Capturing and Learning Essential Consultant-Developed Knowledge within Departments of Transportation

Large organizations depend on the knowledge of their employees to pursue the organization’s mission. In a state department of transportation (DOT), responsible staff from any part of the agency—engineering, finance, project management, among others—develop and apply mission-critical knowledge. Increasing DOT reliance on external consultants and contractors challenges an agency’s ability to maintain its employees’ mission-critical knowledge. Employee knowledge gaps—for example, lack of awareness that contractors are not developing adequate project documentation, unfamiliarity with the reasons for important design decisions, or inability to properly use and maintain software and equipment provided by contractors—can be costly and pose risks to the DOT’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities to the public. In this context, the term “knowledge” refers to what exists inside the human brain, as opposed to “information” which can exist on paper or in other formats, independent of any person. Knowledge is built over time through education, work experience, and interactions. It enables people to make good decisions and act in an effective manner. For DOTs, knowledge is critical to accomplishing the agency’s objectives. Whether it has to do with the technologies of transportation and infrastructure systems; management and administration of projects for planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of these systems; or the on-the-job experience gained though actual project development, response to emergencies, interactions with the public, and the like—knowledge is essential. DOT employees can gain and maintain mission-critical knowledge through direct experience, interactions with colleagues, reference to codified information in project files, or other sources. Reliance on external consultants and contractors threatens to reduce the agency’s knowledge base and, in turn, the agency’s performance. In such areas as facilities design and construction (especially under design-build and other such procurement mechanisms), large-scale emergency response, system planning, and large-scale maintenance outsourcing, essential technical and experiential knowledge may be developed and retained by the external contractors unless the agency takes explicit action to ensure knowledge capture and active learning by staff. Knowledge capture is a process for transforming human knowledge into codified information, for example interviewing contractor personnel and summarizing important lessons and techniques these individuals have learned in their work for the DOT; recording these lessons and techniques in various ways; and making them available to others. Active learning occurs when DOT staff work directly with contractors or consultants. The objective of this research was to develop guidance for DOTs on how to capture, learn, and maintain essential, mission-critical knowledge from the work of external consultants and contractors. The guidance is intended to be applicable across all DOT program areas, with an emphasis on project development and delivery; and to address knowledge capture, active learning, and overcoming the obstacles to effective use of these techniques. The guidance will assist agency personnel to identify and focus on those areas that represent the greatest agency risk associated with inadequate staff knowledge of work done by consultants and contractors.  The final guidebook was published as National Cooperative Highway Research PRogram (NCHRP) Research Report 867: Keeping What You Paid For—Retaining Essential Consultant-Developed Knowledge Within DOTs.  Web-Only Document 238: Developing the Guide to Retaining Essential Consultant-Developed Knowledge Within DOTs describes the research project and provide supplemental information that may be useful to researcher and others wishing to learn more about the guidebook's underlying topics. Click on the respective titles for information on purchase or download of these two documents.


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 20-104

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials

    444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 225
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001
  • Project Managers:

    Lemer, Andrew

  • Performing Organizations:

    Spy Pond Partners, LLC

    Arlington, MA  United States 
  • Principal Investigators:

    Harrison, Frances

  • Start Date: 20150415
  • Expected Completion Date: 20170714
  • Actual Completion Date: 20170714
  • Source Data: RiP Project 37536

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01543427
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 20-104
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Nov 14 2014 1:01AM