Making Knowledge Work

August 13, 2012


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!

June 5, 2012

LIKE Ideas Conference: The Business of Social Media

Filed under: Knowledge Networking, LIKE, Social Media — virginiahenry @ 2:53 pm

Did you know there’s an Institute for Social Media?  Well, some enterprising Australian Soc Med evangelists have started one.  And they point out  that “Social Media is not about platforms, paradigms, tools, or a contemporary stage of the ongoing development of the Internet. Social Media is a Movement!”

LIKE has been part of the movement for a few years.  Early in 2009 we set up our London Information & Knowledge Exchange group on Linked In and announced our first meet-ups. Thanks to social media – through word-of-web – we’ve run dozens of successful information exchange events, and have grown to a membership of nearly 900.   Each year we use web applications to survey our members, and tailor our events programme to match demand.

So when they asked for a conference, the obvious focus for the event was The Business of Social Media.  On the afternoon of 29th June a hundred or so professionals will gather in Clerkenwell’s Old Sessions House for sessions examining the practical, business-building uses of social media.  We’ll learn about ways to use social media for external engagement and to support research. We’ll hear first-hand experiences of making business social, and get some straight-talking legal advice on safeguarding reputation when using social media.  And we’ll explore the future of social media in business.

In the spirit of LIKE we’ll enjoy each others’ company (and continue to pick one another’s brains) over drinks and dinner after the conference.  Just like social media, LIKE is a movement – and the organisers, the conference speakers and sponsors, and those who’ll be attending are all part of that knowledge-sharing collective.

As are the writers contributing to our pre-conference Blog Carnival.  Follow the links to learn more from them:  Kathy Ennis   Suzanne Wheatley    Sarah Wolfenden  Karen McAuley

March 4, 2012

LIKE 33 Intellectual Property Rights – Fit for the Digital Age?

Filed under: copyright, IP — virginiahenry @ 5:45 pm

LIKE 33 was all about the state of UK Copyright law, the Hargreaves review of IP and the Digital Economy Act.  The purpose was to ask if our current legislation and conventions are fit for the 21st Century.

Professor Charles Oppenheim was our expert guide to the vested interests and challenges to logic that define the debates around the issues.
He started with the problem of orphan works.  They’re not necessarily orphans – sometimes their creators are still around, just untraceable. So permission to digitise can’t be sought of the copyright owner, and because of that digitisation projects of heritage works are in limbo.
There are two ways the problem could be addressed – there’s a European Draft Directive on the treatment of orphan works, and a recommendation by Prof Hargreaves to create an efficient digital copyright licensing system, where nothing is unusable because the rights owner cannot be found.  The European Commission focuses only on literary works, whereas Hargreaves’ interpretation is broader, encompassing other media.

There are other sensible proposals in Hargreaves’ “Digital Opportunity” including:

  • A central Digital Copyright Exchange so people who’re willing to licence can be put in touch with those who need licences.
  • The lifetime of unpublished works should be reduced to 70 years from their estimated date of creation.  (At present all kinds of interesting works and ancient manuscripts can’t be copied until after 2039)
  • Copying for private use should be allowed (it’s currently illegal to copy a CD you’ve bought to listen to in another format)
  • Non-commercial research should be exempted from copyright restraints – as should parody and text and data mining
  • There should be codes of conduct for collecting societies such as the PRS, Newspaper Licencing Agency, Copyright Licencing Agency (as Charles told us about this a small cheer went up from those who have to deal with the charmless representatives of these bodies!)

Loads of sensible proposals.  But the review was published about a year ago, and since then those with money or influence to lose, and their lobbyists, have been busy explaining to Government why the proposals aren’t so sensible.  Charles hoped that some of the proposed modernisation of our copyright law would get through.  But, even delayed and weakened by lobbying, it would be a difficult and controversial change to the law.

Charles described the Digital Economy Act as “that awful piece of legislation passed in dying days of the Labour government“. He’d watched a parliamentary debate on the issues and been appalled by the “staggering ignorance” on display.  Apparently one MP made a speech demonstrating his belief that ISP (Internet Service Provider) and IP (Internet Protocol) were the same thing.

Lots of well-informed and learned individuals and organisations have pointed out the flaws in the act.  Its draconian “3 strikes and your out” principle requires invasion of privacy, providers to become police (sending the 3 strikes written warnings) and withdrawal of service to “offenders” by the likes of BT and TalkTalk (who are so troubled they’ve gone to the High Court).  Ofcom are pretty lukewarm about the thing too.
Anywhere with WiFi – libraries, hospitals, schools, cafes, you name it – could inadvertently become “offenders” because of the inadequate wording of a stupid law.   Yet it may soon become an active law.

Our discussion inevitably moved on to encompass SOPA and ACTA but we’d already answered the question of whether our current legislation and conventions are fit for the 21st Century. Wish it could’ve been “yes”.  But unfortunately it looks like the latest Digital Opportunity to drag ourselves into this century will be missed.

February 18, 2012

How Socially Mature Are You?

