Category Archives: Blogging

Plain Speaking blog comes to an end

It is one year since I lasted posted a comment on Plain Speaking.

There are many reasons as to why content was suspended during this time. Suffice to say, the time has come for this blog to come to a close.

Thank you to the many people who have helped me over the years, especially those people whom I met as a result of the Plain Speaking blog. Blogging enabled me to think through a number of issues and helped record some of the events I have attended over the years. In that regard, blogging was both a personal and social activity on issues in communication, media and knowledge management.

I anticipate creating another blog in the near future on communication, media and knowledge management under a different name and within more defined parameters. Once the new blog is created, a notification will then be made on Plain Speaking. As such this is the penultimate post, but an end nevertheless.

On communities of practice – an example

A workplace initiative at a former workplace that I am really proud of was the introduction of communities of practice (CoP’s) – I named them “Pubs”. The pubs connected people with a common interest and a common workplace need across three key business units (and some others), and across geographic space in Australia and New Zealand. I have elaborated on this before so I won’t dwell on it here.

Whilst I am not currently working on establishing CoP’s where I work now, I am still interested in hearing about other people’s experiences with these type of knowledge management activities.

I was therefore pleased to read a recent article describing CoP’s within an engineering environment. Allow me to quote at length the relevant example of interest:

Schlumberger Ltd, a company involved in the gas and energy exploration industry, provides a useful example. A knowledge management system called Eureka links technical experts in its Oilfield Services unit into communities of practice. It is through these communities of practice that relevant tips, tricks, and conceptual understanding are shared. Engineers, regardless of location, can access the collective knowledge of their peers within the company. Each technical expert within Schlumberger has two organizational “homes”—the formal, rational, hierarchically sanctioned home that corresponds to a position on a chart, and the Eureka technical community, the informal, natural, horizontally linked network of peers who share a common interest, goal, or passion regarding what they do to create wealth for the corporation.”

The notion of a formal and informal “system” of knowledge exchange and knowledge distribution is where significant potential exists for organisational knowledge sharing and knowledge rearticulation. I also like the notion of “home” – a safe place in which to have open and frank discussions. I hope that is the case at Schlumberger.

I believe that CoP’s still have a part to play in good knowledge management activities, despite the popularity of blogs and wikis. I am pleased to read that other organisations are finding value in CoP’s as well.

And, talking about value, Patrick Lambe recently blogged about CoP value as an extension of a discussion on the act-km listserv – a discussion in which I also participated. Ascribing value is always important – how the people at Schlumberger do it would be of interest. The challenge is in presenting CoP “value” to management in a way that delivers meaningful and relevant quantitative AND qualitative information in a form that management is happy to accept and understand.

And the more CoP success stories I hear about, then all the better!

On blog action day 2008 poverty

The 15th October was blog action day for poverty. I was away in Canberra yesterday on more mundane things like knowledge management and the act-km conference (more details in a later post). However, I still wish to highlight the awareness raising hopes of blog action day for poverty with this post.

The UN reports that “the World Bank has revised upward its estimates of the number of the world’s poor from nearly 1 billion to 1.4 billion, drawing on new data that indicates that poverty is more widespread across the developing world than previously thought”. You can also check out the Human Development Report for more facts and figures.

The facts and figures reveal the magnitude of the poverty crisis in the developing world. But of course, here in Australia, we have poverty as well.  Poverty affects Indigenous communities and is largely responsible for the gap in life expectancy between white Australians and Indigenous people.

Since I work for an international development agency in Australia, The Fred Hollows Foundation, I can say with certainty that every contribution makes a significant difference to people whose lives are deeply affected by blindness and vision impairment in developing countries.

Take Simila in Kenya for example. Her mother had to stay at home and couldn’t work or do many of the households tasks for her family. Her daughter, Simila, often had to stay at home and help her mother instead of going to school. By missing out on school, Simila’s level of education is affected that can limit her working opportunities in the future. Children having to stay at home to look after family members because of blindness is a real problem in many developing countries.

