‘Nothing has changed and yet everything is different’: 10 observations from a special event at CILIP

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Yesterday I was at a special invitation summit to discuss the future direction of the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals.  CILIP is undergoing a fairly dramatic repositioning under new CEO Annie Mauger and this was the first of a couple of attempts to broaden the debate with a wider constituency.

It was well organised (and run) by Martin White and Sandra Ward, two people whose names are synonymous with the words ‘Information’ and ‘management’, and whose best efforts had persuaded many thought leaders in the Information Management space to attend. Attendees were asked not to tweet and to follow The Chatham House Rule that states:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed’

So (as a member of Chatham House and compelled to comply) here are my observations aided by a couple of pictures and slides published with the speakers permission.

10 observations:

‘Nothing has changed and yet everything is different’. Jean-Paul Sartre’s quote is apposite: 20 years on since my colleagues and I at Saudi International Bank were creating a one screen view of what we knew about a client (the forerunner of an intranet / CRM system) I suggest that despite all the gismos (technical advances) senior executives are still looking for reliable trustworthy information/intelligence – the synopsis they can trust, from people they trust. And don’t want to do self searching to find it. At the closing a wonderful story was told about a senior executive who has a team that provide abridged briefing notes and expected outcomes (in his native language) for every meeting.

People are still the important navigational hub and their knowledge networks vital. When they go their knowledge (and their networks) go with them. HM Government Knowledge & Information Strategy will make clear the importance of people and the public as the client and it will recognise that ‘who we know’ is as important as ‘what we know’ hence the investment in a Knowledge Harvesting Toolkit for KIM professionals (and training on Knowledge Capture & Retention).

We want measurements! Stories that amplify events and justification for Information and Knowledge team activity are hugely important but must be accompanied by statistics and measures which accounts in part for the increased call in the Public Sector for inventories of information and knowledge assets. In a world of data half a page of stats supported by a story is more powerful than two pages of prose.

We want certification! East, North and South of Istanbul there is a huge demand for education and certification.  Competency management is king and certificates from accredited organisations a way of enhancing career prospects. West of Istanbul people (especially the young) are just happy to be in a job and employers are increasingly demanding new entrants to be more self aware.

Apps are the future, websites are the past: Perhaps driven by a healthy scepticism of advertising and brochure ware websites dynamic content is key. This is presenting a challenge to the information industry who need to be more proactive in saying ‘read this and here’s why’. Ask yourself when did you last go to a corporate website and believe what it said – buying decisions are being driven by recommendations of people (and organisations) YOU trust. And Apps are making the process smoother as mobile replaces pc’s and tablets, laptops.

Fear is driving (in)action / lack of collaboration: the financial services industry has taken a bashing and the regulators are all over them extolling the virtues of a change in culture and trying to audit whether they have. Chinese Walls are getting higher so no Yammer or Jive to cross fertilise ideas and clients and silos will get more pronounced. In the Public Sector the rise of the SIRO (Senior Information RIsk Officer) as a board member suggests a greater and more visible role is emerging where risk aversion becomes a major driver of decisions.

Organisations are becoming hermetically sealed bubbles virtually impenetrable to anyone who is not of the same size. It used to be accepted doctrine that ‘no one got fired for hiring IBM’,  now the same applies with big consultancy firms. A vivid illustration was given: despite agreeing the scope of work with the client, being the best qualified and most experienced, formal sign off was not forthcoming for this internationally renowned consultant because ‘he is not …’ (three letters)!  

Modular competency acquisition the way forward/ Facilitation key: Many of the speakers and delegates commented on the need to be good at getting others to work well and be opportunistic. A role where the KIM professional, briefs, analyses and introduces, new processes, systems and ways of working. The idea of a modular incremental approach to competency development was lauded, perhaps in conjunction with business schools and Universities. As was the new CILIP Professional Knowledge and Skills Base, that the UK Government’s Head of KIM has been a strong supporter of.

IMG_1554KIM is here to stay: It was a common theme – KM especially is back (even if there is still ambiguity over what it is – especially in the North West).  This from John Quinn is lovely, a quote from a report in 1894 on the Department for Education’s use of knowledge:

 …failing to record the knowledge it obtains for future use and unable to obtain information as to what is being done elsewhere either at home or abroad…’

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To finish, a quote, from award winning Clive Holtham celebrating 25 years as one of the few to hold a Professor of Information Management title, ‘technology brings no competitive advantage’  – its an essential underpinning (my addition). Here’s Clive and his Intelligent Exploiter Framework – note the importance of ‘Mindset’.

