Making Knowledge Work

May 25, 2014

Ingredients for success – or at least the avoidance of disaster…..

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — virginiahenry @ 3:45 pm

You’re cooking a meal you’ve never made before. What do you do?

  • Read carefully through the recipe?
  • Think about similar culinary techniques you’ve used in the past?
  • Get some advice from an old hand in the kitchen?
  • Plan extra time in the preparation and cooking, just in case it’s more difficult than it looks?
  • Have a standby set of ingredients that you know you can turn into a meal if everything goes awry?

Or do you just throw yourself into the process, reading the recipe one line at a time, and ad-libbing when you hit snags? Confident that your determination will “make it happen”.

You might get lucky, and rescue something edible out of the chaos you’ve created, but it’s unlikely to be what you set out to make. Or you may find yourself transforming the best of ingredients into the worst kind of mess.

I’ve seen this approach applied in the organisational “kitchen”.   With projects and teams suffering because the person in charge believes they alone must make the decisions. Listening, and taking notice of advice, would be a sign of weakness. Consulting with colleagues might appear indecisive. Leaders don’t do that kind of thing. They lead.

To these individuals leadership is synonymous with being in control, brooking no argument…… even micro-managing. Just to be sure their imperfect interpretation of the recipe for success is carried out to the last inadequate letter.

And I’ve seen, when the half-baked results fail to please, the same misguided confidence applied to the cause of disaster – the team were at fault or inadequate, the ingredients (software, tools or processes) were wrong. When faced with the shame of failure, we’re all inclined to take refuge in blame. But if we allow ourselves to believe that leadership equates to infallibility, we’re bound not to reflect on the consequences of our decisions or learn from things that go wrong.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some excellent leaders too. So good that the team didn’t notice it was being led – each felt they were achieving success together. When things went right (which was more often than not) the leader made sure the team members were the focus of praise and appreciation. But when things went wrong the leader took for themselves all the blame and criticism.

Attempting a new recipe, learning new techniques, seeking advice – none of these things are particularly easy. But they can be really enjoyable, and a lot less nerve-wracking than cooking up disaster out of what could have been success 🙂

March 7, 2014

The Culture of Knowledge

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — virginiahenry @ 6:33 pm

My job seems to have been keeping me away from lots of things, such as my blog and the wonderful LIKE programme of events (although I’m not going to miss the evening of crossword compilation on Wednesday 26 March)…….  So Adapta’s invitation to a workshop on “Knowledge mobilisation, collaboration tools and cake” gave me the chance to set work aside for an afternoon and learn something about how people in other organisations are working.

The most engaging presentation was Adam Pope’s.  He’s Senior Digital Librarian at Arup.  He’s lucky – it’s an impressive organisation, and its founder Ove Arup  was deeply committed to collaboration and team-working.  So committed that he used to sit in on interviews with all new candidates in the early days of Arup Group to make sure prospective Arup team members were the “right” kind of people.  He knew what he was looking for – not just proven talent and flair but an eagerness to collaborate, share knowledge and learn from others.

Such a leader has a profound impact on the culture of an organisation.  Arup, like the rest of us, need to use incentives and rewards to make sure knowledge is consistently shared and teams support, rather than compete, with one another.  But Adam and his colleagues have strong foundations to build on, thanks to Ove Arup.

It was interesting to hear, in the brief discussion period, some of the knowledge management (or ‘knowledge mobilisation’, as an Adapta Consultant called it) challenges people had:  from trying to find the best and most cost-effective IT solutions to support collaboration, to trying to persuade colleagues that consultation didn’t mean everyone should have direct influence over every organisational decision.  And from the difficulty of convincing front-line staff to engage with shared processes, to the challenge of asking people to discuss their failures as well as their successes.  None of them are new issues and, in my experience, none can be resolved without a culture of knowledge pervading the entire organisation.  Without the explicit requirement for everyone – from the CEO to the newest recruit – to see collaboration and knowledge-sharing as important elements of their role, effective KM can be subverted.

So if you want to nurture a culture of knowledge in your organisation next time you’re writing a job specification, or setting objectives or KPIs, or preparing for a performance review – make sure you include the essential elements: practical demonstrations of collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

December 4, 2011

Not Wringing of Hands, but Ringing Changes

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 10:20 pm

It was a good week for learning about determined people who make a difference.

During a wintry sock mob walk down by the river Hazel,our guide, told us some past and present stories of the area around Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral.  We saw the sombre site of Cross Bones, and talked about the long history of deprivation, neglect and impoverishment that’s haunted Bankside.

We also heard about the impact of benefactors – in particular Elizabeth Newcomen, who, in the late 1600s made sure local kids were educated and provided for, and Octavia Hill who, a couple of hundred years later, when she wasn’t busy pioneering social work or starting up the National Trust, managed housing schemes for the local poor.

There are still plenty of people doing practical, positive things in the area and, as Hazel said, there’s still plenty of need for such folk.

A number of them, like the individuals who started Sock Mob, are what UnLtd call ‘Social Entrepreneurs’ , and at an  UnLtd Connect event last week there was an opportunity to meet some.  One is a regular at Borough Market.   Jenny Dawson  and her Rubies in the Rubble  team run a stall there, selling  chutney and jams made from surplus fruit and vegetables they’ve saved from being discarded.

