Category Archives: Culture

Day 1 KM Australia

Yesterday I was in Sydney for the first day of the KM Australia Conference. The conference is a two day event at Milson’s Point.

David Gurteen opened proceedings with an introduction extolling the benefits of conversation. David made references from Theodore Zeldin – “The kind of conversation I like is one in which you are prepared to emerge a slightly different person” and David Weinberger (Cluetrain Manifesto) – “better to understand the knowledge we already have”. The basic message is to engage, listen and learn.

The two stand out presentations today were from Nicolas Gorjestani (ex World Bank) and Pete Williams from Deloitte in Sydney.

Gorjestani focused on obstacles to change from existing mindsets, noting that cultural change at the World Bank started  in the mid-1990s with the ideal of a “knowledge bank” but that the ideal is still to be realised. That’s not to say that nothing has changed; however, change takes time and continuous encouragement.

Moreover, sometimes “unlearning” something is just as important as learning something new. Human mindsets see only some things; something that has been reinforced with me over the years with readings and presentations from people such as Dave Snowden from Cognitive Edge. Gorjestani emphasised the need to ask “what could be?” rather than “what can be?”  I imagine a few mindsets in some organisations that need a jackhammer of gargantuan proportions to shift….but that’s another story.

Pete Williams from Deloitte emphasised how existing communication tools can be used for good business outcomes. He was specifically focusing on social tools that allow connection and collaboration between individuals and teams. He informed us how Deloitte uses Yammer to share information and experiences within Deloitte. He gave many examples as to how the system was used to ask and solve problems; problems that might otherwise take much longer to solve or deal with. In a telling point about Sharepoint, Williams said this about the Microsoft product: “if I want to get a glass of water, Sharepoint wants to dig a well. Why not go to the tap that’s already there?”.

And the meaning here is that there are fabulous tools out there already to use.  So why spend time and resources building new things when it already exists, especially at such low cost? He continued by commenting that in many cases the customisation of Sharepoint from previously requested work still hasn’t been finished so how could new work be taken on board and completed in a timely manner? Indeed.

Williams also highlighted new ways to present information through mashups and through minor adjustments to existing software apps. Bamboo was a product that he mentioned that I need to investigare further. Again, Williams advocated a culture of “can do” rather than “won’t do”.

Deloitte actively encourages good ideas in many ways. They provide time and financial resources for new ideas to be tested and developed. Microfunding is available to anyone with an idea that has potential, approved by the innovation team.  In addition, Yammer is used across Deloitte to not only solve problems and respond to questions but to comment and improve upon decisions. Williams gave the example of the change from a per diem rate for expenses to actual cost recovery by individual receipts. When it was pointed out by many people that this procedure would take forever for those in consulting jobs at sites for months at a time, the CEO took this on board and changed the policy back.

All of these ideas and experiences work because of a culture of can do and of encouraging ideas for improvement. Unfortunately, many organisations prefer a command and control model where innovation is unlikely to get very far.

I look forward to hearing what speakers bring to the table on day 2.

Advertisements

On network culture

One of the interesting things about humans is their interrelationships with other people.  There are historical reasons for this based on family, tribe, and community.  Such groupings were necessary to survive.  In most human societies today, the family unit is still the foundation of people’s relationships.  Friends and the people we socialise and work are also part of the human interrelationship matrix.  And interestingly, people have relationships with characters in books and on television, they have online relationships, and they have virtual relationships in digital spaces such as Second Life.

It should therefore be self-evident that people relationships are significant in nearly all that we do.  In fact, modern humans are truly part of the networked society as a consequence of the internet and World Wide Web.  We have in fact extended the possible reach of our relationships, widened the scale of intensity of relationships (between very weak to very strong); and increased the scalability of our relationships.  So shouldn’t we now recognise the importance and value of the network culture?

