Category Archives: Information Management

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.

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Knowledge management, codification and tacit knowledge

The latest issue of Information Research has a great article by Chris Kimble, entitled Knowledge management, codification and tacit knowledge.

The paper takes an interesting approach; looking at knowledge from the perspective of economists. The idea is to provide a “view of knowledge that allows it to be considered as a stock that is accumulated through interaction with an information flux”.

Kimble looks at two key interpretations of tacit knowledge – from Polanyi and Nonaka. This discussion is very useful. Kimble summarises the key points from both theories in relation to knowledge management and shows the distinction between the two. Purists have argued that Polanyi’s view of tacit knowledge means that tacit knowledge can never become explicit. Nonaka takes a more practical approach, claiming tacit knowledge can be made explicit under some circumstances or approximations. Nonaka was interested specifically in “knowledge conversion”.

Kimble then discusses an interesting approach to the tacit/explicit knowledge issue – a topography of knowledge transaction activities. The typography comes from the following cited work: Cowan, R., David, P.A. & Foray, D. (2000). The explicit economics of knowledge codification and tacitness. Industrial and Corporate Change, 9(2), 211-253.

What is interesting here is that the focus is on where the knowledge transactions take place rather than the form in which the knowledge is contained. Kimble goes on to say: “While Cowan et al. may have little to say about the benefits of codification, their topography does provide a structure to examine its costs. Perhaps the most obvious cost associated with codification is that of creating the codebook.”

Kimble concludes his paper looking at the duality of information and what it means: “By focusing exclusively on codified knowledge, the advocates of codification may lose sight of the intimate linkages between tacit and explicit knowledge.”

Kimble’s paper is well worth a read for stimulating thought about tacit and explicit knowledge; a significant point of discussion in knowledge management over many, many years.

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.

Gov 3.0 Conference 2011

Tomorrow (Thursday 24th November) I will be attending the Gov 3.0 conference in Canberra. The tagline for the conference is “the future of social media and public sector communication”.

I am looking forward to what the speakers have to say, albeit I remain to be convinced that governments in Australia are serious about openness, citizen dialogue, and the full use of social media both inside and outside of Departments.

With respect to openness, the observable evidence in Australia and the United Kingdom seems to suggest that uploading millions of documents onto government websites is the solution. In many cases, there is little (if any) contextualised meaning applied to these documents. Documents written for specific purposes are placed into the public domain without that context being explained. There is still the issue over timeliness and relevance.  And the internal approval mechanisms to authorise (and disallow) the publication of certain government documents on the web can be trying. But really, is the average Joe Citizen in the mood to spend oodles of time scouring government websites to read through public-service-speak documents when all they really want to do is ask a knowledgeable person for an answer? Of course, not. There is therefore a need to consider the real needs of the citizenry beyond the selective publication of government documents on the web by government departments. After all, if publishing government documents is what open government is about, then we may as well ask Julian Assange to project manage the whole government openness agenda.

That is not to say that government documents on the web don’t have a place in providing information to the world. However, selective document availability is not the answer to openness without at least providing the necessary assistance and feedback mechanism for real citizen engagement. If I can download a government report but cannot discuss the meaning of the report with anyone inside government (i.e. the public service), then openness and dialogue are rather hamstrung.

When it comes to dialogue with citizens, the general polity likes to think that spewing forth tweets and answering constituent emails is enough. But the reality is that there is not much conversation and two-way dialogue in these type of exchanges. I remember Neil Postman saying in “Amusing ourselves to Death” that in the US in days of Lincoln and co., political dialogue was much more personal and immediate through public gatherings and political campaigning than what it has become now. Sure, I appreciate the issues of scale and technology, but citizen dialogue remains something that the political machine (and the administrative servants in the Public and Civil Service) are yet to achieve.