Often, with a simple sight-restoring operation, people like Simila’s mother can obtain new-found independence that not only makes a difference to the individual, but to the rest of her family and often the community at large as well. Simila can return to school and look forward to an education, something she is keen to pursue if her dream of becoming a doctor is to be realised.

And vision impairment in developing countries affects a whole range of factors that can contribute to poverty and the poverty cycle. Blind people in developing countries find it extremely difficult to find work and get a regular income. Even working in the fields or with livestock is difficult. No income makes it difficult for families to buy the food they need, pay for school education and materials, and get proper health care. Poverty can exacerbate blindness because health care and preventable treatments can’t be accessed. Poverty can lead to blindness through disease, poor nutrition and poor sanitation.

The recently concluded Cataract Impact Study makes the following observation about the link between vision impairment and poverty and the difference cataract surgery alone can make:

“The results, which were remarkably consistent across countries, showed a marked increase in quality of life after surgery, an increase in activities both in and outside the home, better relationships and an increase in household expenditure. This study strongly suggests that the downward spiral of poverty experienced by people who are blind can be halted or even reversed by modern high quality cataract surgery”.

Poverty is indeed a huge issue. We can make a difference ourselves. We can help by donating to international development agencies, like The Fred Hollows Foundation, lobbying governments to support the UN Millennium Development Goals, and through raising awareness and commitment from people in Australia and all around the world. Blog action day – poverty is part of that crusade.

And as part of The Foundation’s comitment to raising awareness, have a look at the Anti-Poverty Week activities as part of our schools-based community education services from our getfcused web site. We will continue this education campaign with primary schools until 14th November.

On back into the swing of things

I am back to the blogosphere from the two week distraction of the Olympic Games and a week sick with the ‘flu. The paraolympics are coming up next and I shall be watching them keenly. But I can safely say that I will also find the time to give some attention to this blog.

Quite a few interesting things to report on in the next couple of days….

On the value of online communities and social networking

I was alerted today to this blog post from ReadWriteWeb on social networking. The blog post cites some media commentary on a study that says that social networking is a waste of money. The report is based on a survey of over 100 US businesses. Despite spending millions of dollars, the companies could see little tangible benefit from their investments. Much of the disappointment reflected the fact that the numbers of community members weren’t into the tens of thousands, a metric I am not really supportive of to define success for online communities.

Without seeing the complete study, I am not aware of the specifics of the report and its conclusions. However, what I can comment on is that social networking is not about technology – it’s about people. If a corporation wants to spend $1 million on social networks without understanding what social networking is about, and how and why people should be engaged, then it will simply fail. It should come as no surprise that developing online communities without focusing on the people is a recipe for disappointment.

I am often perplexed that companies still don’t understand social networks and communities. Is it because company management employ “workers” rather than “human beings”? Does management not see that social interaction happens all around them and that much of what is work today in the West is knowledge work based on working with other people? Is the social connection not clear here?

Companies really need to understand what they are trying to achieve and how social networking will work before embarking on costly high-tech investments. These days you can have a social network pretty much at no cost.  Have a look at what you can do on Facebook or Ning, for example. There are of course more sophisticated solutions if that’s what is required by the people in the online community. I am not convinced such high-tech costly solutions are always necessary.

The ReadWriteWeb blog post also identified that technology was not the answer but added that developing a social network around a product -especially cat litter – might not be the best approach.

In terms of product communities, I am not so dismissive. I believe that it is possible to successfully run online communities around products – perhaps not all products! However, the challenge here is in making engagement with people in the online communities authentic, and not just another vehicle for digital junk advertising and marketing-speak. Phony communities promoting particular products are even worse!

There must be some thinking around why people would want to be involved in your product community and how the company will engage and interact with that community. Above all, what is the purpose of the social networking interaction for the consumer, how will the company respond, and how will the consumers in the online community and the company benefit?