 

And finally

Check out Full Fact a non profit making group that specialises in independent fact checking.  Despite a bit of a spat with UK Column a year back it has become a must go to site to check the veracitiy of ‘facts’ and ‘stats’ that appear in the media and emanate from the mouths of our politicians. Will Moy’s BBC Question Time piece ‘Will you point out when panellists are lying?’ is worth a read and his stories given a hearing.

the role of narrative grids in knowledge retention & knowledge sharing

In a recent discussion about how to surface issues that need addressing as part of a km strategy the subject of timelines and objects came up. Here’s a post I wrote for Sparknow at the end of a working session:
At the back end of 2010 Victoria, Carol and I were in Barbados helping to develop a knowledge management strategy.

The strategy needed to be reflective of the institution yet grounded in the reality of the changing nature of the economic marketplace in the Caribbean where the alleviation of poverty remains a core objective of most developmental efforts.

People have become dismissive of the value of km after years of failed attempts to institutionalize it in organizations. Yet the principles of working towards a knowledge sharing/transferring culture remain valid especially in development. And the potential for improvement in operational efficiency cannot be underestimated even if at times is not easily quantifiable.

We began by looking for good examples of knowledge sharing; using a structured framework for the initial assessment has benefited the client (as well as us) and provided an organizing mechanism for reporting.  Adopting a critical decision interviewing approach has also made it much easier to unearth some of the stories that illustrate how knowledge flows. Perhaps our biggest (re) learning is the value of a neutral object in acting as a catalyst for conversations around the working practices of organizations.

Most people feel uncomfortable talking about something intangible, they need a hook to hang their conversations on.  In much of our work we’ve asked people we are interviewing to draw a time line to help ground them in chronological events; that tended to be a good launching point for dialogue and stories. It was especially effective in our mission to Darfur back in March where the enormity of the problem tended to obscure people’s specific recollections unless they had just occurred.

In Barbados though we were looking for evidence of how knowledge and information flows across an organization and how it is used to inform decisions.  Drawing on the excellent tome Working Minds by Gary Klein et al we combined a critical decision interviewing approach with a timeline approach to create a Narrative Grid.

Perhaps most importantly we built on previous work with Royal Mail and others to ask our interviewees to describe what was going on in the formal and informal channels (“above and below the line”) while a decision was being made.

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Did it work?

  • As a conversation piece and in a 1:1 situation it was extremely effective and moreover became the neutral object that the interviewee was happy to channel their thoughts into. We learned a lot about the use of the right pen and of the value of the subtle prompt. It was also very effective as a way of assessing different cultural types; there were those who instantly took the pen and began writing; those who would take the pen after we had begun writing; and those who were happy to have us do the writing while they “dictated”.
  • In a group session the Narrative Grid shone. Teams would gather round correcting each other and while the outputs were often anything but neat the results of a genuinely collaborative effort were not purely visual. Getting each group to summarize was especially useful since it often revealed similar patterns of behaviors, good examples/stories of knowledge sharing and areas ripe for process improvement.

Over the last decade Sparknow has experimented with many techniques to capture organizational stories. For helping to identify organizational knowledge and information flows around events and decisions the Narrative Grid has proved among the most effective.

insiders view on knowledge in the Middle East

In 2011 I spoke at the inaugural KM Middle East event about a knowledge survey we created for the event and drawing on recent diagnostic work and the knowledge management strategy and implementation framework it spawned.

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photo | Tom Spender

One of the tools Sparknow has used before as a way of raising awareness of, testing the receptivity for and measuring the impact of, a knowledge initiative is an online questionnaire. We usually keep it to about five sets of questions and ensure it takes no more than five minutes to complete – about the length of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee!

It often kicks off a diagnostic process and provides useful pointers/insights into what an organization understands knowledge management to be as well as highlighting ‘the way we do things around here’ through snippets and anecdotes.

