how to draw on the experience of others: OpenSpace Peer Assist

Last week I attended the 12th annual Knowledge Management UK event in London.

The format has changed little over the years: predominantly show and tell for IMG_3607an audience that is a mix of new in post and established mid level practitioners all looking for something to take back into their business.

This year I noted an increase in the average age of the delegates and more from Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector perhaps reflecting how KM has become an accepted discipline across many organisations. I am particularly looking forward to seeing the feedback comments this year.

I only attended Day One, my colleague Martin White was presenting on Knowledge Collaboration in Virtual Teams on Day Two (I know he will have a few comments to add). Suffice here to give a shout for a couple of the presentations which struck a chord:

Culture Change in bentley motors to facilitate information sharing

Bentley CultureI particularly liked this Bentley Motors presentation as it mirrored my experience helping to intergrate a group of Anglo / Dutch / German / US businesses a decade ago. Now part of VAG group it has embarked on a medium term programme to align itself with their aspirations and working practices without a loss of the perception of quality.

The Hofstede findings when looking at German and UK characteristics pick up nicely where the potential Hofstede country comparisonareas of conflict were likely to be.

The premise behind the programme: information sharing requires the right cultural environment not a set of slloed business units.

building a minimum viable product: Oxfam

This session provided a great illustration of the importance of working to an agreed vision for a KM programme.

OxfamThe slide I’ve picked here makes explicit the concept of get/give – if you benefit from something you have a responsibility to contribute something back in return.

Its a great example of what being a knowledge driven business is truly about.

The second slide provides an image of what collaboration will look like in Oxfam Futurethe future at Oxfam. What’s really interesting is the explicit acknowledgement of the need for information underpinnings (including Search) to provide KM benefits.

There were a couple of others and if anyone wants a truncated account follow this hashtag #KMUK2015.

OpenSpace Peer Assist

My brief was to run an interactive closing session (lasting 1 hour) that enabled the delegates to answer:

  • What problems are you facing?
  • In what areas would you like to share your experience with others?
  • What are others doing that you would like to find out more about?

Typical problemsAs a backdrop I shared this list to stimulate discussion.

It wasn’t needed as many of the delegates were keen to have their challenge discussed and half a dozen volunteers came forward offering to act as the Assistee (host the discussion around their challenge).


Having decided which challenge each delegate wanted to discuss, these guidelines were put up:Peer Assist Process

Below is a snapshot of the discussions taken from summaries which Laura Brooke of Ark Group  captured on her smart phone.

The idea of getting the Assistee to summarise is to consolidate the discussions and reflect back in plenary. I’ve shared them in case some of these might help you to overcome a challenge.

Knowledge Capture In a Legal environment

  • On getting people to talk about experiences: Documents don’t work, stories of events do!
  • On conducting After Action Reviews and getting people to acknowledge when things go wrong: often spoken about in meetings but minutes are not always taken and when they are they are not interactive so need a better way to record.
  • Asking someone to tell you what they know won’t work, instead ask them: What questions do you get asked all the time?  If you don’t know what people know at least you should know who to go and ask?
  • Challenge of self perceptions: Some people think they know a lot others don’t think they know anything important which is where a 3rd party might come in to tease out the valuable stuff.
  • Where to store: If you put everything into a site it would be too much. SharePoint to apply an automatic taxonomy.

how to measure real value on km and learning from experience

  • Saving time: at the beginning of the journey take an estimate of time to be saved and OpenSource Peer Assistmeasure throughout.  Help to develop people faster.  If KM is making a contribution on a project that should be recorded.
  • Improving the onboarding process so that new hires do not lose interest and leave.
  • Idea box (self funding): adopted by an expert, any returns should be applied back to KM.
  • Managing records: looking at information that has gone past sell by date and not legally required.
  • Why are we asked about KM value: should be a given that its needed.

system adoption

  • Practical examples of what’s in it for me tailored for each office.
  • Huge challenge getting people to fill in profiles on a people finder: need to show good examples with leaders to the fore.
  • Collaborative groups: form a community among the leaders of each.
  • Contributions to the system: change appraisal process to recognise the contributions.
  • Steering Group: make better use of it as system advocate.
  • Metrics: really good internal measures should be used for advertising.
  • When all else fails shut down the other systems!

