Knowledge Cafe Story

Use of Knowledge Café in IMaCS

Australian Department of Human Services



Kate Muir 


Knowledge Cafe



Information Management and Corporate Systems is a Branch within ICT of the Australian Federal Government Department of Human Services. This portfolio includes a number of agencies that provide government services to Australians, and includes Centrelink (provider of a range of financial benefits including age, unemployment, disabilities etc), Medicare (medical rebates) and Child Support Program (enables separated parents to transfer funds for the benefit of their children).

There are a number of environmental factors also at play at the moment, these include a large and overarching reform of service delivery, rationalisation of shared services within the portfolio, Sir Peter Gershon’s review of ICT expenditure, as well as government’s focus on the financial meltdown all over the world resulting in many urgent and new programs being put in place.

Information Management and Corporate Systems Branch came into being early in 2007, bringing together of the Data Warehouse, corporate reporting, data integrity, documents and records management, corporate systems for HR and Finance as well as a new overarching focus on Information Management. A number of these areas have staff working interstate.

The Branch has now had both, a senior manager (‘Exec Team’) level planning exercise and a whole of Branch planning exercise. In both, the Knowledge Café was used. We did, however, collect the ideas and share them, as many of the people involved had been disillusioned about planning days and their usefulness, as visible outcomes had been not only not been seen, but had also not been acted upon.

On both occasions we spent time setting the scene, scenario planning etc. The goal of first planning day was for the Exec Team to set the vision and goals for the newly integrated Branch. We then used the Café to get the ideas about how, what, why, when and where. Everything was on the table. The Exec team loved it with great feedback and buy in about what the Branch was about and where we were going and how we were going to get there.

The next Knowledge Café, just prior to Christmas was a whole of Branch exercise with 40 plus people. The two executives running it, ‘legislated’ who would be host and scribe for a couple of reasons. One, was that it cut down time ‘discussing’ who would do what. The second was that there were a number of executive level staff who had not stepped up to their roles within the Branch, and this helped force the issue.

Again the ideas flowed. The energy in the room was extraordinary to feel. The feed back both formal and informal has also been extraordinary, with a number of technical ICT staff saying they had never been involved in such a valuable planning exercise. Long term and jaded public servants also commented that they had not been to such a worthwhile planning session where they felt that their ideas and opinions were valued and would be used in the long term. Junior staff commented that it was a great way to get involved without feeling overwhelmed by senior people. Interstaters felt welcomed and part of the group.

Everyone was commenting (both verbally and in writing) on the range of ideas, and way they flowed and the very many directions in which they flowed.

Almost without exception comments on the feed back forms have been that the Knowledge Café was a brilliant and enjoyable way of getting across a lot of ideas in a short time in a way that valued everyone’s input.

As the Branch Manager, my reaction is that we will continue to use this model to engage staff in their ownership of the Branch and its functions and most importantly its customers. They are a wonderful way for people to bond as teams across functions, always a significant challenge. Knowledge Cafés are now an important part of my management tool kit to manage the Branch to achieve its vision and goals.

Video: Knowledge Cafe at KMAP 2006

Gurteen Knowledge Cafe at KMAP 2006 in Hong Kong, December 2006, facilitated by David Gurteen and Raksha Sukhia. Courtesy of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University Knowledge Management Research Centre.

Media Information: Image

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
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