the future workplace seen from the streets of London and the importance of conversations

Running a portfolio of activities is great. It has downsides though: The feeling of anxiety about what’s next; or guilt at taking a time out to do pro bono work when I could be responding to a request from a prospective client. And like every business marketing and relationship management has its cost.

But yesterday I decided to take a time out to reflect and think about the closing session at KMUK which I’ve been asked to lead. And this is how I ended up walking the streets.

John Blackwell is someone I met many years back while he was an IBM’er.  His ‘new’ organisation Quora devotes much of their time to help organisations think about the future of work and workspace.  Those who follow what I write will know working environments (space: virtual and physical) is a topic I feel neglected in Knowledge Management strategies and implementation plans.

mobile knowledge cafe in the street?

When John invited me to attend an afternoon session run by Street Wisdom at the Royal Society of Arts as part of his Smartworking Summit I was intrigued as the concept has caught on around the globe and seemed to be a sort of Knowledge Cafe in the street. Here’s what happened:

  1. Scene setting: David, Chris and Mel, explained what was about to happen over the next 3 hours.  In a pre-session discussion I’d described my ‘doctrine’ of Orchestrated Serendipity and that was used to illustrate what might happen. This is what we did.
  2. AIMG_3579 1wareness: Having assembled in 3 groups of 6 outside of the RSA we were invited to go off on our own for 8 minutes and observe – our choice, what we see and record. I noticed this pile (and someone’s bed) not 100 yards from this lovely peaceful spot.IMG_3580 1
  3. Slow: Back at ‘base’ we were asked to go off again at a very slow pace to see whether what we noticed is different because we have slowed down. My immediate emotion was of being in a bubble as everyone around me hurried about their business. Certainly I was more attuned to ‘things’ and it felt like I do at airports where I often switch off and withdraw in as a way of coping with the vagaries of travel. My 8 minutes over I return to ‘base’.
  4. Patterns: With my new ‘friend’ Mark from Sheffield I set off in search of patterns. This was interesting. As we walked we reflected on how we had already seen things we’d not normally see. We parted, me to Caffe Nero, he to the pub, both to watch.  I noticed: in a cafe people give themselves permission to talk; no one seems to use a paper map anymore, they use their smartphones; buses do come along in threes.
  5. IMG_3582 1Beauty: If the 8 minutes searching for patterns seemed a bit frivolous, 8 minutes looking for beauty (definition: ‘in the eye of the beholder’) was revealing. Literally 400 years from the rubbish and garden, up a twitten off The Stand I came across this magnificent abode which was being shown to a young Asian Student and his father. Amid the hustle and bustle of The Strand here was an oasis (at a price-1 bedroom starting at £895k!) which was aesthetically pleasing.
  6. Burning question: Fired up and ready to go I returned for my last task assignment.  I was to go off for 30 minutes to answer a burning question.  In my case this was to think about how I was going to run the forthcoming closing session at KMUK.
  7. Plenary: All valuable interventions end with a debrief / reflection session. Here we sat in a circle and shared what we’d seen and done. This was a precursor to a more expansive group conversation among two dozen people drawn from HR/Change/Facilities Management functions.

observations from plenary

The plenary session was stimulating: some worked virtually, others from Academia did a combination of home and away.  Here’s what emerged:

  • While virtual working is hugely advantageous to many, not everyone’s personal circumstances or culture fits.  Last week in Hong Kong I realised that with personal space at such a premium work has to take place away from the home. One virtual worker also noted that as a mother the flexibility is essential for her. She did note though that personal contact is essential to make sure a virtual team functions to its optimal level.
  • The grouping of people around a central office or campus is declining.  One view was that the Google and Facebook campus facilities are the last hurrah for this type of environment.
  • The future is about creating community hubs (closer to where people live) that permit drop out/drop in attendance based on a concierge hotel style service.
  • Current contractual arrangements are too restrictive and Zero hour contracts exploitative and not conducive to creating the element of trust needed for a different approach to task management. We discussed the idea of giving staff ‘space cards’ which they can redeem against usage at such approved venues.
  • No one is training us to work in the new way or in virtual teams and the training should begin in schools.
  • Digital was an adjective, now its a noun and with Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) we are entering an era of extreme customisation of the workplace by the consumer.
  • No one ‘owns’ the topic at a senior level. Like Knowledge Management ways of working and workspace environment is seen as being a horizontal function straddling many disciplines.