How to get leaders to take km more seriously

  • While senior people understand the value they don’t back it financially.
  • Siloed approach to communications: – a set of inconsistent messages even from KM champions.
  • While KM is part of a strategy its often seen as a tick box exercise.
  • Accountability: make objectives more transparent.
  • Business Case: more analysis on where we are starting from and show tangible stuff.
  • Reporting lines: KM should be an agenda item on senior level meetings just like risk!

Engaging with it

  • Make them heroes part of the vision for future which they jointly own and where their role is clear.
  • Recognise their workload and surface their inability to deal with multiple objectives with current resources.
  • Reaffirm the importance of the KM development strategy and its priority.
  • Look at success in other organisations: take IT ‘guys’ along to other organisations who have made it work.

what the participants said

Here’s a few of the comments from the Assistees and Assistors (names removed to preserve anonymity):

“Peer assist is a very powerful tool to deliver”
“I very much enjoyed being able to discuss a particular challenges with a group of peers.

Interesting to hear others’ view points and ideas and the types of challenges they face”
“Very good speaker – Style of session was very useful and interesting, more like this please!”
“Engaging, fun, informative – learned a lot from the session”
“Very good peer assist. I got a few ideas generated by the group for my situation”

and finally

Perhaps what surprised me the most was the show of hands I got to the question:

A Peer assist is a process that enables the gathering of knowledge drawn from the experiences of colleagues before embarking on a project or piece of work, or when facing a specific problem or challenge within a piece of work – How many of you have used Peer Assists in your business?

Less than 10% put up their hands.  Even with a modesty factor it still means less that 25% of Knowledge Management professionals at the event had used one of the most basic and valuable tools to draw on the experiences of others.  I’m glad I gave people the chance to try it out and learn from each other in so doing to solve real problems they are facing.


My chairman’s presentation looking at a decade of KMUK: the importance of managing for serendipity

It took me a while to think about what I was going to say to the first full house KMUK has enjoyed for many years as I detect a palpable sense of excitement among the organisers.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been at Social Business events in Lisbon and London and came away feeling that the phenomenal adoption of collaborative social technologies and the clever use of Big Data has the propensity to fuel the resurgence of Knowledge Management.

We live in a world now where: Philips have the ability to log when any light bulb is being switched on and where; testimonials and consumer recommendations (on sites such as Trip Advisor) are the most trusted form of advertising & marketing; the art of sales is about a long tail engagement (consumers publicly telling family and friends what they’ve done and bought); and in effect, performance improvements come from making the invisible visible. All of these characteristics are likely to be found in a knowledge driven organisation.

Its  reaffirmed in my mind: the importance of personal contact and facilitation; a  need to be clear about why this critical knowledge ‘stuff’ is being captured and harvested; the importance of the right environment (and culture); and the idea of focusing on Ambassadors / Champions especially in global organisations.

the address

Good morning and welcome to the 10th anniversary event of KMUK. I said in the event flyer that I thought there was a stellar speaker line up with MAKE winners and some of the most influential thought leaders in the Knowledge Management space.

Over the next two days you are also going to have the opportunity of spending time with your peers as well as engaging directly with the speakers in the breaks and at the speaker clinics. And for the first time at KMUK the opening Keynote will have two carefully selected respondents.

It promises to be an interesting and stimulating two days: a number of the speakers will be using KMUK as the launch event for ideas, techniques and groundbreaking partnerships.

There is a twitter hash tag KMUK and Ark will be consolidating all of the tweets into a Storify record of the event.

Back to 2003

It being the 10th anniversary, I want to take you back a decade to the last KM Europe held in the UK at Alexandra Palace in 2003. Many people wrote blog posts about the keynote speech. I’ve selected a few quotes:

  • …much of our current knowledge management practice is being locked into content management,
  • …we are all engaged in a constant process of sense-making, where we try to find the best available explanation for something based on previous experience rather than the perfect logical solution. This is why he favours “narrative management” and story-telling as more appropriate vehicles for knowledge sharing than replicating best practice
  • Conventional Knowledge Management has been too concerned with codifying explicit knowledge to aid replication, and with using categorisation (where we construct data around a framework), rather than exploration (where we construct frameworks around the data).
  • innovation springs from emergence in complex systems, which means that we should be “managing for serendipity” by creating the conditions for creative innovation to emerge.