In many organisations, relationships are grounded in an “old style” corporate mentality dealing primarily with direct work-based relationships, often hierarchical in form.  In most cases, the network is based on physical proximity.  However, relying only on work-based physical contacts to get one’s work done is not enough these days.  In order to get the right person with the right information at the right time, we need more than just physical proximity.  We need access and immediacy.  We get access and immediacy through our networks, often facilitated through information technology channels.

In a recent blog post by Stefan Lindegaard, called How to create a networking culture, Stefan outlines some ideas for establishing and recognising a network culture within an organisation.  Not surprisingly, this recognition starts at the top. Stefan says: “Leaders [need to] show a genuine and highly visible commitment to networking. Leaders must walk the walk, not just talk the talk. … Leaders should also share examples of their networking experiences whenever possible”.

At the practical working level, Stefan has identified the following: “People [need to be] given time and means to network. Frequent opportunities are provided to help individuals polish their personal networking skills. Not everyone is a natural networker. But almost everyone can become good at it with proper training and encouragement.   Both virtual and face-to-face networking are encouraged and supported. Web 2.0 tools and facilitated networking events maximize the opportunities people have to initiative and build strong relationships”.

Now this all makes very good sense.  Why wouldn’t organisations want to leverage individual and groups’ people networks to get things done more quickly, more efficiently, and more effectively?  Such networks are at the heart of collective intelligence and knowledge management.

Why not use all the network facilitation services available in our modern world, from coffee shops to internet and Web 2.0?  And why should there be any doubt about the value of people networks when we can see how fundamental interrelationships between people have been over time?  Network culture should no longer be revolutionary – it should be accepted organisational practice.

On open government

This evening I discovered the text of a speech by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on working smarter in government (i.e. the civil service).  Now working smarter, and leveraging what organisation’s already do more effectively,  are at the heart of good knowledge management.  The speech is much broader than simply having the civil service become more efficient – Brown outlines a vision for open government and engagement with the citizenry.  Interestingly, what Brown says about government and public engagement sounds very similar to the sentiments expressed in the Engage Report that I blogged about in my previous blog post.

In particular, Brown says: “We will ensure that people can get access to the information they need to engage in dialogue with public service professionals; and in doing so reduce bureaucratic burdens. This will drive improvements in public services, making them more personal and cost-effective, whilst at the same time strengthening democratic deliberation and giving frontline workers and voluntary organisations the freedom to innovate and respond to new demands in new ways. We are determined to be among the first governments in the world to open up public information in a way that is far more accessible to the general public … In this way people will no longer be passive recipients of services but, through dialogue and engagement, active participants – shaping, controlling and determining what is best for them.”

I applaud the sentiments expressed in this speech by Gordon Brown.  Similarly, the Engage Report in Australia says: “Engagement is the central theme of this report. It deals with the connection of people to information so that knowledge assets can be re-used to create new and often unexpected value. It deals as well with the growing opportunities for more effective collaboration with citizens in different dimensions of government – policy development, regulatory reform, program and service design”.

Yet I still have that nagging concern that public-government engagement is not what it appears.  Sure, I understand the desire to publish government content (in greater volume no doubt, but hopefully in a form that is of most value to the public).  I applaud the use of web 2.0 tools to facilitate some form of public feedback or dialogue.  I certainly understand the view that the public has a right to be informed and that government needs to become more accountable.  These are all good things and are very big steps for government to be actively pursuing.  Yet, how much of all of this is just an enormous content dump, and how much of it will be real engagement – engagement where citizens actively become involved with the workings and decsions of government departments and agencies?

Web 2.0 requires a different way of thinking.  There is more emphasis on distributed intelligence and networks rather than centralised control systems and fixed hierarchies.  Web 2.0 is not about control, but more interested in the dialogue and “the conversation”. Web 2.0 tools and applications are interactive and immediate.  And most importantly, web 2.0 thinking is the thinking of the new world environment of the 21st century so there is no excuse not to partake of the best that web 2.0 can offer.  It’s simply evolutionary organisational dynamics.