my takeaways

  • The next 5 years will see an accelaration in the growth of the generic workspace.
  • ‘No one can speak twice until everyone has spoken once’ was a lovely approach from David Pearl (Founder of Street Wisdom) to ensure everyone in the plenary session got their say.
  • People and conversations matter, in fact they are vital for innovation and knowledge sharing: people share not technology.  I realised halfway through the session how important it is to have the imaginery ‘water cooler’ or coffee station area where you can go to share and be stimulated. By listening to others I was able to craft an agenda which otherwise I might have struggled with.
  • Street Wisdom worked for me when I recognised I had given myself permission to take time to slow down and reflect. It is an effective way of changing mindset and a case of: ‘when you look at things differently, the things you look at change.’
  • And finally, I managed to create a wrap up session for next week’s KMUK event. Watch this space to see what I did and how it went.

one to watch

Re-Imagining Work remains one of my all time favourite videos.  Dave Copin imagines what might be possible if more organisations embraced the empowering potential of technology and encouraged a truly open working culture.  It is a great accompaniment to this discussion and one I use frequently to stimulate a debate.

‘…education, education, education…’ and the role of critical knowledge in government as seen from Whitehall

Our top priority was, is and always will be education, education, education. To overcome decades of neglect and make Britain a learning society, developing the talents and raising the ambitions of all our young people.

Prime Minister Blair, ahead of the 2001 General Election

Paul at Cabinet Office 1It was an interesting and Westminster focused week. A chance to see first hand whether more than a decade on the aspiration of making Britain a learning society had been realised.

Monday, I was a guest at a Cabinet Office Knowledge Cafe facilitated by David Gurteen; Thursday, I ran a workshop* at the Department for Education on knowledge capture and retention.

At the Knowledge Cafe there was a nice mix of people from across the Civil Service. The 40 or so, assembled by Susan Chan of The Cabinet Office and hosted by Roger Smethurst, Deputy Director and Head of Knowledge and Information Management at the Cabinet Office were discussing:

How can we more actively share knowledge in the workplace?

The Knowledge Cafe format encourages conversation (it’s David Gurteen’s mantra) asking as it does for three rounds of conversation after an opening round of 2 minute introductions. For some the lack of any obvious outcomes is a source of frustration, for others its a liberating way of discussing a topic of interest and testing your own hypotheses.

I found myself in conversation about the diametrically opposed tasks of promoting voluntary transparency across government while protecting the exemptions of the Freedom of Information Act.

We discussed the difficulties of establishing Twitter dialogue and of being tied to SharePoint.   Everyone had a tale to tell about lack of handover time when being faced with a new assignment. Few seemed to have heard of Collaborate the internal government social media/chatline.  To a man (and woman) there was disquiet over the abandonment of the Local Government Agencies Community Network.

Yet the vast majority had concerns about potential loss of knowledge when organisations downsize and move to more flexible and generalist working.  This was a theme that was to resurface on Thursday.

‘I spent the morning waiting for a login…’

The dozen or so people who attended the 2nd of 3 knowledge management expert sessions held at the Department for Education were drawn from Policy, Administration and Delivery. My topic:

capturing and exploiting critical knowledge in Department for Education

An exercise I’ve found works really well when trying to get to the bottom of what critical knowledge looks and feels like is to ask people to think about a time when they needed to know…. Often mundane administrative issues (a good handover/briefing pack being rendered ineffective by lack of access to a system) get in the way!