Again it’s worth returning to what was said back in 2003

  • Too many people focus on managing knowledge rather than managing the channels through which knowledge flows. Just connecting or linking people can be a major knowledge management activity.
  •  … new tools now allow us to telescope five to six years of social networking down to five or six weeks, albeit with less  density. Such programmes aim to create linkages where no linkage currently exists and are particularly useful during re-organisations and activities such as merger and acquisition.
  • Attempts to engineer a network through design and allocation of staff to groups generally fail as they create artificial relationships that are not  sustainable. Self selecting social network stimulation replicates, but in a shorted timescale, a natural process.

At that event horizontal km software vendors were much in evidence as they had been at all of the previous ones.

  • Intranets were into their 2nd wave, people were struggling with enterprise search, decentralized publishing and SharePoint, some 2 years on from its launch, was competing with other document management systems and had yet to achieve the ubiquitous enterprise status it has today wherein in many in senior management say ‘we do km, we have SharePoint!
  • Android Inc was being founded and would become the largest mobile operating system inside a decade mirroring the dramatic growth of mobile smart phones.
  • WordPress too was launched bringing self-publishing to the masses. It has recently been the beneficiary of an exodus from Tumblr following its acquisition by Yahoo – more of them and Marissa Meyer later.
  • IBM were undertaking a 72 hours ValuesJam, for all employees in a debate about the very nature of the company and what it stood for.
  • The 2nd Gurteeen Knowledge Management conference was taking place – its themes: ‘knowledge, networking and communities’. And it was all about conversation. One delegate’s key soundbite: “Knowledge is not something you keep in your head, it’s a behaviour”’
  • In 2003 the book Knowledge Asset Management was published. It recognized critical knowledge as an asset to be nurtured.
  • Also that year my colleagues and I at Sparknow were using the traditional techniques of a postcard as a prompt to ask delegates at KM Europe about their work spaces and what the new virtual world would do to the traditional office and ways of working. We collected but never published a number of very insightful comments.

when space matters – looking at workspace

So since in my view worPostcard front coverkspace (physical and virtual) plays a critical role in all things Knowledge Management we decided to repeat the exercise a decade on and asked the speakers if they’d take first stab at answering the same half a dozen questions.

Postcard page oneI’ve collated their responses and contrasted them with some of those we had in 2002/3.  The report is available on line along with the conference proceedings. It would be great if you could add to the body of work by filling in your own and putting them up on the wall.

KMUK 2013

Social vs. Knowledge Management

You are going to hear a lot about community, collaboration, culture and change. Also context, champions, conversation and communication. Your challenge over the next two days is to work out when and how to harness the array of social tools and use them in context/ tandem with other initiatives. Here’s a really interesting and recent extract from a Gartner blog post:

  • Knowledge management is what the company tells me I need to know based on what they think is important.
  • Social media is how my peers show me what they think is important based on their experience in a way that I can judge for myself

Knowledge should be like water — free flowing and permeating down and across your organization filling the cracks, floating good ideas to the top, lifting everyone in the organization.

Knowledge management, in practice, reflects a hierarchical view of knowledge to match the hierarchical view of the organization.  Knowledge may originate anywhere in the organization, but under knowledge management it is channeled and gathered together in a knowledge base (cistern) where it is distributed based on a predefined set of channels, processes and protocols.

Social media looks chaotic in comparison. There is no predefined index, no prequalified knowledge creators, no knowledge managers, ostensibly little to no structure.

Where an organization has a roof, gutters and cistern to capture knowledge, a social media organization has no roof allowing the rain to fall directly into the house collecting in puddles wherever they happen to form.  That can be quite messy and organizations abhor a mess.

Last week I was an invited guest at the Dachis Group’s Social Business Summit.  A month previously I’d been helping to run a similar event in Lisbon at which social vendors presented their wares to a fictitious company.

Both events threw up so many crossover points with Knowledge Management and I shared a number of the tweets on the #KMUK twitter site. Here are a few sound bites to reflect on as you are thinking about it

  • Social interaction accounts for 50% of the performance of the team We are now consuming more content generated by each other than generated by media companies
  • Brands are a natural community of people identifying with each other, with a shared set of belief /Advocates are the ‘tribe’ who need motivation/incentives. – Employees are the most important and need empowering to do so
  • social helps to drive savings where knowledge management comes in’

The two that stood out for me and reappear as a theme this afternoon

  • A dead sale is one that’s not shared.  People must be incentivized to share.
  • Who can add value to the data?  Data will tend to migrate to where it will be most effective.

