Knowledge Management Through Collaboration: DARPA’s Open Catalog

In what ways has DARPA influenced knowledge management?

DARPA, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has developed much of the American military’s technology, from the Stealth Fighter to the M-16 rifle. It has also created many things that have changed the way civilians interact with the world, such as GPS and carbon fiber. Perhaps the most revolutionary creation to come out of DARPA (or its institutional predecessor, ARPA) was ARPANET, the first network of computers using the packet switching and TCP/IP protocols, which evolved into what we call “the Internet.”

DARPA’s proposed research budget for fiscal year 2014 was almost $2.9 – that’s nearly three billion dollars in taxpayer money going to university research laboratories, Silicon-Valley startups and giants of technology and industry. DARPA leverages knowledge and expertise from other government organizations both inside and outside of the Department of Defense while also finding the smartest and most talented people at smaller companies, meaning that it’s not just the Booz Allen Hamiltons and General Electrics of the world who are in the game. It’s a lot of money going to a lot of talented people who are expanding our understanding of the world and creating things from that understanding. In short, it’s a lot of knowledge to manage.

DARPA owns 50 years of work product created by a myriad of organizations and research labs, public sector and private. What knowledge management strategy can create and maintain a knowledge repository for the work that led to the creation of everything from the graphical user interface to the Predator drone? How do the researchers of today and tomorrow leverage this knowledge to create the super weapons and communications systems of the future? What happens when people move on, when labs lose their funding, or when once-revolutionary programs become overshadowed by their own successes? Who are the knowledge managers who archive this research that, after all, belongs to the public?

A recent blog post on Slate.com suggested that while DARPA continues to innovate, “there’s also a lot of old data that sits around on external hard drives and lab computers and slowly disappears from memory.” As a solution, DARPA has created Open Catalog, an open-source repository of “DARPA-sponsored software and peer-reviewed publications.” In a short statement on the Open Catalog page, DARPA states that this research “may lead to experimental results and reusable technology designed to benefit multiple government domains,” and that “DARPA is interested in building communities around government-funded software and research. If the R&D community shows sufficient interest, DARPA will continue to make available information generated by DARPA programs, including software, publications, data and experimental results.” DARPA suggests that research from the Broad Operational Language Translation (BOLT) program, an effort to create an “automated translation and linguistic analysis” system, may soon be available via Open Catalog (according to DARPA’s FY 2014 budget, past and present BOLT funding totals near $250 million and includes research from Brandeis University and the University of Pennsylvania’s Linguistic Data Consortium).

Publicly sharing non-classified, peer-reviewed research with the scientific, medical, and technical communities might be an appropriate, or even exciting, knowledge management solution for taxpayer-funded information, but it’s not an option for every organization. StyleMatters specializes in creating the knowledge management systems and content strategies that work best for your business, with a variety of experienced specialists available to create and curate content while supporting your organization’s long-term goals.

Philip Tanfield has over a decade of experience working in all manner of print and digital media, including at alternative and community newspapers, consumer and trade magazines, and for a variety of online media outlets. In addition to his editorial background, he also has experience in web development, photography, video, event management, customer and client services, print production, and more. A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduate of Fordham University, he currently lives in Philadelphia and works for StyleMatters.

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