Brown in his speech goes on to say: “But if the purpose of our reforms is not only to be more efficient, but to meet future challenges and re-engineer our public services from good to great, Whitehall has to let go – and empower staff and the public to shape provision in meeting local needs and priorities” (my bold and italics).  This cultural change will not be easy.  The same issue was identified in Australia in the Engage Report – that there is a strong cultural and operational tendency within government to withhold information.  There are many reasons, some of which are spurious and others that have some legitimacy. Traditional control-based organisations in government will need to change if open government is to become a reality. But there are realistic concerns around privacy, political risk, and copyright – challenges all of which can be overcome I must say.

The challenge for open government and increasing citizen engagement with government is not the web 2.0 tools which are readily available.  The challenge is how to foster a culture of openness and collaboration in government agencies.  In addition, there may be significant resource issues around content management and web sites, records management systems, information management, and knowledge management.  The classic organisational problem, “we don’t know what we don’t know”, is no longer now just a knowledge management problem; it’s now a government-wide problem that must be overcome before open government can be effective.  However, the fundamental success factor for open government will be people-based – trust and organisational culture being pivotal.

The vision for open government espoused by UK PM Gordon Brown and in the Engage Report for Australia are commendable.  They are optimistic and challenging.  But they also offer opportunities for knowledge management to become a significant and active stakeholder in the way in which open government might unfold.  I certainly hope so.

On engaging government with web 2.0

The draft report Engage: getting on with government 2.0 has just been released.  The report is 159 pages long so it’s a fairly hefty piece of work looking at how government can better engage with the Australian public.

The sentiments within the report are good.  Open government is a nice idea but it remains to be seen whether open means “just ajar” or whether the door is really left open.  I am still to see how open government works within a political system that is essentially both protective of information and adversarial politically.  Perhaps there are some lessons from the UK government experience.  From what I hear, open government over there has caused a massive tsunami of useless information being made available at considerable expense.

Engagement is a nice idea too.  Government needs to better hear from, and collaborate with, the public.  There needs to be improved transparency and a more informed conversation between the public and government.  Online engagement will certainly be assisted if Australia ever manages to get a decent and affordable  telecommunications system.  The great Australian broadband initiative is still to come online.

One key message is for better engagement between the public and public servants. However, I sense from the report that what this engagement really means is that government departments increase information on websites to gargantuan proportions and, somehow, this plethora of “government information” is actually what people want.  Using my content management experience, I can tell you that what people use the internet for is to complete a particular task, or find out some information to complete a task, not just a casual trawl through government documents for the fun of it!

The report does talk about the web 2.0 tools and suggests that they can be used to facilitate greater engagement and interaction between the public and government.  The trouble is, for these tools to be effective they have to be placed within an information architecture and organisational culture that is not currently the norm, and in some cases completely opposed to openness and innovation.  Such conservative long-held public service cultural norms will not easily be dismantled and this will certainly limit the effectiveness of web 2.0 tools.  The tools won’t be the problem, but the operational architecture and hierarchical workforce structure of government will be inhibitors.

The online engagement strategy using public servants is also interesting.  I think this aspect will involve some major organisational cultural shifts, especially at senior levels of the public service.  Engaging online with public servants  has some pretty important ramifications. 

To start with, public servants work for the Minister first and the workplace culture is still one of protectiveness rather than openness. I’d love to see a truly open and innovative public service but I am not confident that one will emerge quickly enough to really make true public engagement count.  The notion of a public service that offers fearless and frank advice, let alone responds that way to the public, remains elusive in the current Australian political domain.

Furthermore,  there needs to be better funding of public servant agencies to allow people to allocate time to engage and respond to the public.  It’s all very well to say that government information is a public resource, but it’s people in the public service who have to find the time to provide appropriate information, and actually find and deliver the necessary information.  One only has to experience the intricacies of obtaining assistance through Centrelink, Veterans Affairs, and Health to know how difficult and time-consuming obtaining the right information can be.