Introductions SlideThis slide gives you the narrative.

A variety of frustrations were aired as well as great examples of good knowledge sharing practices. And yet so much revolved around the need for signposts and people acting as knowledge hubs – knowing who to go to being as important as knowing where to look.

If I didn't come back tomorrow                                                           The discussion really came alive when the delegates split into three groups to work through one of these questions.  Some of the learnings:

  • Critical knowledge is often held at Grade 6 & 7 and these are neglected when it comes to knowledge capture. While Directors and Deputy Directors are adroit at managing, their domain knowledge is unlikely to be as detailed.
  • The narrative (context) surrounding critical knowledge is hugely important. By focusing on events and decisions it’s easier for this to emerge.
  • As the propensity for greater disclosure (authorised and unauthorised) increases so does the need for informal discussion – ‘An audience with..‘ sessions increases.
  • Reputation risk (from not drawing on previous experience) is viewed as a core issue.

takeaways from Westminster

Revision of the Government Knowledge & Information Strategy has sharpened the focus on the need for effective knowledge capture and retention.  That needs the active support and participation in the business areas (not just in the Knowledge and Information Management Professionals across government) for this to happen and for continuous knowledge harvesting to become ingrained behaviour.

There is still some way to go before Tony Blair’s vision is realised!

* informed by a programme run by knowledge et al and Sparknow for HMRC

 

‘this is a theme which has reached its moment… there is definitely a need for this’

A quote from Ruth O’Keeffe District and County Councillor.

Thanks to many volunteer tweeters an account has been published of the inaugural Knowledge Cafe: making use of surplus food held at Le Magasin Lewes on Monday 24th September 2012. A fuller account of the meeting is available as a Storify record.

It was a chance to learn how London is using surplus food and feeding those who are struggling; to discuss how the PlanZheroes project has worked in London and to see if the conditions are right for it to work in Lewes and beyond.

Here are some of the highlights:

Summary:

Plan Zheroes (PZ) are the ‘community noticeboard’ of donors and recipients of surplus food. They are not for profit and a core priniciple is that they do not charge either for the acquisition or provision of surplus food.

  • In a way they are brokers providing a service that brings parties at all levels of the food supply chain into contact with each other through their interactive map.
  • There is a need in and around Lewes: an increasing number of people are struggling and this will be exacerbated by changes in benefits from April 2013. Yet surplus food exists and while great initiatives are already under way many people are unaware of what others are doing and can offer (where the Plan Zheroes map comes in).
  • ‘There is no pressure, we are just trying to make good connections work’.
  • One of PZ’s main ‘USP’s’ is its ability to come up with imaginative solutions e.g. getting chefs to treat surplus prepared food as potential ingredients for use in other dishes e.g. salmon into Quiche or fish pie and to teach people how to cook with ‘leftovers’.
  • Despite established supply and delivery chains typical business models do not cover surplus prepared food of the type that comes from catering, restuarants, pubs, cafes and hotels. It needs to be consumed within a 12 hour period.
  • Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes: to help spot ‘Zheroes’:establishments willing to donate food/ organisations who wish to receive food and engage those people with the map; to help with food distribution -getting it from the donor to the recipient.
  • Don’t criticise and don’t push.  ‘People take time, they work at different speeds and have different comfort levels.
  • The potential launch of a funded mobile app will improve real time access so both sides of the food chain will be able to post information that is acted on much quicker.
  • A number of good ideas for sourcing and delivering surplus food emerged.  Most of the people who attended were excited by the prospect of using the Plan Zheroes map to help connect donors with recipients: ‘let’s get food from A to B. The food is there, the Demand is there. Let’s help distribute!’

