Category Archives: Geography

On experiencing context

I want to talk about experiencing context.  I want to investigate what it means to experience something that is really going on rather than what is supposed to be going on.  I want to see what happens in practice as distinct to what the theory might suppose.

I am reading the classic book on urban planning by Jane Jacobs, called The death and life of great American cities.  As a lapsed economic geographer, I am always drawn to the intersection between economics and space and how in practice these two dimensions work.   The first observation, certainly if you are from Sydney as I am originally, is that there is a dark nexus between property developers and urban development.  Much has been made about the power of developer influence on government planning, for instance.

In fact, I recall one big developer wanting to concrete over the beautiful Kuring-gai Chase National Park in the north of Sydney to build more multi-dwelling housing!  The worst part, of course, is that besides giving the developer more profit and more power, the architecture of said multidwelling housing leaves a lot to be desired with their prefab look and feel.

In the introduction to Jane Jacob’s book, she cites an example of a so-called slum in Boston (in the 1950s) called the North End.  To much of Boston, and certainly the city planners, North End was a major slum.  Yet when Jane Jacobs visited the place before a future-planned “redevelopment”, she was amazed by the life and vitality of the place.  She rang a planning friend who confirmed he thought it was a slum, albeit a slum with pretty good health and socioeconomic statistics behind it.  Moreover, her planner friend actually visited North End and found it to have a “wonderful, cheerful street life”, even better in summer.

Jacobs says: “Here  was a curious thing. My friend’s instincts told him North End was a good place, and his social statistics confirmed it. But everything he had learned as a physical planner about what is good for people and good for the city neighbourhoods, everything that made him an expert, told him that the North End had to be a bad place” (page 15).

The story certainly tells me how important it is to experience the context.  I doubt whether it will always be good enough to just look at the theory, or the statistics, or the expert opinion, without experiencing the context for oneself.  More importantly, however, is the finding out about the experience from the people active within it.

It therefore comes as no surprise that in many areas of our professional lives where we have to make decisions, we often rely solely on past experience, our previous training, and the thinking that pervades ourselves and like-minded colleagues.  This is quite insufficient.  We need to explore other ideas and other people’s views, especially the views of the people involved – the real stakeholders.  And if we can break these patterns, either through our own determination or allowing some disruptive thinking to break through from elsewhere, then we can at least look at the world in a different way.

If we can experience context, and include the contextual experiences of those involved, we can make more informed choices and decisions that reflect the real context as distinct from our personal-world-view context.


On records, information and knowledge management strategy

Lately, I have been giving a great deal of thought with respect to information and knowledge management strategy. This is partly because I am working on an electronic document and records management business case and implementation plan at my current work, but also because I want to place the records management case within an organisational knowledge and information framework.

Traditionally, records management has been a stand alone discipline focused purely on documents and records. That was my early experience in that field! But of course, electronic document and records management systems have grown to significant levels of sophistication, as any of the major EDRMS vendors will tell you! At the same time, we also have digital library management systems and web-content management systems.

But the landscape is changing fast as the explosion in information, particularly user-generated content, gathers even greater volumes of information to capture, store and access across a range of different media and repositories. We have seen the physical information world become the digital information world and now the social digital world – Web 2.0.

The transformation is really very obvious in photography, for example. The modern evolution looks like this: a photographic print in physical storage, a digital image stored in a personal computer file, and a digital image stored on a shared global internet platform, like Flickr, for potentially unlimited distribution and comment.

As information has exploded exponentially, across a range of media and via a plethora of channels, organisations are looking at ways that provide a whole-of-enterprise approach to information and knowledge management. And I believe that records management is becoming less an independent arm in the information landscape, and more an integrated process and functional system within a whole-of- enterprise information and knowledge management environment.

I am less interested in discussing turf wars between records managers, librarians, and knowledge managers these days. It seems to me that there are significant benefits of information convergence by utilising a range of information tools and processes for enterprise advantage.

What I am really interested in is how whole-of-enterprise information and knowledge systems can work for organisations utilising specific records, information and knowledge management tools and processes. I can see that to achieve such a whole-of-enterprise solution will depend on a greater degree of co-operation and collaboration at the broad information management level than what often happens now, especially in large organisations. Ironically, as a knowledge manager myself, I can see that information professionals need to collaborate more and to lose the defensiveness that comes with our historical traditions. Moreover, I see human resource management playing a greater role in the discussion about human and social capital, all of which fits the domain of information and knowledge management very nicely.

I can say with a fair degree of confidence, based on my experience and observations, that whole-of-enterprise records management, information and knowledge solutions will become more the norm than the exception. Organisations will look to leverage the complete suite of operational knowledge and information practices and procedures in a completely integrated and almost seamless architecture. These systems and processes will support the organisation’s explicit knowledge needs.

In addition, these systems and processes can contribute to social capital by making information visible across a range of formats – creating network links between people as well as documents and artefacts, and facilitating collaboration spaces and communities within and across organisational boundaries.

In looking at a strategic approach for organisational information management, I believe that we now need to leverage an integrated (or even federated) suite of record, information and knowledge management practices and processes for operational excellence.

Our strategic thinking should therefore be focused on determining how best to utilise our records management, information management and knowledge management practices and processes for whole-of-enterprise advantage. And as I have noted before, we need to keep the dialogue happening with human resources to maximise the intellectual and social capital of the organisation’s people – a resource that needs operational integration as much as systems.

On google

Did you know that if you type into the Google search box, Sydney weather, you will get a five day weather forecast?  Temperature is in both Fahrenheit (for the US) and Celsius for those places embracing metrification. However, Google was less successful forecasting the weather for the town of Gulargambone. Google did come up with entries for Gulargambone but not in the same vein as the big cities!