Making Knowledge Work

August 13, 2012

REVIEW OF LIKE IDEAS 2012 – THE BUSINESS OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Filed under: Knowledge and Information Management, Knowledge Networking, LIKE, Social Media — virginiahenry @ 6:13 pm

The Aim

In the weeks running up to LIKE’s first Conference (on 29th June), we asked people we met “how do you judge a successful professional event?”  Of all the answers – from seasoned conference-goers to occasional event attendees – three signs of success featured most prominently:

  • If I’ve learned something worthwhile
  • If I’ve met and talked to interesting people
  • If the presentations have been relevant to my work and interests

Of course there were numerous other responses, including the quality of the freebies, the lavishness of the venue, the quantity and excellence of the food and refreshments….  But most people we spoke to were more interested in the content of the overall programme than the content of their glass or their  goodie bag.

As organisers of LIKE Ideas 2012 we found that reassuring, because our aim was to run a conference that fellow professionals would find both enjoyable and worthwhile.  When you ask people to invest some money and half a day of their time, you don’t want them to feel in any way short-changed.

The Event

We knew the focus of the conference – The Business of Social Media – was relevant and timely:  Increasingly we’re using social media tools and platforms to engage with our colleagues and clients, and we’re eager to learn from others’ experience about innovations and best practice.

And, in LIKE, we’re incredibly fortunate.  Not only do we have talented, imaginative members able to plan the conference programme (and design the logo, write the literature, scout for the venues, co-ordinate the team workload etc…) – we’ve also got an enviable network of knowledge to tap into:  half of the expert practitioners we asked to speak at the conference were already LIKE members (and since the conference, most of the others have joined!).

We were very fortunate, too, in the support we were given by our sponsors.  Many of them are also LIKE members, and they wanted to help us ensure the event was consistent with LIKE’s ethos – affordable, informative, relaxed and enjoyable.

When the day came, we believed we’d fulfilled our aim.  But we knew that confirmation could only come from the people who attended LIKE Ideas 2012.

The Attendees

48 of the 100 attendees completed feedback forms.  And we were delighted to discover that for more than half of them, this was their first LIKE event.

Interestingly, social media played an important role in alerting people to the conference – more than half had learned about it on Linked In or Twitter:

How Did You Hear About LIKE Ideas 2012?

 

And, as we’d hoped, the topic was a big draw:

What Most Attracted You To The Event?

 

Their Verdict

In spite of some on-the-day disasters, such as the main ladies toilets being out of action, the venue’s WiFi dying and the projector’s cooler fan providing unwelcomed sound effects  – the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

More than half of our respondents thought the venue was, overall, a good choice.  The refreshments were rated as good by most people too.  And, when asked their opinion of the speakers, the verdict was a universal thumbs up:

How Would You Rate The Speakers?

 

Great news for the team, who’d worked hard to select and brief a range of speakers they believed would deliver excellent sessions.  And the responses to the feedback form’s last question were equally heartening:

 How Would You Rate The Conference Overall?

 

We’re grateful to those who took the time to answer our post-conference questions – and come up with so many excellent suggestions for future LIKE events and conferences.

 LIKE is run by its members for its members.  So we will, of course, be following up on those suggestions and using them to inspire our future event and conference programme.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored, supported, presented at and attended our first LIKE Ideas Conference.

An especially BIG  thank you to Emma Steenson, Sarah Wolfenden, Emma Davidson, Nova Dobb, Lena Rowland, Nicola McGinty, Jennifer Smith and Ben Summers – for turning a LIKE Idea into a successful reality.

Oh – and the content of the conference bags and the wine glasses?  We did well with those too: quality quaff and much-coveted goodie bags!

November 27, 2011

Pillars of Strength in the Workplace

Filed under: Information Literacy, Knowledge and Information Management, LIKE — virginiahenry @ 9:24 pm

I’ve been feeling very fortunate lately. My day job’s with an extraordinary organisation, where I witness my colleagues work daily wonders: helping others to help themselves and others.  Their willingness to share and build our collective knowledge makes my role a pleasure to fulfil.  And my involvement with LIKE  gives me the chance to learn from my brilliant Information Profession colleagues about  ways of working and thinking.

LIKE 31 on Thursday evening focused on Information Literacy. Dr Susie Andretta was in the Chair, and kicked the panel discussion off by   explaining that “Information Literate people are those who’ve learned how to learn”.  Then we heard from three LIKE members whose jobs include imparting literacy.

Adjoa Boateng
  illustrated information literacy issues facing students in higher education with a problem that was fresh in her mind: she’d prepared her talk and uploaded it to her dropbox, ready for the evening.  Unfortunately she’d neglected to download the PowerPoint application to her Samsung reader.  So although her presentation was ready to use, she couldn’t access it!  Her point was well made – the learning society we have now is hyper-complex, and you have to navigate many different mediums before reaching the information you require.  Students need to deal with many platforms and pathways –and  the Librarians who support them have a responsibility to assist with overcoming those hurdles as well as helping develop the critical skills students require to analyse the information they retrieve.

Spcialist databases,impentrable jargon and fast-changing technology are all barriers to information literacy.  So Adjoa feels her role must include the teaching of digital literacy as well as supporting students’ information requirements: going beyond the original seven pillars model for information literacy.

Adjoa also pointed out that information literacy is not free – the databases and eBooks her institution needs to acquire are expensive, and the decisions she (and people in similar roles) makes determine how information literate students will be.  And that’s a crucial ethical decision, as it directly impacts the quality of skills available to the professions those students move into.