November 19, 2011

Interfacing with Idiocy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — virginiahenry @ 3:54 pm

If you’re working to deadlines you didn’t set, there isn’t always time to do your very best.  I’m sure that’s the case.  But I’m not so sure that, given all the time they needed, some interface developers would invest any of it in thinking about the user.

I suspect that some have a very different interpretation of “intuitive” to the dictionary definition –“instinctive: based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning”.  My guess is that they imagine instinctive to be synonymous with “thinking my way”.  So why bother to add clear directions for the completion of form fields, when what they intend us to do is so obvious to them….

My online bank’s been taken over by another – so I needed to register on the new site.  They’d obviously gone to a lot of trouble with the layout and navigation, the content authoring and design: there were even a couple of Flash demos to explain the “easy-to-use” features of the new site.  Pity they hadn’t paid so much attention to making the registration page “easy-to-use”.   

What should have been a straightforward process became a frustrating session of trial and error.  “Oops, you have incorrectly entered your user name”, “oops you have wrongly completed your passcode”, “oops your memorable word is incorrect” were messages that greeted each attempt to save the completed form. 

Only when these accusatory alerts appeared did the developer deign to clarify the particular configuration that would be acceptable!  And at no time was there an opportunity for a user response to the messages – such as “Ooops, you have neglected to do a little coding which would resolve this issue and avoid dumping the problem on your unsuspecting user”. 

December 4, 2010

Networking with Santa (LIKE 20)

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 9:40 pm

It might seem odd that November’s LIKE focussed on networking.

We’re a pretty successful network, after all: each month the events are booked to capacity, and everyone gets along like old pals – even if they’ve only just met!

Lots of people who come to our events say how relaxed and welcoming they feel.  That is SO good to hear, because that’s what we set out to create – an open, relaxed and welcoming forum in which professionals could get together, learn from each other and enjoy one another’s’ company.

But LIKE 20 wasn’t about networking at LIKE.  It was – well, here’s the billing for the evening:

Lesley Robinson has never applied for a job in her illustrious working life. All of her roles – from running the specialist recruitment agency, TFPL, to running KPMG’s transformation programme and consulting for lots of big city firms – have been acquired by recommendation. Her career is a testimony to the power of effective networking, and she’s going to help us get really good at it!

We know (Jennifer, Marja and me) – because it happens to us – that there are many types of networking events and opportunities,  and at many of them you find yourself standing with a glass in one hand and a canapé in the other looking around at a room full of strangers.  You might be lucky enough to spot a familiar face, but even if you do, you can’t latch on to that person for the entire evening – you’re there to network!  So, how to do it?

That’s where the expert advice of an expert networker such as Lesley comes in useful.  She was brilliant – commanding the attention of the packed upstairs room at The Crown with a near whisper (not done for effect – the consequence of a cold!).  She explained how your attitude and expectations will dictate your experience of networking (if your approach is not “what can these people do for me?”, but “how can I help the people I meet?” your experience will be far more successful and satisfying).  She showed us how to, winningly, insinuate ourselves into a conversing group of strangers.  And her tips on demeanour had us all standing more upright and holding our heads higher.  When we had a go at the practical exercises – of introducing ourselves, finding common ground with someone else, and moving on to repeat the ice-breaking with yet another person – not one of us mumbled or stumbled or headed for a corner to hide…..

Richard Nelsson’s blog post about the evening is worth reading, and he has a link there to Lesley’s 10 top tips for effective networking.

LIKE 20 ended with the promised ‘networking with Santa’.  Folk were a bit distracted by then as the buffet and another round of drinks had arrived – but some Xmas cards were swapped.  The cards contained promises of “gifts” of knowledge to be exchanged.  I’m really looking forward to unwrapping mine – in return for some help with KM engagement strategies, Nikki West is going to share her knowledge of Records Management with me.   Can’t remember what Roger Farbey’s gift is to be – maybe a nice box of choc’s if you’re reading this Roger 🙂

October 30, 2010

Making The King’s Fund Go Further

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — virginiahenry @ 5:36 pm

LIKE 19 was as good as it promised to be.  The evening started with a relaxing drink with lots of lovely LIKE folk, and a quote from Louis Pasteur – “chance favors the prepared mind” – from our main speaker of the night, Ray Phillips.

Ray is the Head of Information Services at The King’s Fund, and has around 20 years’ experience in information work.  Before he got to The King’s Fund, he’d developed a certain wariness of vendors: he had wanted to upgrade a health service library system, been assured it would cost maybe £2,000-£3,000, and then been told by a smiling salesman that it would, in fact, be 4 or 5 times that much!  The guy even had the audacity to say “It does look a bit like we’ve got you by the balls, doesn’t it?”.

At The King’s Fund they needed more from their Unicorn library system than it was delivering.  They wanted to get away from using a fixed server  (stuck under a long-suffering member of the IT team’s desk) – maybe using Cloud . They needed modern functionality and user interfaces.  They wanted to integrate their library system with other services such as a new customer relation management system, and a proposed eLearning platform.  They wanted to be able to do seamless searches across the King’s Fund Website, and take advantage of RDF categorisation.  Not a wildly ambitious wish-list, but cost definitely was an issue.