KM Mid East seemed like a good opportunity to stimulate a debate through an online questionnaire: knowledge management roles are beginning to appear in quasi government organizations and some recognize that the way ‘stuff’ is stored today will impact on its potential reuse. And this is being conducted against the following backdrop:

  • Libya has descended into a civil war.
  • The outcomes of the Bahrain protests are by no means clear.
  • The Saudi authorities have just handed out over $37bn in pay rises and improved conditions to its inhabitants having reportedly adopted rough tactics with protesters.

The response from within the region’s commercial organizations has been to take a good look at disaster recovery, contingency planning and risk evaluation; assess their value of portfolios. Few would instantly associate this ‘burning platform’ moment with knowledge management but it’s totally relevant. In fact it’s what got me into this business two decades ago when a bomb blast took out the paper records my organization had and I led an ambitious programme in a Middle East focused investment bank to capture what we knew and make it available for reuse electronically. It was our attempt to create a one-screen view of a client and the forerunner of what today people call intranets.

So what has emerged from the Sparknow Knowledge Survey?

  • The majority of respondents were from government organizations.
  • Most people felt lessons learned were best examples of knowledge sharing at work.
  • The spectre of poor records management looms large.
  • Learning and by implication knowledge transfer are the areas many people believe KM should be addressing.
  • While cash incentives are attractive carrots for some to share knowledge the majority wanted recognition and a sense of ownership in the outcomes.
  • Unsurprisingly given the astonishing technological revolutions this region has been witness to, most answers to the question ‘the thing I always carry with me to help with knowledge…’ focused on technological solutions.

KMUK 12: Olympics, KM and the Mexican Wave

Ahead of the KMUK conference in London that Professor Jane Mckenzie and I chaired we thought we’d approach some of the speakers for their observations on knowledge management by posing a set of ‘vox pop’ questions.

It being 2012 and with the London Olympics on the horizon we decided to ask:

Using an Olympic analogy how would you describe what you do to others?

Their replies were illuminating. Here is a sample:

I help people prepare for the journey and then support them. Middle distance runners because change is about sustainability. Becoming part of the crowd clapping and applauding. I’d really love to be the Mexican wave.

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My Olympian role is to facilitate, lead and mentor others to perform better in whatever game they enter for.

I am an Ambassador, generating excitement and enthusiasm for the event. I am a connector bringing people together.

I see myself as the Coxswain in a community of oarsmen. They have to get things moving, but my job is to keep the enthusiasm and the momentum for sharing knowledge going.

I would say the `on-boarding team coordinator` role. Helping team members come on board, ensuring they all the right information they need to adjust well to the Olympic park, including who to talk to if they have problems, offering the right agendas and maps that could be useful, the lessons learnt from past Olympic Games that could help them and of course organising the social events and the best places to eat!

A field hockey player. It’s a fast team sport where you have to pay attention all the time, everyone gets to play in it, and you respect each others roles and capabilities and work together to achieve success from different angles.

Sebastian Coe – My job is winning the business over to KM Going out and getting engagement and then when they are committed handing over to the team to deliver it. We have a team of torch bearers who keep the energy going and raise awareness of what is happening and the central team are there to coach. We also have people in the K and IS team who keep the olympic equipment in tip top condition

One of the respondents also told us that as Olympic Learning Legacy Partners they are responsible for sharing key lessons in transport, technology and the built environment. In the light of the recent issues on London’s tube system, I am looking forward to that presentation.

What strikes me from these responses (drawn from practitioners across three continents) is how accurately they reflect the variety of skills required by someone fulfilling a knowledge management role which is perhaps why so few people today seem to have KM in their job title.

I will be posting more in due course in the run up to the event and responses to questions such as:

What technique have you found most effective for bringing about change in the way people work/respond?

knowledge management I an old wine in a new bottle?

I was back in Khartoum for a couple of days at the end of March at the invitation of the Sudan Engineering Society and University of Khartoum.  They’d asked me to talk about knowledge management, research into the evolving role of the ‘knowledge manager’ and the implications for Sudan.

Apart from the honour of addressing 150 or so engineers, acadamics and ministers on Wednesday at the National Telecomunications Center, my presentation at the Faculty of Mathematical Science on Thursday was made at the end of the working day (so at the start of the Sudanese weekend) to a crowd of nearly 200 including families.  It brought home to me how keen the Sudanese people are to learn and exchange ideas especially since the Campus had only just reopened after a period of unrest.