Background to the meeting:

This came about following a chance meeting between a resident of Lewes (Paul J Corney) with Maria Ana Neves one of the co-founders and inspirations behind Plan Zheroes a citizen led movement to help use surplus food in London.
After a 3 month awareness campaign (use of social media, direct and targeted mailings to schools, centres of worship, publicans, gp groups, charities, volunteer groups, restaurants and hotels), it was decided to hold an open evening (a Knowledge Cafe) to look at what Plan Zheroes had acheived to date in London; whether a need existed in and around Lewes and finally could a Plan Zheroes style operation work here.

It is important to note the tacit and often explicit support of Lewes District Council Officials, Councillors and Transition Town Lewes (a number of whom were at the meeting).

Plan Zheroes:
Maria Ana Neves
Knowledge et al team:
Paul J Corney (Catalyst); Ana Aguilar-Corney (Registration & Curator); Joe Offer (Curator)
Le Magasin hosts:
Frankie; Maddie; Joe; Cameron; Xavi
Attendees:
Cross section of volunteer groups, street evangelists, gp surgery heads, councillors, council officials, leaders of networks and business people. NB Names have been omitted to preserve anonymity.

 

 

when your footsteps can generate electricity

Imagine a world in which the steps you take are harnessed as an energy source.

That is the premise behind pavegen ‘renewable energy from footsteps’ one of a number of Royal Society of Arts (RSA) supported projects on display at an open evening I was invited to last night.

I was there to visit the Plan Zheroes exhibit (another RSA supported project) ahead of the forthcoming Knowledge Cafe: making use of surplus food I am running in Lewes in 10 days time with Maria Ana Neves an RSA Fellow and Plan Zheroes founding member.

What struck me about pavegen was its simplicity and potential.  In conversation I discovered it gives a 2 year payback based on a footfall of 250k ‘visits’ a day. That will generate enough energy to power lights and LED displays making it ideal for Shopping Malls and Railway Stations.

Why I am interested? 

  • A couple of years ago the golf club I’ve been chairman of took a very bold decision to invest in alternative energy sources and sunk a number of heat inducers into the overflow carpark. The electricity from that source actually powers the club including water, showers and heating and we put energy back into the grid!
  • Portugal, my wife’s homeland has among the highest per capita energy costs in the world and recently sold off its national power company in an auction to meet the privatisation constraints imposed under the austerity plan of the Troika.
  • Many countries (including Saudi Arabia which is setting up the King Abdullah City for Renewable Energy) are looking at ways of reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and generating energy from other sources.

For those of you who want to follow up, below is a snapshot of the promotional material

Pavegen and Plan Zheroes

Knowledge Cafe Tips: printers, posters and event management

I’ve been printer challenged: what seemed like a good idea a few years back to buy an all in one inkjet has turned into a logisitical nightmare as printer cartridge costs (at least Epson) have rocketed while I try to become greener, use recyled paper and print less. While social media and emails have an increasing role in raising awareness snail mail and hand delivered notices are still very important especially at this time with the avalanche of material that will greet returning vacationers. If not then why do so many corporates engage in poster campaigns in their offices to augment their online activities?

So having secured a date, venue, speaker and got an endorsement from David Gurteen I am going to run the inaugural knowledge cafe in Lewes to discuss a topic that’s been on my agenda for some time – helping to make use of surplus food – the Plan Zheroes initiative. And I’ve been trying out Eventbrite as the management tool for the registration.

For those who are new to Eventbrite it is a very simple free to use and effective tool that handles all the online administration of an event.  It took me less than a couple of hours from zero knowledge to setting up this event online and registering half a dozen people. See what you think? Knowledge Cafe:making use of surplus food

In case you are interested I’ve ended up buying a Brother Wireless All in One (though the reviews say it looks like a tank) that prints A3 as well as A4, essential to produce the worksheets that can often transform a working session.  Here’s one example from the work of my colleagues at Sparknow who excel at this kind of creativity in workshop design.

 

Picture taken by Julie Reynolds at a workshop run by Victoria Ward at The Whitechapel Gallery.