Social media is also important. There are plenty of politicians using social media – US President Obama and a number of Australian politicians are good examples. But there remains a certain disquiet about social media in the hallowed halls of the Public Service. The main concern is around risk (although there is also a good deal of ignorance about communication in general, let alone via web 2.0 technologies within a Department or with an external audience). The argument goes that social media represents a loss of control, is subject to unknown responses in the public domain, and acts as a diversion to the real work at hand. I’d like to have some sympathy for these concerns because I see some intelligent people using these arguments to say “No” for even the slightest of reasons.

However, there are many risks that can be mitigated against through proper procedures, through establishing organisational trust, and in the recognition that the benefits outweigh the risks. There also needs to be a recognition that organisations need to adapt to a changing world; where stakeholders have different needs and aspirations, than in previous times.

In the corporate world there are also communication risks associated with social media but, for the most part, the corporate world is more willing than the public sector to use social media in positive and interesting ways.

It is therefore of immense interest to me to hear tomorrow and on Friday what the speakers have to say about open government and connectedness; about particpatory discussion and citizen dialogue; about the transformative effects of social media; and about how information, knowledge and learning can flow more effectively in the digital economy than ever before.

In particular, I am keen to hear the experiences from the US about the use of social media and web 3.0 (?) communication channels to distribute information and enhance public engagement with stakeholders. I will also be interested to hear how social media fosters improved communication and participation from both citizens and within the public sector. There is much to learn – I hope that the conference provides those thinking and learning opportunities.

Another EMIS evaluation

Next week I am off to Tonga for a couple of days. I have been asked to undertake a quick (well, two days is pretty quick!) evaluation of the education management information system (EMIS) used by the Tonga Department of Education.

This project is part of a series of EMIS evaluations in the Pacific in the next couple of months. I am off to Papua New Guinea at the end of the month.

For part of the project I will be working with Oscar, the consultant I worked with in Kiribati last year. It will be great to work with him again and on a very similar project.

I quite enjoy these projects that get me out into the real world on projects that can make a real difference to policy development and education. I also find these projects professionally rewarding in being able to use a part of my skill set that sees only limited use  in my AusAID library and knowledge services role.

Libraries and the customer experience

I find the day after a conference has finished is a good time to let the knowledge gleaned from the previous days flow through the brain without reference to notes. I like this type of unstructured post-conference flow because it allows key themes to emerge by themselves in my thinking.

A key theme for me (and I mean a theme that I have been thinking about in response to the combination of information and experiences from the conference) is that libraries and organisations need to go where to the clients are in a way that is meaningful to them.

Amy Sample Ward started this thought in me when she emphasised working with the community, not for the community. Working with a community or a client group means working with them in consideration of what they want and how they want it. How they want their information may be different to how the organisation believes it should deliver the information.

Michael Clarke (no, not the Australian cricketer) from Silverchair (no, not the Australian band) presented on “the great unboxing”. Libraries had to start thinking more about content than just the format (the container the information was in). The focus on content is something I have emphasised in my workplace as well. Other presentations, particularly around library catalogue search and the library catalogue GUI, also emphasised the need to provide the traditional library service in a way that was effective, but also both familiar to users and appealing to users. In some cases being like Google was important because Google is a familiar and well-used information search option. If we want users to use the catalogue, then we must make the catalogue as appealing to use as Google.

My thinking around this is that whilst as librarians we have a range of library tools and information technologies at our disposal, they don’t really mean much unless we meet the needs of our clients in the way the clients want their needs met. And information needs are becoming more focused on content from a multitude of sources and networks than ever before – and libraries and organisations need to be there in all those places. In marketing speak, you go to where your customers are and meet with them in a way the customers have determined. So, if your customers are on Facebook, then that’s one place you need to go. Interestingly, at the Web 3.0 conference I attended last year in Sydney, the same sentiment was expressed: using social media is fine but it only really means something if it means something to your audience. The Web 3.0 conference is on again in June.

The upshot (take-home?) of this is that if libraries or organisations want to push a system that their clients won’t use, but go ahead with it anyway because the library or organisation sees some other “benefit”, then we are wasting time and resources because the clients aren’t going there. We need to consider the customer experience!

And if your clients aren’t going there, then it doesn’t matter what the system can do compared to something else, it just isn’t going to work!

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.