There is likely to be a significant resource issue here since the technology alone will not be sufficient to really provide true levels of public-government engagement.  Perhaps the web 2.0 technologies, and some traditional web 1.0 technologies, will help governments provide a platform for engagement.  But these are only platforms.  This is why I fear that government websites will become massive dumping grounds for information rather than true portals of public-government engagement.  Plonk a trillion words and documents on a website and bingo – engagement!  It really doesn’t sound like a pathway for successful engagement to me.

There is also the issue about understanding what is required and who has the ability and capacity to find it.  As any librarian knows, the “reference interview” is sometimes difficult in any one-to-one encounter, let alone online.  In many public service agencies, these type of informal information requests come to a “library” or some “library-like function” because libraries are traditionally staffed by people whose experience is understanding the reference question and finding the resources best suited in answering the question.  Unfortunately, there is a perception in some quarters that libraries are not needed, or are not key players, within government departments.  Oddly, there are no additional resources elsewhere in government departments to undertake this kind of work, let alone by people skilled in finding, reviewing, and making quality judgements on.  Once again, I fear engagement only goes as far as a website crammed to the gunwales with information….and then sinking slowly under the weight.  Still, there might be opportunities for content managers and librarians in this area of government engagement.

The draft report also makes recommendations about privacy, security, and the “Commonwealth Record”.  Well folks, I gotta say, that many government agencies don’t have a complete understanding or proper record of the historical and current information within its own walls.  Unless there is significant investment in electronic document and records management, there can be no guarantee that government  information will be input onto a database within the organisation, let alone found and made available at the appropriate level of security and with accurate version control.  Records management and knowledge management need far greater attention in government than is currently the case.

I truly hope that the Australian government is open to many of the recommendations in the report, especially the important issues of openness and citizen engagement.  The job won’t be easy but I can say with confidence that there are plenty of information professionals – librarians, content managers, information architects, knowledge managers, records managers, information specialists, and web editors – that are keen to make the report’s message a reality if only government would give them the responsibility, the authority and resources to make it actually happen.

On communication, language and meaning

Last night I watched a movie on DVD called Where the green ants dream.  The film came out in 1984 and was directed by noted German director Werner Herzog.  I remember seeing the movie at the cinema back then and not quite fully coming to terms with the storyline.  When I saw the DVD of the movie in a shop recently, I bought it to have another look.

The film is about a land claim by a clan of Australian aboriginals of a sacred site in an area where a mining company is prospecting and drilling for uranium.  The aboriginals claim the land is sacred because it is where the green ants live until they are ready to fly east, after which the cycle of renewal begins again.  The story is couched in terms of birth, death and rebirth.  The mining company, with all their drilling and explosions, are at risk of waking and disturbing the green ants and breaking the dreamtime cycle.

The first observation about the land predicament is the difference in the explanations given by the aboriginal people and the white mining company representatives concerning the importance of the land in question.  For the aborigines, the land is a sacred symbol of life while for the white man, the land is something to be exploited and used for riches.  The meaning surrounding the same patch of land is totally different and dependant on the contextualised stories of each group – the green ant story from the aboriginals and the development and progress story of the white people.  This is a common point of difference between indigenous populations and settler groups in North America and Africa as well.

This isn’t a film review, so I just want to point out one particular scene in the film when the aboriginals and the mining company representatives are in court.  They are in court to settle ownership of the land in question.  At one point, an elderly aboriginal man stands up and walks to the witness box in the middle of another witness’s evidence.  The witness steps down and the aboriginal elder takes his place and starts to speak in his own language.  The judge is confused but sympathetic and asks if the man can speak English or whether anyone can translate.  The judge looks at his notes and identifies the elderly aboriginal man, saying “I thought this man was mute!”.

One of the other aboriginal men, one of the plaintiffs, stands and tells the judge that there is no one in the court room, or in the country, or in the world that can understand this man – he is the last living survivor of his language and that is why he is referred to as mute.