Filed under: Social Media, Strategy — virginiahenry @ 1:34 pm

The only Social Media Week event I managed to get to last week was Making Social Part of Your DNA, and this question – about Social Media maturity – was the theme.  The recurring exhortations were “listen and engage”.

The keynote speaker,  J.P. Rangaswami,  (Chief Scientist of Salesforce) spared us the PowerPoint slides, favouring anecdotes and examples instead.  Quoting Alan Kay – “The best way to predict the future is to invent it” – went down well, as did his belief that enterprise software should, and will, consist of 4 applications: publishing, search, fulfilment and conversation.   He reminded us that The Cluetrain Manifesto was first published at the turn of the century (and that he’s contributed a chapter to the 10th anniversary edition).  And for the rest of the day we examined, and took part in, the global conversation.

Emma Roffey from Cisco opted for a lot of slides, and a fair number of numbers:

  • By 2015 we’ll have an average of 3 connected devices each
  • 200 apps are downloaded per minute
  • 70% of all information has been created since the internet began
  • By 2013 90% of internet traffic will be video

OK, I’ll stop (but if you’ve an appetite for lists, here’s a link to more “Facts You Should Know”)
CISCO have made sure their 65 thousand employees enjoy an “Integrated Workforce Experience”. Their shared platform has personalised dashboards, rich profiles, workspaces and messaging to help worldwide teams collaborate (music to knowledge management ears!).  And they make extensive use of video-conferencing and video blogs.  When she was asked “what about the power of beer?”, Emma explained that CISCO did value face-to-face and informal meetings too.

Fergus Boyd from Virgin Atlantic talked about how their strategy, Sell – Serve – Socialise, means going to places people are talking about you and interacting.  It also means providing apps and information to serve customers’ needs.
He talked about the usefulness of Altimeter’s social maturity assessment, and of Forrester’s research.  As effective social media businesses value staff as brand representatives, Virgin Atlantic are training their staff – “looking inside as well as outside”.

Mind’s Digital Officer, Eve Critchley, explained how important social media was to charities and how hers was making use of Twitter and Facebook to reach people inexpensively and effectively.  Eve’s statistics were sobering

Unlike the teams in too many other charities Eve’s works hard to co-ordinate their activities with those of colleagues in fundraising and events.  Their Elephant in the Room on Facebook and their Twitter account help them reach people.  Making the most of scheduled tweets, and the support of their digital champions, helps them cope with the workload.

Clay Shirky  wasn’t in the stygian theatre, but, inevitably, he was quoted:  “It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure”.  It was during Dell’s presentation, and their business is very serious about opening up to, managing and filtering the info-load.  I’m not sure precisely where Dell is on the social maturity scale, but not too many organisations have a ‘Social Media Listening Command Center’ or a social media university for their staff.   Social Media Manager, Kerry Bridge has been working with Neville Hobson to develop a social media toolkit for small businesses, adding to Dell’s impressive contribution to the global conversation.

Flying Binary’s CEO Jacqui Taylor  took us into the territory of Social Measurement Optimisation.  She talked about the importance of blended customer insights, profiled customer lifecycles and crowd-sourced innovation (using influencers to help develop products and services).  And she said the power of delighting people, by listening carefully and responding rapidly to their concerns, shouldn’t be underestimated.

Jacqui encouraged us to present data and stats to decision-makers in interactive, and mobile, form: making their experience immersive – enabling them to filter and view the information in the way they want, using any device they choose.  Inevitably they’ll be looking for ROI, so demonstrating that involving their staff (60-80% of an organisation’s costs) in increasing business impact through social media engagement is pretty important.

The subdued after-lunch mood was enlivened by Andrew Walker, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Tweetminster.  His message was that authenticity is an important influencer and Return on Engagement (yes, there’s a book on it) is the way to go with social media.  The Tweetminster team were quick to recognise that Twitter provides a useful ‘indicator of intent’ and offers, among other things, a continually-updated source of editorial recommendation (“if he/she’s reading or following that, it must be worth looking at”).  The click-through rate – 10% of Twitter links, compared to 2% of banner ads – seems to support that view.

A recommendation from Andrew: check out the IAB Framework for measuring social media effectiveness.

Jake Steadman, Head of Social Media Insight, Business Intelligence at O2 and Francesco D’Orazio,  Research Director and Head of Social Media at Face had the prettiest slides of the day.

Recognising that consumers’ relationships are with other consumers rather than brands, they’ve been busy doing lots of analysis of interactions and interests to inform O2’s social media strategy.  They’ve gleaned insights around what people Tweet about, and how subject and focus change at different times of the day (afternoons are good for competitions apparently), and at different times of life.   You can view the presentation on the Face site.

The last speaker was Robert Wint.  He’s Head of Digital Marketing at Barclays and is justifiably pleased about taking the bank into the Twittersphere (@BarclaysOnline).
There are nearly 800 followers and, so far, the senior suits (whose by-in was, of course, essential) are content.  Regular reviews of their interactions with customers are informing their training and service improvement, and the insights they’re gaining are adding to their knowledge-bank.  What’s been surprising, Robert told us, are the types of dialogue they’ve been engaged in.   Customers have seen their Twitter presence as a new channel for issue resolution – having tried the usual customer service routes, they’re turning to @BarclaysOnline – so the team are finding themselves dealing with quite detailed issues.  Undaunted, they’re planning to scale to a 24/7 Twitter service and looking to Facebook and YouTube to expand their virtual reach.