Dell has an online community. IdeaStorm is part of that community. IdeaStorm allows consumers to interact with the Dell company, offer suggestions and feedback, give opinions and value ratings, and generally provide a communication channel into the company. It’s even possible to get real-time interaction these days using Twitter!

Dell has recognised the importance of engaging with people on the web. As Lionel Menchaca from Dell said in a podcast from the SXSW Interactive Conference 2008, conversations about Dell products are happening on the web and in the blogosphere anyway so it is important for companies to be involved in the conversation. Establishing a community forum is a good way of doing that.

Participating and listening to the conversation is where there is enormous value for companies. Social networking plays a positive role in engaging with consumers and using the power of the network to generate and stimulate ideas and discussion.

It really is the people who count.

On possibly an announcement from WordPress

A couple of months ago WordPress started adding automatically generated links to the bottom of the comments section on WordPress blogs. WordPress calls them “possibly related posts”. The rationalisation was that these automatically generated links gave the commenter or comment viewer the option of seeing similar blogging posts from WordPress bloggers. The idea seems to make sense, based on the options one has on Youtube and Amazon (although I have more faith in Amazon than the others).

However, I have noticed some interesting links popping up at the foot of my comment sections. My post yesterday generated a couple of comments and so the automatically generated links were added by WordPress, one to a site on rude cartoons. Now I am definitely not prudish, but I didn’t really feel that such a site was really appropriate to the kind of stuff I want to talk about and the tone of my own blog.

By inference, these links are associated with me and the character and content of my own blog. I have no control over what automatically generated sites WordPress chooses to associate with my blog. I have no say over whether the content is appropriate, according to my standards. WordPress and their monkeys at Sphere determine these links using a “document genome” to do the link matching (sounds exciting, doesn’t it?).

The other issue is that maybe I don’t want my readers traipsing away from my site to explore these automatically generated links. I may want the readers of my comment section to stay on my blog and browse the rest of the site’s content without being drawn away by possibly related posts. And “possibly related” hardly fills me with great confidence that the linked blog posts have any commonality at all.

Furthermore, I can see how this particular automatically generated linking feature could be extended into the realm of advertising, akin to Google ads. How much of any revenue stream will be made by WordPress and how much by the bloggers? I’d be interested in hearing if WordPress is looking at commercialising the automatically generated links to make advertising available in this manner.

Now I want to give WordPress a chance with their automatically generated links to other WordPress blogs. I do believe in serendipity and I do think that cross-linking with other blogs on similar topics is an interesting feature (although doesn’t a blogroll perform the same or similar function?). WordPress said that they are looking at “tweaking” the results to your liking so this is a move in the right direction.

WordPress does allow the automatic linking feature to be switched off all together. I will monitor the automatically generated links more closely in the coming weeks and decide how useful or distracting these links turn out to be. I want to give WordPress a chance but I am annoyed at the lack of control I have as to the relevance and appropriateness of the automatically generated content.

I am playing “wait and see” for the moment.

On my new job

I start my new full-time job at the Fred Hollows Foundation tomorrow. I will be in charge of the information, knowledge management and education unit of the organisation. I am really looking forward to working back in the NGO sector and in international development. It will also make my involvement in KM4dev and Society for International Development more relevant.

It’s sort of a full circle for me since my first full-time job was working for an international development NGO, Australian Freedom From Hunger Campaign (AFFHC). That was quite some ago, but it feels like yesterday!

There will be some differences for me though, having worked in the Sydney CBD for most of my working life, and now working out in the suburbs. The organisation will also be different to me, having working in the banking and finance industry for almost twenty years.

The new position combines my personal interests and professional skills very well and this match really appealed to me when considering my working options. I look forward to the new challenges with the Fred Hollows Foundation and helping to make a real difference beyond just the organisational borders.

I hope to relate some of my experiences and observations in this new workplace context through more regular blog postings – so stay tuned!