Matthew Hale, the Online Services Librarian at The King’s Fund presented Ray with a paper that he and his talented team had put together.  In it they laid out the issues, options and opportunities.

Koha looked attractive – for a number of reasons.  Its flexibility was one. The opportunities it would offer to Matt and his team to stretch their talents was another.  The notion that they could use a company they already had a relationship with – PTFS Europe to help train and support them was a third.  The fact that the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital had created a viable library from scratch, using Koha, was yet another. And the promise of a system that would engage The King’s Fund team’s brainpower, but wouldn’t burn through their budget was a very convincing fifth!

In fact, when the Director of Finance realised how much they could save by moving to open source things moved very quickly.  The decision to go with Koha was made in October 2009, work began in December and in January 2010 the system was up and running.

They love it! They’ve saved money; improved efficiency; got the integration they wanted and have a growing UK usership.  Of course it’s not all plain sailing – what system is?  But they’re confident that they have the talent and the (affordable) support to deal with any issues that arise.

Message to smug, high-cost vendors: when you tell a client you have them by the balls, be sure yours are protected by a metaphorical cricket box – you might just have ‘incentivised’ them to kick you.

October 22, 2010

Koha and the King’s Fund

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 7:16 pm

Looking forward to hearing how well Koha‘s working for the King’s Fund Information and Library Service at next Thursday night’s LIKE. And sampling the Crown’s new winter menu!

Well done SLA Europe team!

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 6:56 pm

SLA Europe has launched a shiny new website. Worth checking out

October 16, 2010

Enematic Speech!

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 11:47 am

I heard Kate Aidie on Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ talking about Hungarian villagers who’d been evacuated.  Poor people!  Having their homes and health threatened by toxic sludge, and then having to endure enemas…. Ugh!

Sorry, I know pedants are a nightmare.  And I’m no-one to talk – I happily mash up the mother tongue; put punctuation in all the wrong places;  split infinitives with abandon.  But I try very hard not to implant inappropriate images in unsuspecting minds.
Words paint pictures – it can’t be much to ask that those who’re paid to use them reach for the right brush!

OK, rant over.  Normal service will be resumed soon.

October 8, 2010

The Copyright Conundrum

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — virginiahenry @ 3:02 pm

The tortuous progress of ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) – amid criticism that the process isn’t open and transparent, and fears that the agreement could enable signatory states to police the internet in a way that’d make Draco blush – illustrates the challenges of copyright and IP in the wired world.

The Copyright Licensing Agency‘s open meeting last week at the lovely Royal Geographical Society wasn’t concerned with the daunting challenges so much as demonstrating the ‘international value chain’ provided by their licences. During the first session it was explained that CLA has reciprocal agreements with overseas Reproduction Rights Organisations (RROs), which help ensure publishers are paid for their work. Apparently in 2009 Britain was the largest exporter in the global publishing industry – shipping £1.2 billion worth of books. So, licensing agreements and anti-piracy measures seem pretty important.

A couple of the panellists weren’t entirely content with the strictures of the licences though. As licensees, Philip Ditchfield of Glaxo SmithKline and Vanessa Marsland from Clifford Chance LLP explained that the lack of a truly multinational licence, and tight constraints such as “for internal use only” meant that global organisations could have a team member in one country able to read a publication while their colleague in another location was unable to, and a lawyer couldn’t share material with their own client. And as for the administration and reporting duties involved in holding licences – a nightmare!

The CLA team said they were working hard to get as many countries as possible to establish RROs and hoped, ultimately, to make life easier for licensees. Meantime, they’d had the bright idea of establishing new website content licences. This announcement prompted questions from the audience such as “why, when there are already Creative Commons licences and pay walls in place?” and comments, (most succinctly from Charles Oppenheim) such as “don’t waste your time on such a minor issue”.

The CLA did see a need for a new Schools Licence, though, and say it’s already a hit with teachers.

The most interesting contributor to the after-tea debate – ambitiously named “Intellectual Property Will Save The British Economy” – was Dr Makeen F Makeen from SOAS. He said there were a number of countries with strong economies where English was spoken – such as Egypt and UAE – and where a market for Britain’s creative output existed, but we weren’t bothering to sell into them. He also listed a number of threats to the development of our creative/cultural exports. These included the output of newcomers to the creative industry such as China, Brazil, India and Dubai, our own slow reaction to the implications of new technology, and a belief held by users that they have the right of free access to copyright works!

I think the most inspiring aspect of the afternoon was the pre-meeting private viewing of selected RGA treasures: memorabilia of pre-digital age heroes who threw themselves out into the world wearing a trusty pith helmet ,or a pair of hobnail boots. While admiring Shackleton’s Burberry helmet I was told there are plans to reproduce his South Pole Gazette online, but the delicately-bound typed and hand drawn pages present a challenge. That’ll probably be a stroll in Hyde Park by comparison with cracking the copyright conundrum!

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