Out of austerity, growth of Social and a dose of Logical Minds: insights from working in Lisboa

Royal Bullfighting Club

Real Club Tauromáquico Português, Lisboa

I’ve just spent an inspiring couple of days in Lisboa. It started well: a wonderfully productive 3 hours in the company of Ana Neves of Knowman discussing SocialNow 2015 in Amsterdam, followed by a reunion dinner at the Real Club Tauromáquico Português, (Royal Bullfighting Club of Portugal) Lisboa with a former colleague I had not seen since 1986.

The prime motivation for my visit (apart from the 25c temperature) was providing advice to a business that helps children with learning difficulties as it thinks through its future options.

economic & business backdrop

Over dinner, my former colleague, an influential banker whose ancestor discovered an island in the Atlantic now named after him, shared his perceptions of the current state of play.  Here’s my take on what he said:

…the government is doing very well but the current political structure means decisions are taken very slowly. I am an optimist by nature and see great potential in our people but our media is always looking for mistakes and bad news and never tells us about areas we are doing well.

Taken at face value this gives grounds for optimism and yet in previous conversations I discovered that the Portuguese prefer to hear ‘experts’ from overseas rather than trust their own and go overseas to make their fortunes. So for young entrepreneurs the future is bleak.

Yet Portugal is a country that ranks 25th in the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking (ahead of Netherlands, France and Spain).

Portugal WBK ranking

Click to enlarge picture

It’s improving standing is due to a raft of measures many of which are currently subject to scrutiny and debate in parliament:

  • Portugal lowered its corporate income tax rate from 25-23% and introduced a reduced corporate tax rate for a portion of the taxable profits of qualifying small and medium-size enterprises.
  • Portugal made enforcing contracts easier by adopting a new code of civil pro-
    cedure designed to reduce court backlog, streamline court procedures, enhance
    the role of judges and speed up the resolution of standard civil and commer-
    cial disputes.

Since 2008 the government has made a number of changes to employment law. While these have resulted in increased productivity there is growing disenchantment at declining living standards and the young expect to leave when they graduate.

What does the immediate future hold?  Increased personal taxes, an increased disparity between those able to ride the continued wave of austerity and those who can’t and a desperate need for investment for young start up businesses.

Initiatives such as Cidadania, an event aimed at stimulating discussion in society around the use of new forms of communication, will help. This year’s event in Porto showcased numerous examples of how empowered citizens have interacted with NGO’s, Government and Public Administrations. Ana Neves has also been running a Community of Practice for COTEC and written a guide on helping its member organisations to choose KM Tools.   Ana would be the first to admit that Portuguese organisations are not yet big on Knowledge Sharing or Knowledge Management and that community involvement in social tools is in its infancy. But interest is growing!

LogicaMentes (Logical Minds)

Autism strikes without consideration of ethnicity, gender or financial background. It is a developmental disorder that affects the way people interact with the world and other people.

Each child or adult with autism is unique and, so, each autism intervention plan should be tailored to address specific needs.

The UK’s NHS notes:

Some types of intervention can involve hours of intensive work, and this is not always possible for many families because of the practical, emotional and financial commitments necessary.

Treatment is based on the assessment of the physician carrying out the examination and frequent case assessments with the team thereafter.  Treatments now take place in the home, at school and at clinics like LogicaMentes.

Much is written and there are countless online sites providing guidance, advice and online collaboration to parents who often find this a very difficult condition to live with.

images.livrariasaraiva.com.brThere are a variety of treatment methodologies, LogicaMentes bases its on the book written by the clinic’s co-founder, Claudia Bandeira De Lima.

They also use a wonderful iPad application developed by a member of their team that enhances the learning experience for children. Already it has paid off: the app has facilitated communication between a mother and son where previously his condition has precluded any. Small but significant steps!


Resource management, records management and cash management are core competences as are the ability to share knowledge among the team and manage a diverse group of stakeholders (parents, schools, doctors).

It is a priviledge to have been invited to help the team and to be working in Portugal.


capturing & exploiting corporate knowledge in HMRC: bombs, cakes and critical knowledge

The impending release of the UK Government’s Knowledge & Information Strategy has shone a spotlight on the need for all areas of government to capture, effectively manage and share the knowledge and information they create and receive…if they are to deliver a world class and publically accountable digital public service.

