There was an enthusiastic response to our announcement that LIKE 29 would focus on the findings of a recent report by the specialist professional services company TFPL: so enthusiastic that the evening was quickly over-subscribed. The only way to satisfy demand was to run the event twice.
On both evenings the very lively discussions were skilfully led by John Davies , Head of Consulting at TFPL and co-author of the report.
The title “Connecting Information with Innovation” was chosen because responses to the survey forming the basis of the report showed organisations are increasingly linking information services with corporate purpose. And the purpose of the report was to take a fresh snapshot of the Info Pro landscape. (Back in 2006 the TFPL team had worked with Hazel Hall to produce “Who’s Managing Information?”)
Of ten thousand questionnaires, two hundred and twenty were returned. 35% of respondents worked in the public sector, 48% in the private sector, and the rest in education and the third sector.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most respondents classified themselves as senior managers. But more interestingly only half worked in core info management service, while the other 50% said their services were dispersed across the organisation.
Most people reported little change from 2006 in Knowledge and Information (KIM) staffing levels. But there was much evidence that organisations were reallocating responsibilities – for example with business information being moved into the remit of business intelligence. And there was strong evidence that organisations were looking for increased value from their information services, with more accountability and pressure to contribute to the organisations’ strategic plan than there had been in 2006.
Many of the respondents could be classified as Librarians, Records Managers, Content Specialists, Information Services providers, Business Analysts….. but such things as information security, information governance, communications, competitive intelligence and digital preservation fell outside of their responsibilities.
John said there are approximately 30 million people in work in the UK. And, based on work done in the US following Drucker, around 60-70% of us are classified as “knowledge workers”. However, for every million knowledge workers, there are maybe one thousand with recognisable qualifications. And, it seemed, qualifications still matter to recruiting businesses.
So he wanted to know how LIKE people saw their profession – what distinctions they made, and who they thought were “KIM” professionals.
It was clear from the comments people made that we’re not doing a great job of explaining to each other what we do, or feeling particularly comfortable with the KIM umbrella term:
“Business Intelligence is all about coding”. “Business development people get my goad”. “Archivists, Records Managers and Librarians have a similar mindset, but KMs come at it from a very different angle”. “Knowledge Managers don’t need a qualification but librarians do”.
Some people were bemused (and amused) by the increasing pressure to ‘professionalise’: “ If someone sees themselves as a KIM professional, they pretty well are”. “In Government there’s a move for civil servants to be part of a profession – IT Professional, Lawyer, Statistician etc – so that’s led people like Immigration Officers to say ‘well I use information a lot, so I’m a KIM professional’”.
John told us recruitment specialists are having a hard time keeping up with the demands of employers. Job specifications are getting broader, deeper, more demanding. The old distinctions between the junior and more senior roles were being blurred as everyone is expected to demonstrate business acumen, project management ability and IT knowledge.
Five attributes that were key to recruitment, came out in the survey. He described them as: Visionary, perseverance, logical, pragmatic, collaborative. He wanted to know what we thought of these, and which of them we’d prioritise.
Several people said they’d never heard two definitions of ‘Knowledge Management’ that were the same. Others confirmed that the same went for ‘Information Management’. So how would it be possible to attain definitive descriptions, or prioritise attributes?
One Consultant had stopped putting job titles on her CV entirely. She found they confused her clients and didn’t add value – her skills and experience were more important.
Someone said most Information Managers are just Librarians by another name. And a professional from the British Library said “I work in the biggest library in the country – not a single post at the British Library is called Librarian. Titles are meaningless! I’m a Reference Specialist – what does that mean? Even within the reference team there are different interpretations of what a Reference Specialist does and is.”
This was one of the areas of consensus on both evenings. Lots of people felt it was pointless to define terms when each organisation had its own definitions. Every organisation has its own jargon – “So you read the job description and interpret – then you repeat their language when you fill in your application for a job.”
Someone said “we’re good at collaborating among ourselves, but maybe not so good at doing it within our wider businesses”. And it was suggested that some Librarians see themselves as Librarians first, then employees of their specific business.
But of the five key attributes Collaboration, Vision and Pragmatism were seen as the most important. So we proved to be pretty good at prioritising!
John told us that since 2006 training on the job had fallen by the wayside. In-house training is increasingly in demand, while external courses are being cut. LIKErs confirmed that they were being directed to develop or use in-house resources for training. Some are making use of online courses. And, of course, transferred knowledge inside the organisation is an important element of Knowledge Management, so there’s a case for looking inside for skill development.
On both evenings the discussion about training and development inevitably led back to the issue of professional qualification and its importance – both to the professional and the employer. Although “Some people are professionals in the field without having professional qualifications”, it was agreed that these individuals usually have years of experience to support their ‘claim’. For others, especially those just starting out, it was seen as essential to have a professional qualification “so you have credibility and can demonstrate that you know what you’re doing.” “It’s a badge of honour, showing you can do the job” Some people also saw professional qualifications as a means of gaining a broader understanding of their specialism than can be gained in an isolated role “it gives you a structured core skills base”. But there was a rider to the importance placed on qualifications: “courses really do need to link up with reality”. And qualifications alone wouldn’t cut it in modern business: “inside the organisation it’s your success stories and the reputation you’ve built up.” “It all comes down to demonstrating you have the skills to do the job”.
During our discussions we briefly revisited a question that comes up pretty regularly at LIKE meetings (and elsewhere) – the value of professional bodies. It’s always an interesting debate. The specialised roles (such as Law Librarian) need to have their own knowledge networks. It makes sense doesn’t it? But what doesn’t make sense to many KIM professionals is to have professional bodies that are out of tune with their members’ requirements and experiences.
John Davies was very complimentary about LIKE – he said it was invigorating and refreshing, a model for how professional bodies could develop “rather than the ossified, committee-ridden groups I’ve been so familiar with over the years”.
If LIKE is any kind of model, that’s brilliant. Our primary focus, though, is on providing LIKErs with what they tell us they want – open, inclusive discussions about issues relevant to them.
We seem to have done that with LIKE 29, and LIKE 30 should fit the bill too! Gary Colet from Warwick Business School will be getting us thinking about how to make transferred knowledge stick.