Knowledge management as a formal discipline is in its infancy in Sudan. There are pockets of good practice albeit under different labels and many companies are following the well trodden path of focusing on technology such as an intranet as a way of storing ‘stuff’.  It’s not easy though operating in an environment which restricts access to software updates as an example. That said there is a groundswell of interest led by Dr Gada Kadoda who is mobilising a group calling itself the Sudanese Knowledge Society who are about to meet formally for the first time.

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Photo Taken outside the National Telecommunications Center Khartoum with some of the founding members of the Sudan Knowledge Society

The Khartoum presentations prompted an interesting exchange with one of the participants who attended both. Here with his permission is an extract.

Hi Paul

Thank you. I have attended both sessions. All day on Wednesday and the Thursday evening session… Few years ago while I was working in the UAE, I came across The European Business Excellence Model and the work of Peter Senge at MIT ( The Learning Organization ). Is this KM a new Fad, old wine in new bottles or is it a real contribution to your management thinking? It seems to me I am getting mixed signals…. To this day I still remember Business Processes Reengineering, as advocated by Prof Michael Hammer at MIT
Best regards

Mustafa

The Rio Tinto video (about a Community of Practice) in my humble opinion is a Quality Circle drill, which was helped by the advance in ICT…

And my reply:

Dear Mustafa thank you for your kind words and the background.

You raise a number of interesting points, let me answer them in sequence:

  • Old wine in a new bottle: to continue the analogy, if it is then it is ageing quite well as some 10 years ago Professor T D Wilson at Sheffield University in a paper entitled ‘The nonsense of knowledge management’ wrote the following:

The inescapable conclusion of this analysis of the ‘knowledge management’ idea is that it is, in large part, a management fad, promulgated mainly by certain consultancy companies, and the probability is that it will fade away like previous fads. It rests on two foundations: the management of information where a large part of the fad exists (and where the ‘search and replace marketing’ phenomenon is found), and the effective management of work practices. However, these latter practices are predicated upon a Utopian idea of organizational culture in which the benefits of information exchange are shared by all, where individuals are given autonomy in the development of their expertise, and where ‘communities’ within the organization can determine how that expertise will be used. 

  • Yet today as our research has indicated people and organisations are organising themselves to make better use of what they know and if knowledge management is a convenient label to achieve that then who are we to complain.
  • Quality Circle vs Community of Practice: Yes and no would be my response.  However for me the concept of a quality circle is much more around a particular incident (yes that was highlighted in the clip) but the idea of a Community of Practice is that it represents an ongoing and dynamic resource. The bigger point here I think is that the engineers were able to post something onto the platform used to run the CoP and locate people who’d had the same experience.
  • As to BPR and the other management ‘fads’ I would say there is a difference.  I see km as a horizontal thread running across the organisation; its a way of doing if you like a common sense approach to improving the sharing of what people and organisations know.  BPR et al gave no consideration to the transfer of know how from experts about to depart or how to bring people who’ve just arrived in the business up to speed as quickly as possible. Where km falls down is that it is often put into a corporate siding – the place where communications, marketing and HR don’t want to tread and as a result does not have the institutional clout that more established disciplines have.

km has been written off many times and yet as research into the evolving role of the ‘knowledge manager’ has uncovered there are still a large number of people engaged in km type activity. Even with km in their job title (and many still don’t) they are having significant impact and reach across their organizations.

Yesterday for example I received a copy of the excellent Asian Development Bank Intersections digital newsletter and was drawn to an article entitled Ahead of the curve: the long reach of short tales by the Knowledge Management Center headed by Olivier Serrat which said

In 2010, ADB embarked on its most ambitious story-driven exercise yet. It launched the ADB Sustainable Development Timeline multimedia project, which currently hosts over 11 hours of sympathetic reminiscences and expertise rendered in video from 72 ADB staff. The material is broken down into 1–5 minute snippets covering a veritable plethora of topics, e.g., communities of practice, corporate governance, gender equity, forest conservation, knowledge management, renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure, etc. But, beyond these, the interactive platform also contains short documentaries of projects shot on location, sounds, B-roll footage, animations, graphics, voice-overs, videos, statistics, photo essays, etc. The product has been warmly received, both in and outside ADB, and augurs well for ready use in staff recruitment and induction, learning and development, conferences and other events, education, and external relations.

I am looking forward to continuing this discussion when I am at the 5th International Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning Summit in Bogota in May. More on that in a later posting.