I wonder how many UK taxpayers associate HMRC with being at the leading edge of government practice? Yet a few months back 14 senior business people gathered for the first modules ran by Victoria Ward and I of a Civil Service Learning pilot programme* entitled capturing and exploiting corporate knowledge. 

The venue was Whitehall, London yet the delegates came from around the country and represented a wide variety of disciplines from across HMRC: VAT Directorate; Anti Money Laundering; Large Businesses Service; Corporation Tax, International and Anti-Avoidance (CTIAA); Specialist Investigations; Local Business Comliance: and Excise, Customs, Stamps & Money Services (ECSM).

in advance

We asked the delegates to:

…bring along an object. An image, document or small artifact that illustrates a memorable event with which you were involved during your last couple of years in the business. It might be a decision, a new piece of policy or a transaction.  We are going to ask you to talk about the object and use it during the exercises so please think carefully about what you might choose.

Here’s why: Objects stimulate conversations; people feel comfortable talking about them in environments where otherwise they might not open up. They reveal insights other techniques fail to unearth and so are effective as icebreakers and as triggers for more in-depth discussions on events and projects.

One of the core beliefs I’ve developed working with Sparknow is that, to be effective and valued, knowledge management has to be about helping to improve the decision making capacity of individuals, teams and organisations. Indeed it features in the opening sentence of the World Bank’s definition of KM:

…Knowledge provides insight for decision making…

So, much of early stage investigation into critical knowledge has to be around events and decisions and how knowledge has (or has not) informed them. Objects have proved to be a good way of facilitating those early dialogues and feature prominently in the work we do.

By combining timelines and objects to examine an event or decision in an Anecdote Circle we imagined this would act as a real stimulus in helping to place clarity around the concept of critical knowledge.

module one: Positioning


  • understand the importance of critical knowledge to HMRC


  • able to identify critical knowledge
  • see how and why others identify and capture critical knowledge

Reassuringly people were prepared and had an object, an image or something in mind (this is often not the case). Here’s an extract from Victoria’s fieldnotes taken during the plenary debrief on the memorable objects session:

My object wasn’t that helpful, it was just a document…But it was a conversation starter, very simple very plain, a trigger… It brought a story to life and helped with focus

The Anecdote Circle helped the delegates identify the event or decision they wished to examine in more detail.

For that we invited them to use a tool, (worksheet) for conducting a more in depth (Deep Dive) type of discussion, Sparknow has christened the Narrative Grid.

Narrative Grid Worksheet

Narrative Grid Worksheet

Comments were broadly favourable and the Narrative Grid was to feature later in the programme by which time they were more attuned to its benefit and skilled in its application.

From looking at critical knowledge from an internal perspective we shifted to the external environment drawing on examples from the nuclear industry, the health industry and the regulatory industry to illustrate how they had set about identifying what critical knowledge was in their business and why they set about capturing it. A common theme running through each example, with which the HMRC delegates were able to empathise, was the need to mitigate risk especially around the departure of staff with considerable expertise and experience.

There was broad agreement that critical knowledge:

‘It’s the knowledge HMRC would struggle without if it lost’

And in working through examples the delegates were able to identify two compelling metaphors: bomb defusing and cake makingcolored_wires_bomb_cutter_3268

  • In defusing bombs the precise critical knowledge is knowing what wire to cut.
  • For recipes, it’s not just the recipe, ingredients, marinading, but how hot is my oven?

    Flower Bomb Cake by Madeline Ellis

    Flower Bomb Cake by Madeline Ellis






Module One ended with us providing the delegates with a set of references and reading. We also provided a link to an interview I’d conducted with Gordon Vala-Webb a promiment KM’er in Canada who was in charge of a project to capture and retain knowledge for a regulator at a time when many of its most experienced staff were about to retire and would impact them operationally. Gordon gives an eloquent explanation of how a large govenrment organisation tackled this and determined the knowledge they could least afford to lose. Here are a few snippets:

…we took a risk management approach and got each of the branches to fill in a risk assessment form as part of the annual business planning process… a high score would have resulted in the branch developing a risk mitigation plan… we provided guidance on different approaches which included videoing, interviewing, expanding procedure manuals…in some cases they kept the retiring staff on call…

…I believe if we had not had this program people would have been scrambling to keep operating…

More to follow on Modules 2 through 6 over the next few weeks.


*Sparknow and Knowledge et al worked in partnership to deliver this programme.