Rachel Adams deals with some of those graduates.  She’s  worked in the legal information sector for five or more years.  Rachel said that, like many other businesses – such as accountancy firms and consultancies – law firms  trade off their knowledge.  Information literacy is, therefore, vital as it informs the quality “product” sold to clients.
A colleague told her that information literacy matters because it saves time, money and stress.  For example if fee-earners direct their research effectively: frame their research query well, know what resource to use and are able to interpret the result,  they work more cost-effectively.  Information overload is as common in law firms as anywhere else, so being able to understand the process of research and present results in a timely manner makes life better for everyone.

But how to sell information literacy to busy colleagues who don’t necessarily ‘get it’ ?  Rachel’s found he best way is to call it training in research skills, refresher sessions etc.  However, the training needs to be relevant – ‘just-in-time’, at the point of need.  Most of the firms she’s worked with focus only on induction sessions for trainees  at the beginning of their time with the organisation.  By the time they come to need the knowledge she’s imparted, they’ve almost certainly forgotten it.   So Rachel’s learned to take advantage of opportunities as they arise.  In October she was running three information literacy sessions a week.  The reason: in order to continue practicing as a solicitor, fee-earners need to record a certain amount of CPD each year.  Some of this can come from training on legal resources.  As the deadline loomed, lots of her lawyer colleagues phoned to book a session – and Rachel used the time with them to increase their information literacy.

Medical Librarians, Caroline De Brún  told us, have slightly different challenges to deal with. Health Information Literacy isn’t a common phrase in Medicine, they’ve tended to use the term “Evidence based Medicine” – meaning decisions should be based on best research evidence and clinical expertise.  Health Professionals need information literacy skills to fulfil this, but there are a number of barriers to this.  Time is one – GPs have few spare minutes between patient appointments to devote to research, and in emergency wards they have little opportunity to stop what they’re doing to search for information.  Resources are another barrier: Caroline is now based in a medical school library and has some great resources.  But she used to be a Librarian for GP services, and the variation in access and resources across the practices she visited was very wide: some had great tools and excellent internet access, others had dial-up.

Even if the resources are there, the skills may not be.  Some GPs don’t know what search terms to use,  or what databases to choose.  So then, as now in her new role, the solutions to these problems include outreach.  Caroline works with clinical teams to support their needs, giving them training and providing research skills when they need it.  She takes the teaching to their desktop and offers “ten minute” training sessions, adapting her approach to their needs and available resources.

As Susie widened the debate to include those who’d been listening it was clear that most LIKE members in the room, dealing with similar issues, were working hard to find practical ways to help colleagues improve their information literacy skills.  Some were daunted by the scale of the challenge, but  nobody was willing to “give in to Google”!

October 9, 2011

LIKE 29 – Connecting Information with Innovation

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.

 

 

 

August 16, 2011

Strategy for Success

Filed under: Change Management, Knowledge and Information Management, Strategy — virginiahenry @ 12:54 pm

If you specialise in knowledge and information management, you get used to being asked by clients and colleagues “how do you make people share their knowledge?”   And you get used to finding ways of gently saying “you can’t”!

The question often arises in a situation where:

  • The organisation wants to introduce, or improve,  knowledge-sharing and collaboration across its business
  • They’ve invested in a technical KIM “solution” such as an organisation-wide intranet or SharePoint or  WebCenter or whatever
  • They’ve “rolled it out” and sent everyone an email about it
  • After, perhaps, an initial flurry of interest – nothing much has happened….

In short, the organisation has spent a lot of money and done everything it was told would work, but what’s been done hasn’t worked.  Important, useful documents are still being stored on personal computers and local drives; communication is still being conducted via email; departments and teams are continuing to work ‘independently’ rather than collaboratively.

There can be a number of reasons for this, but it often comes down to the absence of strategy.
I don’t mean the kind of strategy that sees a lack of organisation-wide knowledge-sharing and collaboration as a problem and the IT implementation as the solution.  This approach often employs a strategy, and the strategy often focuses on process.  For example, introduction of the technology is accompanied by a set of new processes and procedures with which people are expected to comply.  In my experience these strategies rarely make people share their knowledge.  In fact, they’ve probably helped ’Knowledge Management’ become a term of derision in many organisations!

The strategy I’m talking about is more closely allied to organisational cultural change than IT initiatives or business process re-engineering.  It is a product of the leadership’s vision, and everyone’s ambition, for the business.  It is a stratagem for focusing the creative, competitive drive within the organisation more productively – replacing internecine rivalry with effectiveness in the global marketplace.  The strategy engages everyone in all areas of the business at all times: it’s woven into the fabric of the organisation.

Developing and sustaining such a strategy demands long-term commitment.  There are lots of challenges, and “quick wins” can be rare.    The benefits, however, will be noticeable.  They may start small, but they’ll grow.  And they’ll include practical gains such as:

  •  New employees  feeling valued,  and being brought ‘on-board’ quickly and effectively (instead of being left to sink or swim)
  • Ideas and innovations being shared rather than stifled
  • Adaption and improvement of existing ‘wheels’ rather than constant, costly re-invention
  • Hours of trawling through overloaded email inboxes being saved (as easily-accessed document stores and collaboration spaces are made available)
  • Cost-savings from drawing on internal expertise(rather than seeking solutions from external consultants)

These are just a few of the benefits to expect.  The list could also, realistically, include improved client and business partner relations, greater success in bids and business wins, more efficient business processes, more focused business development….  All of these things are achievable with a well-devised, coherent and sustained knowledge and information strategy.

So, the answer to the question “how do you make people share their knowledge?” is “You can’t.  But you can create a culture in which people want to share their knowledge.  Your organisation can become one where ‘that’s the way we do things here’”.

 

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