Three information projects about to start at AusAID

It’s quite an interesting time in my workplace at the moment. I have three big projects about to commence.

The first is the information seeking behaviour project. I will be working with Optimice to investigate the information seeking behaviour of selected areas of staff within the organisation. I am looking to discover how people use knowledge objects and people to find information and knowledge using their everyday information seeking behaviour.  I hope to understand how people currently get the information they need to do their jobs and be informed as to what is going on. I can then determine how the library and information service needs to respond – what services can be improved, what services could be dropped, and what knowledge gaps there are that my team could try to fill. The project is of interest to other areas of AusAID as well – records management, internal communications, and the online team to name but three. I have the first meeting with Optimice in Sydney on Friday.

The second project I am working on with my team is the library management system upgrade. We use SirsiDynix and will migrate from the Horizon system to the new Symphony system. It’s taken longer than I anticipated to get all the approvals in place just for this system upgrade. Hopefully we will have everything ready to go shortly. In the meantime, we are looking at the positive and negative aspects of library catalogues and GUI’s. We are also hoping to establish country and subject-based portals within Symphony to better reflect our wide ranging content sources.

The third project we are working on is Yammer. We would like to officially pilot Yammer as a tool for sharing information and knowledge with selected groups within the organisation. Yammer is a useful web-based tool that we see plenty of great opportunities to use for internal collaboration and information sharing beyond group emails. We are currently going through the technical and security procedures to get formal permission to set up official pilot projects. I know Yammer is used by UNICEF. I understand that some Australian government departments may use Yammer and I’d be very interested to hear from their experiences. The oft-preferred Govdex just doesn’t cut it in terms of functionality and ease of use. 

While these projects will take shape in the coming weeks, I also have a nice little detour to take next week when I fly to the US to attend the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference in Austin, Texas. I am paying for much of the travel but work is chipping in for the actual conference. I am looking forward to hearing some great presentations and talking with other information professionals during the course of the event. If you’ll be there, make sure you try and find me for a chat.

All up, some pretty exciting times coming up in the next couple of months.


5 responses to “Three information projects about to start at AusAID

  1. Re: Yammer

    There are lot of people out there experimenting with Yammer and similar enterprise microblogging platforms, including people across different levels of the Australia government – you’ll even find plenty of people talking about their experiences if you go looking and I know that Yammer are keen to support people get the most out of their platform. In terms of your peers, you probably just need to start asking around.

    I do hope you manage to convince your agency to support the use of the different interfaces that Yammer supports – e.g. desktop widget, mobile etc. I think that really adds to the utility.

    Also, don’t forget the network effect… pilots are good, but its wide scale adoption that crosses organisational silos where you’ll start to see emergent benefits.

    BTW To be fair, GovDex (Atlassian Confluence) isn’t comparable to Yammer, although it does support the concept of status updates in the later versions of that platform.

    Good luck!

    • James,

      The opportunity to experiment inside government is much less an option than in the private sector. Undertaking a pilot is pretty much a base requirement, but that’s only after significant and time-consuming approval processes and checks have been made. Even then the fear of “something going wrong” remains pervasive. In government, I find that dealing with risk is an absolute, while in the private sector it is much more measured.
      The management and organisational contexts between the private sector and government are different. You definitely need plenty of patience and fortitude if you want to make a positive difference with your work in the government sector.

      • Yes, government – particularly Federal agencies – can be very risk adverse, to the point of analysis paralysis. However, they’ve been earlier adopters of microblogging. Back in December, Yammer reported that there were at least 110 Australian agencies now using Yammer – with a total of around 13,000 users – see Craig Thomler’s post here – however, its interesting that Craig concludes with this point:

        “The Yammer example indicates to me that many public service knowledge workers want to keep improving their performance and agency productivity.

        Clearly they aren’t sitting back and waiting until ICT or senior managers are able to assess whether staff could be more productive with a particular tool. Public servants are going out and finding the tools themselves.”

      • James,
        I can assure you I am not one to sit back and wait for things to happen! However, whilst many of us in the public service want to experiment and trial new things (and not always IT solutions) to help us to do our jobs better, the practical reality (at least in my experience) is that “proper procedures” and “risk assessments” are “musts”. I fully understand it’s part of the controlling nature of risk-averse hierarchical organisations.
        One must be careful to take an approach that is most likely to work in the specific organisational context, no matter what our personal professional experiences might indicate to the contrary. Or, as I have been advised in the past, “we don’t want any surprises!”, which is pretty funny really when you work for an international aid agency that needs to handle all manner of surprises, from natural disasters to political footballing over funding for Indonesion schools!

  2. Actually, I agree that taking your time to design how you will engage with new social tools is a good thing. The viral process works well to begin with, but can fail as you try to make their use sustainable with your second wave users. And yes, there are risks and dealing with them pro-actively is much better – I was involved with developing a Web 2.0 Technical
for the Gov 2.0 Taskforce – its in the appendix of the Toolkit Blueprint document here

    However, generally speaking there does appear to be a disconnect between top-down and bottom-up effort in government agencies at all levels, because of the ease of access to publicly hosted services. It will be interesting to see how many people are already signed up in your AusAID yammer network once the project gets the formal go ahead!

    Incidentally, the experience of the floods in Queensland appears to have had a profound impact on the attitude of agencies there on the role and risks of social technologies.

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