Category Archives: Identity

Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference 2012

It’s a beautiful time in Austin, Texas. The weather is warm to hot and the music is loud and proud. But I am in Austin for the  Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference. I attended this conference last year and I am pleased to be back again.

I’ll start my conference report with the morning session today (the first day) of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference. I will have to post another instalment for the after lunch sessions. By the way, I had lunch at the wonderful Blanton Museum down the road from the conference venue. The morning was both interesting and satisfying.

I will focus on the keynote since this was the presentation that had the most relevance and interest to me and my workplace. The keynote was delivered by Andrea Resmini currently working in Sweden. The title of his presentation was “Between physical and digital: understanding cross channel experiences”.

Andrea opened up with a story based on the Umberto Eco novel (and subsequent movie) The name of the rose. He focused on the labyrinthine library and the differences between the description and map of the library in the book and in the movie. The purpose of the story was to illustrate how important meaning is in understanding complex environments; and secondly, that we need to be able to understand how different media affect people’s experiences. Thus, is there really a meaningful difference between the physical reality of the library or information centre and that of the virtual library?

Taking some inspiration from William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer, Andrea explains that cyberspace is not a place to go to, it is a layer tightly integrated into the world around us. And as such, there are cross channels that enable information to be delivered, exchanged, and received to suit the needs of individuals and the contexts in which they find themselves. Cross channels may be expressed this way: “Cross-channel is not about technology, or marketing, nor it is limited to media-related experiences: it’s a systemic change in the way we experience reality. The more the physical and the digital become intertwined, the more designing successful cross-channel user experiences becomes crucial”. A full explanation, from which this quote was taken, can be found here.

The point of course is that libraries can no longer think of themselves as a set of discrete multiple actions, or silos,  (e.g. circulation desk, catalogue, web site etc.) but as facilitator for the provision of information in different ways to meet the needs of clients/users/students and the way in which they want to access and consume information. This of course involves the virtual library.

More generally, all of us are not staying within one channel all of the time. We move between them, depending on what it is we need them to do. And we would like all the digital pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to fit and work together.

I will return in my next post to continue what Andrea went on to say, outlining his seven point “manifesto” about information architecture, the user experience, and cross channel experiences.

But to finish this post, I want to give some further reading. Andrea mentioned the book “Pervasive Information Architecture” and I will be chasing that up when I return home later in the week.


My favourite quotes from Gov. 3.0 conference

I went over my notes from the Gov. 3.0 conference over the weekend. There was much to read and think about. In my notes were some key quotes. A summary of key quotes from the conference is worth keeping – here they are:

“Sometimes we forget that social media is an exchange” Angelina Russo (Museum3). This quote really identified one of the biggest problems with the hype around social media – for many, social media is used as a broadcast mechanism and this is fine up to a point. But the real reason for social media is to allow communication exchange; to make mutual connections; and to learn from each other. Government – are you listening or just broadcasting?

In a similar vein, Amanda Eamich (US Dept of Agriculture) said that “it’s not about the technology…it’s about the people and intent”. I couldn’t agree more.

“Web 2.0 is the social filter” Robert Thomas (Dept of Innovation, Industry, Science & Research). A key reason people use social media is to be able to share experiences and opinions with friends. These experiences and opinions are used to filter the vast swamps of information out on the web and in junk mail catalogues. Word-of-mouth marketing has never been more significant.

According to research from IBM, “every week businesses waste 5.3 hours due to inefficient processes” Mike Handes (IBM). This quote was actually on a slide in Mike’s presentation but really reinforced the point to me that knowledge management is vitally important to the bottom line in business and government. If we as knowledge managers can improve the way information is used and knowledge accessed within an organisation, then we are saving people valuable time AND ensuring that decisions can be made with the best available information.

The other quote from Mike that makes a lot of sense is that “content revolves around people”. Technology is a wonderful enabler but it really is the people who really count. That’s the difference between loading documents onto a website and calling that open government when what should be happening is increasing the access and level of interaction between government, it’s workforce, and the citizenry. My fear is that government doesn’t think much of the social and prefers the document repository form of community “interaction”.

