Drinking from the Fire Hose: Effectively Using Knowledge Management

Ever try to drink from the fire hose? That’s what it is like these days as each of us gets increasingly overwhelmed by all the information coming at us.

As leaders, you need information, but who has the time to sort through the hundreds of emails or websites to find what you need when you need it? And even then, how do you know that information is coming from a credible and trusted source?

In the 2011-2012 IAFC Strategic Plan, IAFC members directed the association leadership to further build on the steps the association has been taken in advancing technology as a learning tool. Specifically, the plan calls upon the association to create a knowledge-management system. Further, it calls for new approaches to education delivery, leveraging technology as a tool.

To achieve this goal, IAFC has kept three issues at the forefront:

  • To shift member capacity from “gathering more information” to “harvesting the needed knowledge.”
  • The knowledge and experience of IAFC members—not technology—is the heart of this work. Success will be dependent on their participation both in formative efforts and in contributing to the body of knowledge.
  • Technology is a tool to share, disseminate and analyze information and experience so it can be brought together in ways that create meaningful knowledge.

What’s Now

Looking back, the IAFC really began this work several years ago. Currently, the IAFC offers a number of eLearning opportunities, including webinars and podcasts on a variety of subjects. For example, Fully Involved is a monthly podcast sponsored by the EMS Section where hot topics, news and current events affecting fire and EMS are discussed by leading professionals in the field.

Programmatically, the IAFC has also been focusing on technological tools to reinforce ease and efficiency of learning, as well as the important role of data collection and analysis. IAFC-managed programs like the National Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System and the National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center have provided the fire and emergency service an opportunity to contribute to a larger body of national data and information collection and have allowed it to pull information back out with the goal of strengthening the capacity of local responders.

IAFC TV’s introduction in 2008 began a new era in on-demand education delivery, adding new opportunities for delivery of training and information born from the IAFC and IAFC-related programs and conferences.

Across the board, IAFC discussion forums have been connecting IAFC members for many years, and they continue to evolve based on emerging topics and interests. Most recently, the IAFC developed a discussion to foster connection among emerging leaders and the specific issues facing company officers.

Discussion forums created the groundwork for the IAFC’s early and successful engagement in social networking sites like LinkedIn, which today connects more than 1,800 IAFC members, and Facebook, which engages about 5,800 members and nonmembers.

What’s New

Perhaps the most exciting aspects of the IAFC’s service-technology evolution to date are happening right now. The IAFC, like most professional associations, has taken a steady pace forward focusing on pieces of technology, but IAFC members are swiftly moving beyond building individual tools and finding new ways for tools to work together.

In the yearlong effort to overhaul the IAFC website, members once again articulated a need to better harness the power of technology and the overwhelming amount of information available. Through focus groups and surveys, members identified the need to reorganize content, provide opportunity for connection and link traditional and user-generated content.

The new site offers integrated member-service technology, improved personalization, more dynamic discussion forums, increased user-engagement opportunities and enhanced video capabilities.

While this work was ongoing, the IAFC also began creating new connections outside the website, such as using dynamic LinkedIn discussions to generate content themes for IAFC On Scene articles and using webinars and podcasts to provide previews and interactive follow-up to traditional education.

What’s Next

It could be argued that a few weeks ago, IAFC did not launch a new website; rather, the association declared a new way of doing business. The new website is not the end in itself, but is the foundation for building a stronger and more dynamic platform for our members’ knowledge management.

The overhaul of the association’s online presence is ongoing as we prepare to also roll out a new IAFC-TV this summer and enhanced online-community with added functionality later in the year.

This fall, the IAFC will also roll out OpsNetlink, a new subscription-based service for operations chiefs that will provide weekly dossiers, document sharing and discussion capabilities based on subscriber-generated topics of interest.

Just like you need to know the flow rate of your hoses to effectively fight a fire, so too you need a good knowledge-management system to effectively manage your information flow. At the IAFC, we’re continually looking for ways to offer our members new ways to lead, educate and serve in the information age.

Ann Davison, CAE, is the strategic information manager for the IAFC.

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