If we cannot understand what people are saying (or writing for that matter) we do not have communication. Unless somebody can translate the meaning for us, it will be as if we are mute.  In all our communications, we must try and put ourselves in the shoes of the other so that we can find the best way to ensure the meaning of our message is understood.  At the same time, when we try to put on the shoes of the other person, there will be times when we also have to look beyond just the shoes, but to consider the whole contextual environment in which those shoes have walked.  This is not always easy and usually forgotten in our rush to speak.

Without good communication in all its forms, there can be no knowledge management.

On RMAA Convention 2008 – report (3)

Who would have thought that I could make three  blog posts out of the first day of a conference? Well this is the third instalment. I will focus on three papers that dealt with electronic document and records management systems strategy and implementations.

The three presentations were delivered by Jo Stephenson (Victorian Department of Transport), Matt O’Mara (Wellington City Libraries), and Jo Golding (Eraring Energy).

Jo Stephenson detailed her experience in project managing the implementation of an EDRMS across a state government department. The focus was on the people in the strategy and this implementation. Key messages included understanding the diverse work practices and variety of information systems in use; use stories from the front line about the current unstructured information environment (and this is something I am currently collating myself in my current role to support the rest of the EDRMS strategy); listen, capture and reflect on what people are saying; understand the organisational drivers and business activities; involve people along the journey; agree on a start and an end point; communicate often and widely; and, simplify the message – save it, find it, secure it, and save it.

Jo also had some common sense advice about communicating the “what’s in it for me message?”. This is always good practice in my opinion, but too often these basic behavioural and attitudinal factors are left until the end of the implementation. If staff are only exposed to the EDRMS for the first time in training and then in a live operating environment, then people not only feel left out of the actual process but are also reluctant to embrace change based on a lack of understanding about “what’s in it for me?”. Usually, we offer compliance and governance as key drivers for user adoption. Jo recommends advocating other attributes of more direct relevance to people doing the work – for example, improve access and retrieval of documents, assist in decision-making, and saving time.

I recommend understanding the workplace behaviours and workplace needs of individuals within your particular organisation in order to give you a better understanding of where these “touchpoints” are most relevant and where there is likely to be the greatest impact.

I did ask Jo about critical success factors, especially one she mentioned on increased data storage requirements. Increasing data storage might not always indicate success in my opionion. Volume does not always equate to data quality.

Matt O’Mara spoke about implementing an information strategy. Matt only had four months in which to develop a strategy and he chose to concentrate on identifying business needs and business problems, and then looking at what solutions might be relevant and how the solutions would be enabled. I certainly agree that matching problems to solutions helps in getting senior executive interest rather than trying to win support based on records management principles alone. Matt also recommended doing a benefits analysis. In addition, Matt talked about information management maturity models (I have alluded to them in a previous post) and the use of an issues register.

I had to agree with Matt that building sound information management foundations was a critical dimension for organisational success, something that still rings true in the Web 2.0 world.

Jo Golding outlined how she approached the task of establishing an EDRMS within a major NSW energy utility. The corporate information strategy was based on three key objectives:

  • protect our information
  • decrease risk
  • effective use of business information

There was wide consultation with the different Eraring Energy sites. Jo emphasised the importantce of utilising the knowledge of the people within the organisation to discover culture (at different power generation sites), staff-organisation relations, leaders and champions, and effective rewards. Rollout and training occurred together and Jo admitted being fortunate that Eraring had compulsory training days (T-days) that she could leverage for the necessary EDRMS training and skill updates (among other channels).

The common theme that struck me was the recognition that any strategy and implementation needs to find acceptance and support within the organisation. One of the ways I have approached this kind of thing in the past has been to use informal channels to build internal relationships from which more structured and formal communication initiatives can take place. In large organisations (like giant government departments) this approach may well be impractical.

Establishing an authentic personal profile and building relationships within and between organisations helps improve the effectiveness of raising awareness and garnering participation through more formal communication channels. Moreover, marketing a service or a new workplace activity is improved by harnessing real and personal connections.