Paul J Corney

For KMUK June 2013

future of work: ‘cooperation not collaboration…’: takeaways from SocialNow Lisboa 2013

Ana Neves

Ana Neves

I’ve been in Lisboa at SocialNow 2013.

It’s a unique format event, the brainchild of Ana Neves, wherein social tool vendors present their products to a to the senior management (expert panel) of a fictitious company (CableInc) in the presence of an interested audience.

Expert Panel

Expert Panel


Here are my favourite tweets:

And a few tweets from me:

  • @stoweboyd idea of future archetypes compelling. World of tomorrow: Freelancers, Generalist, Followers and Cooperators


    Archetypes of Future Workers








It being Portugal where food and wine are essential for networking it had to be first class and it was – this is the Day Two lunch menu!


Day Two lunch menu

If you’d like to see the #socialnow twitter streams I consolidated them into a Storify account which you can find here.

knowledge management is dead but it won’t lie down: a 10 year review of a KIM initiative

In the past few months I’ve heard talk of a resurgence in knowledge management.  km conferences are once again burgeoning; the UK’s Civil Service now has knowledge & information management as one of 22 recognised professions; last week while in Portugal I learned that the legal industry is now km aware; and many of my peers in the industry are finding themselves busier than ever providing advice to help organisations set up km initiatives across the globe.

One downside of providing external advice and assistance to organisations is that you are not always around to see the outcomes of your work especially when its  knowledge and information management related.  Occasionally you get the chance to get back under the covers and see how clients have implemented km style tools and techniques.

back under the covers

Such an opportunity took place at the end of December when I went back to the 7th largest global reinsurance broker (BMS) to see Phil Hill the Chief Information Officer I first worked alongside in 2001.

Reinsurance brokers are arbitrageurs: they place risk on behalf of large global organisations. They use knowledge of a client’s specific needs and apply that to find the best market to take the risk. They must know about clients and markets and manage relationships in both.

At the turn of the Millennium BMS was a top ten broker with aspirations to grow internationally and make better use of the combined knowledge of its dozen or so operating entities. It was dipping its toe into the document, records and information management waters and attempting to provide a technological backbone to support a growing demand for relevant and timely information. It had a very embryonic intranet.

Today BMS has broadened its business focus; it has expanded beyond reinsurance into underwriting working with a number of trusted partners. And it has focused much of its activity on building US based business development and transactional processing capability.  Seamless connectivity and access to internal and external information on clients, markets and BMS’ own resources are support prerequisites.

So how has it managed this transition and what are the significant milestones in its journey that has seen it become one of the most admired and technologically advanced practitioners in the market? One that is:

  • at the forefront of electronic placement; is regularly up for awards for innovation;
  • whose CIO Phil is a frequent and sought after speaker and panellist on industry platforms?

BMS is now an institution where joiners get a preloaded iPad with 24×7 access to the latest global and internal information as well as the ‘big data’ (catastrophe modelling in BMS’ case) that has become must have software in the insurance/reinsurance industry.

a decade reviewed

In the 2001 knowledge and information audit I conducted I noted that:

  • More than 60% of all items saved on the common H drive had been put in the ‘miscellaneous’ folder; there was no common terminology about how documents were to be named or catalogued; and no central place to find information on markets and clients.
  • As was common around that time there was limited collaboration between the various businesses and as a result potential for pursuing the same clients.
  • New joiners relied on traditional role shadowing and a tour of the building (s) to get up to speed.
  • BMS was spread out across a couple of locations and on different floors in a building at Aldgate which discouraged informal interactions.
  • Recognition of the concept of critical knowledge assets was a long way off and the words knowledge management dismissed as being jargon.  Busy people at the business end had no real interest in filing documents let alone thinking about how they might be reused; even in 2001 everyone expected the system to do it for them and the idea of ‘drag and drop’ from one platform to another was still in its infancy.

The shocking events of 9/11 in the US provided the ‘burning platform’ moment for a change in attitudes. Everyone wanted up to date consolidated news and opinion. The Intranet, website and content management system were approved as a combined project and with my assistance the newly formed Marketing & Communications (Marcoms) Team set about creating BMS Today and building up a cadre of volunteers willing to help identify the critical knowledge and information that should be captured and stored.