Anni Rowland-Campbell (Intersticia) quotes Genevieve Bell when she said to “think of data as a person”. I liked this metaphor because it gives awareness to the fact that data can be viewed with many personas and used for many different reasons. Whilst I am not certain of the context the quote was originally used, “data as a person” opened my thinking as to how we might perceive data in the web 2.0/web 3.0 world.

Tudor Groza (University of Queensland) observed that “the problem (with social media) is the silos”. By this he meant that our social media is compartmentalised (in silos). Social media relies on formal links (hypertext) to join information elements together rather than having the right combination of information about a person or an object in the one spot at the one time. Personally, I don’t see this as a problem as the “silos” can be linked if they want to be. I also believe that a person’s identity is comprised of many different personas representing different interests and associations. Let me think this one through in the context of the semantic web…

My final key quote is less about the potential  “dryness” of a topic, but more on the way in which the topic can be communicated.

“I’m the kind of person who, if you met me at a dinner party, would find accountants more interesting to talk to” Paul Storey (Dept of Health). I certainly disagree, Paul. Your presentation about the use of health data to solve medical riddles was both interesting and passionate. Don’t underestimate passion in anything that people do.

On what you do and what you care about

I am still in Kiribati for work with AusAID.  I can report, as I have stated in my twitter feed, that the project is going well.  I am working with an independent consultant on the Kiribati Education Management Information System project.  We are reviewing and evaluating the project, especially the EMIS and it’s use and functionality.  My strength here is in doing the situation analysis and doing the review and evaluation.

There are also a few other expatriates from other places working on other projects. Many of us are staying at the same place (Mary’s Motel on Terawa) and so naturally we often meet and talk at meal times.  At these times, as in other contexts, we find ourselves asking each other about we do, usually related to our employment context.

Today is Saturday and I am starting to carefully assemble and write the draft report. I have tended to do this in the open-air “cafe” of Mary’s Motel because, although it is hot, it is more pleasant than staying confined to a room. However, I am having a break during the hottest part of the day to spend some time in my room reading some of the blog posts I regularly read.

Reading my favourite blog authors and their writings is always interesting. I have several authors with blog posts who I especially like to read because of their ideas and passions.  So I could not let this quote from Dave Pollard go unrecorded here:

“perhaps instead of asking people we’ve just met what they “do” (usually “for a living”), we should ask them what they care about. What keeps them awake at night. What they would die for. And likewise when others ask us what we “do” we should deflect the question and instead tell them what we really care about. If there’s an obvious disconnect between what we/they do and what we/they care about, that in itself should be the basis for an interesting and soul-searching conversation: Why the disconnect, and what can we do about it? And if the conversation resolves that you and the other(s) you’re speaking with care about the same things, then so much more will have been accomplished than in you had merely exchanged data on your current employment”.

I think this is an excellent idea.  I will try to ask “what do you care about?” instead of “what do you do?” at the next opportunity.

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 complexity and strategic planning

A couple of weeks ago I organised a half-day workshop for my team and our key internal stakeholders as part of the planning process for next year. I wanted to hear from my stakeholders what they thought about my team and the work we do, as well as to tease out themes and priorities for my team to look at doing in the future. But I wanted to find out this information within the different workplace contexts in which we do things. I also wanted to use the Cynefin framework from Cognitive Edge that I had learned about when I did the accreditation course in July.

I asked Viv and Chris from Emerging Options to conduct the workshop. Both Viv and Chris are exponents of the Cognitive Edge way and are the authorised Australian trainers for the Cognitive Edge accreditation course.

The workshop went better than I had expected. I had excellent participation from the highest levels. The feedback I received afterwards was very positive, especially how the workshop was conducted.

We were also commended for our willingness to encourage such open dialogue with the rest of the organistion. It was certainly my intention to flag very clearly our intention to be seen as an integrated part of the business, and not an isolated organisational silo. Part of that process is openness and facilitating organisational dialogue and collaboration.

For me and my team, the themes that emerged give us some scope to review what we do, re-establish priorities, and give us new opportunities moving forward.

We looked at our work in terms of the simple, complicated and complex domains used within the Cynefin framework.

