The PRAWN Challenge

Presidential Rank Award Winners Network (PRAWN)

Summary: Each year, a small cadre of top performing Federal executives is selected for a Presidential Rank Award.  An information network — the Presidential Rank Award Winners Network (PRAWN) — could link together current and retired award winners to create an invaluable resource to help agencies throughout government meet their increasing challenges.

Background: The Office of Personnel Management administers the Presidential Rank Award Program.    OPM says, “Recipients of this prestigious award are strong leaders, professionals, and scientists who achieve results and consistently demonstrate strength, integrity, industry and a relentless commitment to excellence in public service…” and “The evaluation criteria focus on leadership and results.”  In 1996, I was given a Presidential Rank Award. I was one of only 60 Distinguished Executives chosen from a career Senior Executive Service numbering 6,000. Being in that “1%” was something to be proud of.  I marveled at the expertise, commitment, and enthusiasm of my colleagues. After the White House ceremonies, we each went back to our agencies.  I regretted not having the opportunity to work with more of these outstanding people to improve our agencies.


  • The Presidential Rank Award winners are an invaluable resource. We are respected leaders and opinion shapers in our agencies. We are the institutional memory of government. We know the histories and constituencies – and limitations — of our agencies. We know of lurking vulnerabilities and opportunities yet to be explored. Many of us have experience that crosses multiple departments and agencies.
  • An information network would create a virtual community of experts. Creating a network of several hundred active and retired Presidential Rank Award winners would be easy and inexpensive with off-the-shelf software.
  • Today’s political and career leadership could be tapping this resource for ideas and assistance.  PRAWN could brainstorm short turn around, ‘red team’ responses to new proposals, with longer term discussions developed into white papers. As opinion shapers, PRAWN members could help sell new initiatives across agencies and departments.
  • This concept has proven highly effective. The Knowledge Management Division of the Virginia Department of Transportation assembled groups of senior civil engineers to advise their political leadership. They found that, even in groups of only a dozen or so, career staff were quite willing to offer candid advice – as a group. I did their site visit for the Kennedy School’s Ash Institute Innovations in American Government Awards in 2005. See HERE.
  • A demonstration of PRAWN could be started quickly. PRAWN could be supported by OPM and housed within an independent, nongovernmental entity such as the Senior Executives Association to assure its survival across Administrations. PRAWN might even evolve into a resource for state and local governments.

For more information, contact: Robert Knisely at

PRAWN Support from AKG

From: Andy Campbell <>

To: Bob Knisely <>

Sent: Sat, Jan 21, 2012 6:55 am

Subject: RE: Two upcoming meetings and “PRAWN” – a question for you! — Bob Knisely

Hi Bob –

I think it is great that you and Mike are pushing ahead with this.  It is a wonderful idea.

The technology that we can offer for consideration is Microsoft’s SharePoint.  While it can do “Facebook-like” things like blogs, wikis – it is also very capable of helping distributed workgroups manage projects.  It can provide “My Sites” where PRAWN members could describe themselves and their areas of expertise.  The security is robust, and can devolve down to the document level.  Access can be controlled for some parts of the site, and some not.  SharePoint is also nearly ubiquitous (as in “available” – although not necessarily used) across the Federal Government, so if PRAWN participants wanted to extend something into the Agency’s own SharePoint environment, that would work.

We have found that there are two basic ingredients of success for these kind of efforts – simplicity and user-driven design.  If we accept the notion that not all PRAWN members (particularly those born at a more comfortable distance from the end-of-days) will be technophiles, the key is to start simple.  It is also important that a “PRAWN core design team” create the first iteration of the PRAWN technical platform.  An added advantage of SharePoint is that it is very plastic – and can be rapidly configured.

Another element of all this could be something we call “User-Oriented Information Design” (UOID) which was refined by a guy named Bob Hiebeler, who was the worldwide Knowledge Management Director for Arthur Andersen.  It is organized around three simple questions – “who are you, where are you, and what do you want to do today?”  PRAWN may have the opportunity to do Knowledge Management right – a rare phenomenon.

OK – to your question: what is needed?

• A PRAWN SharePoint site with some start-up design by a small PRAWN

core group.  This would serve as a starter site for the growing network to adapt as mission and activity grow.

• A few early ideas about the nature of PRAWN activity – “what does PRAWN want to do today”?

• Some basic SharePoint training for the core design group (which we could provide)

• A SharePoint introductory curriculum for PRAWN members coming onto the platform

• One or more PRAWN “site custodians” who would be willing to watch over the site (make sure it isn’t getting cluttered, etc)


The Applied Knowledge Group has been in the SharePoint business for nine years – more or less since since SharePoint was released by Microsoft

• We designed and totally support the FAA’s Knowledge Services Network (KSN), which has 42,000 users and spans the entire air transportation sector

• We designed the DHS/USCIS Enterprise Collaboration Network (ECN) which has 22,000 users, and we continue to support it

• We are a Microsoft Gold Partner in collaboration and information sharing

• Several of our staff have high-level clearances

• We have an excellent relationship with Microsoft’s Federal Division, and have reach-back to Microsoft

Good luck on Monday and hi to Mike.