A definition or aim for the system emerged:

adopting a publish once use many basis provide a one screen view of activity with clients and the markets in which they operate and a central hub for knowledge and information on the organisation and its operations.

Here’s what BMS Today eventually became:

Intranet Home Page

Corporate Calendar

Though at the cutting edge of intranets BMS Today was not enough. The Marcoms team needed to go further to encourage knowledge sharing so concurrent with a relocation to One America Sq they began a series of Learn@Lunch and Breakfast Briefings aimed at showcasing different aspects of the business.

Still collaboration was a distant objective though the move to One America Square in 2008 did throw up an interesting opportunity to introduce social media.  One of the team (who been enrolled on a journalist programme) was deployed among the builders and fitters on site to provide a regular ‘blog from the battlements’.  Widely read at the time it provided an insight into life at the soon to be occupied premises and a metaphorical bridge to help people acclimate to the new surroundings.

One America Square enabled BMS to plan collaborative physical spaces in which to hold breakfast briefings and learn@lunch sessions. There was a lot of discussion about the efficacy of such a space.  ‘Connexions’ as it became known was a hub for meetings and with a business lounge in close proximity it enabled serendipitous meetings at the coffee machine (and water cooler) to continue in a relaxed but more formal setting.Connexions 600x400

And of course the best coffee, subsidized snacks and rapid internet access were made available to encourage traffic to the site and make external visitors feel welcome.

changing focus & new technologies

A change of focus combined with the arrival of disruptive technology proved a challenge and an opportunity. The broking teams needed improved access to information on the move and an easy way to demonstrate the modelling systems that enable risk to be better evaluated. But technology costs and the benefits of investment are not always easy to quantify. So CIO Phil (aided and abetted by Philip Gibson of Sparknow) used a traditional storytelling technique and the idea of developing a set of personae as a way of illustrating what BMS’ world might look like in a few years time if some technological improvements were introduced. Here’s an extract from one of the scenarios:

Jade Thompson is 35 and has worked in the London Market for 14 years. She has agreed to join BMS as a senior underwriter, moving on from one of the big managing agents. She wants to work for a company that really supports her initiative and drive – not one that swaddles her in red tape.

The week before Jade joins, she receives at home via courier a package from BMS.

Inside she finds an iPad, with a BMS logo with the slogan: “Using clever technology”. There’s also an iPhone, also with a BMS logo and her name.

She reads the attached note, welcoming her to BMS and giving her the logon and password information she needs to use the equipment. “Wow!” she says to herself, “this is great – they really know how to make you feel special.” Jade switches on the iPad and logs on as instructed. There‘s an icon on the first screen, “Welcome”. Touching the icon starts a video of the CEO welcoming her to the company. Various members of the board and HR provide insights into BMS and what she might expect in her first few days.

There is also a pointer to other information on the iPad, such as all aspects of the induction procedure including health and safety. Thrilling, she thinks to herself…

This scenario has come to fruition thanks to the investment in technology (in this case iPads) made by the BMS board which has continued to support further development on BMS Today and a decade on, this is where many of the ideas and initiatives outlined above merge.

BMS Box Office Soon all 9 BMS offices will be able to log into the new intranet irrespective of domicile. It will meet the original aim of providing a one screen view of all activity with a client as well as providing real time access to the latest social media applications and real time information.

Submission to the corporate document storage system is a simple drag and drop process that recognises and acknowledges peoples preference for an Outlook Mail style filing BMS Searchstructure. ‘Stuff’ can be easily located via a search engine that accesses all operating systems via iPads which permit electronic placement.



The team and I drew on techniques found in business development, communications, marketing, information and project management, engagement, facilitation as well as knowledge management to provide an infrastructure and ways of working that formed a backdrop to the continued expansion and development of the business.

Many who work in the knowledge & information arena would recognise most of the above activities, its what they do on a regular basis.  Yet at no point during the years I worked alongside the team at BMS was km used as a phrase or established as a discipline.

That a decade on BMS is thriving is an illustration that km by any name takes time but has value.

And finally by way of acknowledgement I should mention the names of those people with whom I worked most closely during my time as Advisor.  They were from BMS: Phil Hill, CIO; Roger Cooper, COO; Jeff Martin, Director; Anne-Marie Hawtin, Manager; and John Spencer Former CEO. From Intranet Focus: Martin White, CEO.