel.
  • Provides staff with access to the expertise and knowledge of colleagues.
  • Reduces impact of employee attrition.
  • Increases opportunity for sharing and connecting with others to avoid duplicating efforts and resources.

When Head Start's communities share they:

  • Take pride in their expertise.
  • Enjoy interacting with peers.
  • Build on their existing knowledge.
  • Create an expectation for others to reciprocate.
  • Believe in contributing to the common good.
  • Establish loyalty to the organization.

Given the reasons that Head Start programs could benefit from implementing knowledge management practices, there are also several reasons why information is not shared. For example, it's not convenient and often people don't have time. There is often the lack of understanding of what people don't know, and the value of what they do know. They believe knowledge hoarding is job security and that they do not get credit for what they share.

Understanding Tacit and Explicit Knowledge

picture of adult female holding a childToday Beth, the Education Coordinator is retiring. She has been with your agency for a long time. Her skill and expertise are very valuable and she will be missed. Beth has spent the past few weeks talking with her teaching staff and the new coordinator about the curriculum and child outcomes system. She has also been pruning and organizing her files and emails, putting them in a place for others to access and discussing them with her replacement.

Beth has been talking to her replacement about the:

  • knowledge and skills she thinks are necessary for the job;
  • pitfalls she encountered; and
  • network of contacts she has established.

All of this has been documented for future reference.

Tacit and Explicit Knowledge

Explicit Knowledge is codified knowledge, such as that in case files, memos, and manuals.

Tacit knowledge is the knowledge in people's heads.

The challenge is to create ways to move tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge so others can use it.

Data, Information, and Knowledge

picture of two adults in a conversationYou have a meeting with Joanne, the director from the Smiling Faces Center to discuss attendance. While viewing the weekly reports from your child tracking database, both of you have noticed a drop in attendance at the center. Joanne informs you that a new meat packing plant just opened up in the town. Fewer families are participating because parents cannot bring their children to the center due to their new 24-hour work schedule.

Both of you remember that something like this happened two years ago to EastSide Head Start program in the next county. They were able to adjust their program to maintain full enrollment. You call the EastSide Director and set up a time to meet in a few weeks to discuss their experience with the situation.

During the meeting, the staff from EastSide will review documents describing the current situation, listen to explanations from Joanne and her staff and offer suggestions based on their knowledge and experience. This is an example of a Peer Assist. You may already be doing something like this. A Peer Assist is a formal process for seeking help from peers. The team calling for the peer assist is seeking the knowledge and insight from people who have tackled a similar situation. Select here for more on conducting a Peer Assist.

Understanding how data, information, and knowledge are combined can help support future planning for implementing program improvements. Based on the scenario about the Smiling Faces Center, you can begin to see how the process of knowledge management brings it all together, for example:

  • Data refers to the numbers in the attendance reports.
  • Information refers to attendance at the Smiling Faces center dropping in the past few months.
  • Knowledge refers to the new meat packing plant opening in the town and the other neighboring Head Start program that has developed a strategy to stay at full enrollment and is willing to offer their expertise.

When all three are integrated, an approach can be developed that will allow staff to carry out a solution.

People, Process, and Technology

People – are committed to continuous improvement and honestly sharing their knowledge and experience.

Process – there is an agreed upon method to review and document activities.

Technology – the information is entered into a searchable database of staff to access in planning future events.

picture of three adults in a conversation

The monthly family socialization was held last night. There is a meeting of the organizers and other staff to review what happened. You all gather for the 20 minute meeting to answer these questions:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why were there differences?
  • What would staff do differently next time?

The answers are documented and entered into a searchable database. For more on conducting an After Action Review select here.

The After Action Review story also demonstrates an alignment of people, process, and technology.

Just in Time

picture of an adult in front of a school busMary, the new bus driver, knows it is time to take the bus in for maintenance. This is the first time she has done this but she knows where to go to get what she needs. She opens the files left by the previous bus driver and finds step by step instructions and is able to make arrangements for the maintenance check by the end of the week.

The files and instructions left by the previous bus driver were organized and therefore, Mary could find useful information. Mary was able to take action to get results. Knowledge management is all about getting the right information--to the right people--at the right time.

What can you do? Be a model. Learn new skills, practice them, and promote technology use. The role of leaders is to retain the good and the great staff members and invest in your staff.

What else can you do?

  • Make knowledge creation, sharing, and use a natural part of your processes - not separate from normal work.
    • How can you make change happen?
    • Focus on changing individual behaviors first and introduce policies and practices that enable and encourage knowledge sharing.
  • Reward people for building on existing knowledge rather than wasting energy reinventing the wheel.
  • Reward people for sharing what they know.
    • Understand barriers and seek teliminate them.
    • Understand your organizational culture and work with it rather than against it while gradually working tchange it.