In simple domains, performing a particular activity or process will bring about a defined result. Basically, if you do A, you will get B. Process-driven activities often fall into this domain.

In complicated domains you analyse the problem called A, and by bringing in expertise or resources, you can identify the solution and solve the problem. There is no new thinking here, just the application of expert knowledge to deal with the problem.

In complex domains, there is uncertainty as to what outcome will occur (if any) by performing a particular action or process. This is what is often called, “the intractable problem”. Generally, it is risky and expensive to try a range of actions in order to test which action might yield the better result. Usually a decision is made to take one action, spend resources on it, and if it fails to meet expectations, the project is dumped all together. Many a pilot project ends up like this!

Complex domains are particularly sensitive to context. What one action in one context brings need not be the same outcome in another context. Basing a decision on what someone has done in a different context (replication) is dangerous if context is not given due consideration.

Similarly, complex problems should not rely on past events to determine future outcomes. Cognitive Edge describes this phenomenon as “the problem of retrospective coherence” which means that all becomes obvious after the event has occurred (but before the event, these signals were not obvious). One of the strategic outcomes from working in the complex space is to try and identify (bring to the surface) “weak signals” and amplify them so that they can be considered in the decision-making process.

In the complex space, one needs to use probes to test to see what works in your own context.

So what did we learn from the whole experience?

It was clear that we had an identity problem – a change of name was offered as a potential solution. We will mull over this problem because identity is something that brings meaning to what we do in the eyes of the organisation.

In a similar vein, there was some ambiguity as to what work we did, what we should be responsible for, and how we communicate that to the wider organisation. Our response to this (our probe) is to launch an internal e-zine and see what reaction we will get from that. We will also use a cartoon, something I alluded to in a previous post, and develop the cartoon story as we progress. While we have a reasonable claim to extenuating circumstances on this one (both historical, and as a consequence of a very new team), we are already working on ways to overcome this problem.

There was also an expectation to do some things that we are either not equipped to do (for example, a lack of resources), or that we don’t yet have the formal authority to proceed.

And, some themes emerged around things we should not be doing.

Now what was really successful about the workshop was the way in which we were able to aggregate and prioritise responses based on activities within the three domains. Identifying the issues in each domain will help us develop improvements and interventions most appropriate to those particular contexts. Knowing that improves our chances of success, particularly in using probes for some of the problems and issues identified in the complex space.

In addition, the participatory and collaborative nature of the exercise within our workplace context means that we have information we can really work with. And we have introduced to the organisation a new way of  looking at problems and finding solutions by using the Cynefin framework.

Our strategic planning is continuing. The workshop using the Cognitive Edge approach has been a rewarding and helpful experience. Not only will the material help in our planning, but it will also help in our execution – and that’s the real nub of the matter!

On Cognitive Edge (2)

I have finished tidying up my notes from the Cognitive Edge accreditation course I did in Sydney last week. There was plenty to go through but I feel the notes only just scratched the surface! Dave Snowden certainly covered a lot of territory!

I have listed some key knowledge fragments from the course that I particularly liked:

  • correlation is not causality
  • a complex system is always different from its parts
  • retrospective coherence gives us the benefit of hindsight but not the benefit of future-telling
  • with complexity, one can replicate starting conditions but not outcomes
  • using safe-fail in the complex domain, “go forward, probe and experiment”, because we don’t know the answer
  • amplify “good” weak signals
  • we use “ritual” to trigger identity (and we each have multiple identities)
  • archetypes are collective representations, not caricatures
  • metaphors are good for human understanding
  • humans use pattern recognition intelligence; we are not an information processing machine
  • any time a measure becomes a target it is no longer a measure
  • and my favourite line, “cynics are people who care”, since they are the ones looking for a better way to improve their organisations (hear, hear!).

There was much more from the course, and plenty to reflect upon. I will do some more reading, thinking and writing. For now, I am chasing up some of the author references in my notes (Sutcliffe, Thom, Kaufmann, and Klein, among others).

On the human joke

Q. What do you call the interface between thinking, knowledge, communication, connection, emotion, motivation, psychology, technology, and information?

A: Human

Well, can it be anything but?