My notes reveal one final thought for further consideration: we need to see beyond information management and knowledge management within our organisations. Sure, we have discrete activities and responsibilites that fall within particular designations (as do health professionals), but we need to improve our understanding of the relationship between those knowledge and information activities, increase the depth of our networks, and leverage our skills and capabilities more effectively. I believe we are all heading in the same direction so let’s work together to make the journey more valuable.

Finally, I must thank the presenters and the attendees of the RMAA Convention 2008 whom I managed to talk with on Monday (and Professor Julie McLeod this morning at the IIM breakfast) for some stimulating thinking and discussion – all good stuff!

On digital games

In late 2006 I met up with Euan Semple over a few hot beverages at the hotel I was staying in for my London visit to Information Online. As part of our discussion, Euan recommended the book, The kids are alright, by John Beck and Mitchell Wade (actually somewhat dated now). I bought the book in Charing Cross Road and it stood on my bookshelf at home in Sydney for some time before I got around to reading it late last year.

But before I read that book, my interest in online games was stimulated by a couple of items I haphazardly found on the web and downloaded for interest. One was a 2006 article on games and learning, and the second was a podcast by Richard van Eck of the University of North Dakota (USA) on the thinking behind the effectiveness of games in teaching and learning (I listened to the podcast again this evening and it is still very relevant).

Since then, I have read quite a few more articles on the topic and I am gradually changing my previously sceptical viewpoint about digital games. Now this is quite a revelation to me since I have always had the opinion that play and games are vital for learning. When I was at primary school and in the early years of high school, I made games myself with cardboard, cards, tokens, and spin-wheels. I created characters, currencies, and problems that were developed for the board games and I did all of this for fun. Moreover, my research to make the game and the rules was also fun!

But somehow, as an adult, I have clung on to the notion that board games are good and digital games are bad (and this is despite the fact that I spent considerable time playing Galaxians during my early university years, and becoming quite proficient I might add). I have held the view that board games are “more than just fun” but digital games are just leisure, not something to take seriously.

But I am now reviewing my attitudes more and more about digital games and learning. I have become much more interested in the role of digital games within the educational domain. To a lesser extent, I am interested in understanding and using digital gaming as another form of entertainment. I’d say my lack of spare time prohibits my full exploration of digital games for fun but the prevalence and variety of such games is astounding.

Having said all this, I have some doubts as to the effectiveness of online training systems. I have completed a few workplace-based online training sessions (funnily enough, most often dealing with compliance issues) but always felt that the learning session was more interested in checking off tick-boxes rather than any meaningful learning. Essentially, the online training sessions relied on the ability to memorise a few bits of information, answer the multiple choice questions, and move on. But did I really learn anything??

When it comes to digital games I am more positive given their emphasis on problem-solving in particular. It was therefore interesting to read today that gaming can indeed be a positive learning and thinking medium, using alternate reality games (ARGs) such as World without oil. Not only does the game look at dealing with real world problems like global oil deficits, but the nature of the game is indeed very collaborative.

The article cites Andrea Phillips, an ARG writer and producer, who says that the key appeal of these games is in the art of crafting a collaborative narrative. “Collaboration in storytelling is an old tradition, even older than print,” she says. “So you could say we’re working to reclaim something we lost hundreds of years ago when we first started recording narratives with pen and paper, and later with film.”

[And interestingly, there’s a conference next week on narrative and interactive learning to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Could be worth a look to anyone living in the British Isles. I have also been alerted to the 2nd European Conference on Games-Based Learning to be held in Barcelona, Spain, in October].

Digital games as a learning media are certainly gaining some traction. As the book, “The kids are alright” argued, our doubts and fears about the online digital space in which these games are conducted need to be re-examined in the light of the positive digital gaming taking place around the world. And like most things, the good and the bad are determined by the context, not the technology.

If we can use digital games for educational learning, and to generate new ideas by examining real world problems in a collaborative environment, then we should be supportive, shouldn’t we?