Steps in the Process
To implement knowledge management practices as part of your Head Start management systems, there is a process that involves several steps.

  1. Form a Technology Team.
  2. Bring folks together to explore the potential of technology in your agency.
  3. Assess what you have--from attitudes to hardware.
  4. Set your goals and priorities.
  5. Develop evaluation methods, staffing, training, policies, and procedures.
  6. Prepare budgets, funding plans, and grant proposals.

Step 1 - Form a Technology Team

What will the role of the team involve?

  • Defining a vision and purpose for integrating KM practices as part of the technology plan.
  • Guiding the process and implementation at every stage.
  • Overseeing the evaluation, revision, and refinement of the plan.

Who should be on the team?

  • Executive Director
  • Board Members
  • Administrative Staff
  • Fiscal Advisor/Officer/Staff
  • Program Managers and Staff
  • Clients/Audience
  • IT (Information Technology) Staff from local corporations
  • Volunteers with particular expertise
  • Funders
  • Consultants

You may also want to consider individuals who are:

  • excited about technology
  • technology novices
  • technology experts
  • skeptical about how technology will be used in the organization

Step 2 - Bring folks together to explore the potential of technology in your agency

Listed below are some questions to help develop your vision and purpose:

  • How would technology enhance our capacity to meet our mission?
  • How would a technology plan fit with our strategic plan?
  • How does technology support our ability to put KM practices in place?

Step 3 - Assess what you have - from attitudes to hardware

Why assess attitudes?
It is important to address people's feelings--good and bad--towards technology during the planning process. For more on learning styles involving technology, select here. Making a commitment to mission-driven use of technology means changing the way staff do their work and the way board members make policy decisions. Change is difficult for some people. Expressing an attitude is the first step towards changing it.

Whose attitude is important?

  • Staff at all levels
  • Board members
  • Volunteers
  • Funders
  • Donors

Sample questions to determine attitudes about technology:

  1. What was your first experience using a computer? Has that experience influenced how you feel or think about computers today?
  2. Are there ever times when you think, "There must be a better, faster, or easier way to do this?"
  3. If you could change one thing related to technology use in your job, what would it be?

Assessing Hardware
As you conduct your technology planning, the assessment process must involve a comprehensive review of your hardware and software, as listed below:

  • Software applications
  • Computers
  • Computer network
  • Fax Machines
  • Telephone system
  • Copy Machines
  • AV equipment - cameras, projectors, TVs, VCRs, tape players, CD players
  • Distance Learning Equipment (satellite system, videoconferencing, web access)

Other Assessment Considerations:

  • Communications Infrastructure
  • Service Delivery and Reporting Requirements
  • Recordkeeping
  • Decision-Making and Communications
  • Ongoing Assessment and Monitoring

Step 4 - Set your goals and priorities

  • Establish short and long term goals tied to agency's mission and strategic plan
  • Apply different technology strategies effectively and efficiently in all systems and program operations
  • Go beyond the obvious, such as creating a system to collect data for the Program Information Report (PIR) tied to improving service delivery
  • Implement processes toward improving data collection

Step 5 - Develop evaluation methods, staffing, training, policies, & procedures

Evaluation Considerations
Spend time planning and adjusting for strategic use of technology. Use evaluations to achieve long-term steady improvement from a baseline.

Training Considerations
Training is essential to the effective use of technology in your organization. Conduct a training needs assessment to determine what skills staff need as well as what they can already do. It is critical to include time for training into your employees' staff development plans. In addition,

  • Offer staff a say in what training sessions they attend.
  • Plan for training as a part of the regular staff evaluation process; training goals are handled the same way as other performance goals.
  • If people feel they are increasing their skill sets and keeping up to date with new technologies, it often increases their loyalty to your organization and decreases expensive staff turnover.

Policies & Procedures Considerations:

  • Make provisions for regular upgrading of software packages.
  • Develop policies for computer use and confidentiality of electronic information.
  • Develop a policy for using the Internet and email.

Step 6 - Prepare budgets, funding plans, and grant proposals

Technology is an ongoing expense. Plan your budget for day-to-day technology expenses in the same way you do for postage, copying, and similar operational items. A good rule of thumb is that only 30% of your technology spending should go to hardware and software and a full 70% should go to training and support.

Technology training should also be a line item on your budget. Figure in the cost of staff time in your calculation of training costs. Integrate technology into all funding requests and stagger replacing equipment so costs are incremental.

In addition, take care of your computer equipment. If you neglect regular maintenance, it will end up costing you more money over time to replace.

Select here for more on Technology Planning.

Knowledge Management and Technology Planning for Head Start Programs. July 11-15, 2004 Head Start and Early Head Start Director’s Institute. Crystal City, VA. DHHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2004. English.

Last Reviewed: October 2012

Last Updated: August 7, 2015