There was a panel debate to end the day – about whether marketing, PR or advertising departments “owned” social media – but by then I’d reached engagement saturation!  And, in truth, it seemed a somewhat irrelevant discussion, as we’d all been saying all day long that social media should be pervasive – that all employees are ‘brand ambassadors’.  After all it only the insiders who see the silos.

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 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”!

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”. 

October 30, 2011

LIKE 30: Knowledge Transfer – making it work

Filed under: Knowledge Management, LIKE — Tags: — virginiahenry @ 3:55 pm

It’s often easier to talk about best practice than to just get on with it.  I’m sure lots of us have sat in after-action reviews or meetings where projects have been comprehensively analysed and “ways to do it better” have been skilfully identified.  Then everyone returns to their desks and carries on as before!  There are many reason it happens – change takes time, teamwork and, often, training.  Business as usual can dictate the pace of work (even if that work entails time-consuming activities such as trawling through over-loaded email inboxes to find important information).   Introducing new and more effective ways of working can prove to be ‘too much hassle’ – particularly if senior team-members consider themselves exempt from adopting new practices.

Maybe that’s why we’re more willing to invest external agents with the authority to make change or perform services that we could, if we chose, do for ourselves.

Gary Colet is the Facilitator for the Knowledge Retention and Transfer special interest group at the Knowledge and Innovation Network of Warwick University Business School.  He has a strong aversion to the term “Knowledge Management” preferring the description “Organisational Learning”.  It’s not difficult to see why he has a problem with the KM handle – it’s not exactly explanatory, and when practitioners (as they often are)  are called on to explain it, the descriptions of KM’s value and impact can vary widely.
So, organisational learning is what Gary facilitates.

The LIKE evening started with Gary calling on four volunteers to assist in illustrating how ‘knowledge’ rapidly degrades when passed along a human chain.  The first volunteer was told a story that contained a number of facts.  Their job was to relate the tale to the next volunteer, ensuring the facts were transmitted.  That volunteer then had to relate the story to the next person to enter the room and so on.  Surprisingly, one of the participants asked if she could take notes – Gary said that was the first time anyone had ever thought to do so (maybe not so surprising that a LIKE member should think so practically :-)).  His point was well illustrated though – facts evaporated in the telling, and the name of a publication morphed into another (the New Scientist became the New Statesman).

We moved on to analyse the shelf-life and value of various examples of knowledge/information transmitters:

  • Transactional information such as emails = low value, short life
  • Round-tables and seminars = high value, short life
  • Meeting minutes, FAQs, check lists =  low value, long life
  • Partner contracts, design rationales, projects decisions = high value, long life

Transient knowledge fits into the high value, short life category – and the high value makes this knowledge well worth eliciting.  Gary is often called in at times of change in organisations: when a round of redundancies is taking place, or when acquisitions and mergers are in progress.  He facilitates meetings or dinners during which the outgoing individual (always a key team member or senior leader) is encouraged to pass on their knowledge and experience.
Gary calls his approach to achieving this ‘O.P.E.C.’: Open, Probe, Examine, Close.  So his questions begin with “Tell me about your current role?”  or “Tell me about the project you’ve just completed?” – deliberately broad and open queries aimed at opening the dialogue in an unchallenging way.  With the discussion initiated, he moves on to the probing questions: “What were your particular successes in…..?”, “What were you trying to achieve in doing…..?,“What didn’t go so well in…..?”, etc: the kinds of enquiry aimed at garnering facts and details.  Then come the ‘examining’ queries: “Why didn’t it work so well?”, “Why did you choose that approach?”, “Who was your most useful contact?”.  These questions focus on clarifying details and encouraging the individual to make their implicit knowledge explicit.  Finally he asks the important closing questions – for example “If there were three main things you’d speak to your successor about, what would they be?”

As anyone who’s facilitated these exchanges can testify – the process is not easy or comfortable.  The last thing a person who is feeling bruised and cynical may want is to share their professional knowledge with the organisation that is discarding them!  So, as Gary pointed out, the approach you take is vitally important.  Even if the organisation believes they own, or have a right to, that person’s knowledge, the individual is likely to see things very differently.   These structured exchanges do, however, offer them something worthwhile: respect for their professionalism and the value of their know-how; acknowledgment of their contribution and importance to their soon-to-be former colleagues.  By making this respect and appreciation clear to the individual at the outset, exchanges which begin with hostility and suspicion can quickly become positive and rewarding experiences for both parties.

It may seem trite to say “do as you would be done by” – but it’s a fact that this sentiment underpins good practice in Organisational Learning (or KM, sorry Gary).  The moment you allow yourself to believe that time is too precious to invest in enabling individuals to exchange knowledge and information is the moment you step onto the wheel of organisational amnesia and recurrent mistakes from the past.

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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