Category Archives: Just me

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.

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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 podcasts, learning, and uni students

When I first went to university I wrote all my essays on a typewriter.  The desktop PC revolution and word processing programs were only just beginning.  In fact, the typewriter held fast in universities throughout much of the 1980s; some universities having specific rooms full of typewriters for students to tap away upon. I had my own typewriter; but even that posed certain problems.  One memorable comment from a lecturer on one of my essays was: “I think a new typewriter ribbon would have been helpful”! 

The change from typewriter to PC and word processing was a massive change for students – a change for the best.

Nowadays, university students have it pretty easy when it comes to doing their university work.  Students have laptops that can go anywhere and word processors that make writing and editing assignments relatively painless.  Thankfully, computers made “white ink” corrections redundant.  Students don’t have to queue for ages at photocopier machines to copy key journal articles anymore – almost all academic journals these days are available online via the university library.

University students today don’t even need to go to classes to listen to lectures since many lectures are now podcast, enabling students to listen to the material at a time most convenient for them.  Moreover, podcasts overcome the multitasking dilemma we “older” students had when trying to listen to lecturers and write down salient points at the same time! Podcasting, like laptop computers, give students greater freedom and flexibility for learning.

Therefore it comes as no surprise that university students are spending less time on campus and more time online, according to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. “Three out of four students use podcasts of lectures and a third believe online lecture materials can be a replacement for attending classes, according to the nationwide survey of 2422 first-year students by the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne”.

While we can say that technology has created the capacity for increasing a student’s online experiences, the other reason is financial.  The cost of education is much greater these days then when I first went to university (in the days when university education was nominally “free”).  Over the past 10-15 years, university students have had to pay expensive fees or take a loan to pay for their studies. For undergraduate students in particular, paying for education means there is a greater need to take part-time jobs to earn money to pay for fees, as well as the usual costs associated with text books and transport.

The negative side to all of this is the lack of on-campus activity that comes with university life.  If students are learning by themselves via online services, podcasts, and even wikis, where is the social interaction that is also part of the educational experience? 

People in the workforce do not work in social vacuums.  The lecture, with all its ancient history behind it, acted as a focal point for students to meet before and afterwards.  The death of the lecture means new focal points will need to overcome the loss of social interaction.  And I don’t just mean the fun part of social interaction; I mean actually meeting with other students (both by design and serendipity) to discuss what they have learned and what needs to be thought through.

It is interesting to compare the university experiences of students today with what will be their work experiences.  For the most part, employers want staff to be at work in a specific physical location.  Despite all the hype, working from home is still relatively rare.  Working with people at the workplace is still the fundamental organisational architecture that university students today will move into.

In the knowledge management industry, we are very supportive of face-to-face contact to establish trust to enhance workplace (working) relationships.  Trust is integral to many of the knowledge management initiatives that we like to promote, especially in terms of leadership, communication, collaboration, people networks, and operational effectiveness.

Information technology gives us speed and scale that cannot easily be replicated in face-to-face environments.  For example, knowledge management professionals like to promote online communities of practice, wikis, and podcasts too.  We see that there are many different ways to communicate information and knowledge and we try not to rely on only one channel.  We like to consider context and how our KM work best fits within that context.  In many ways, we are like both the university students and university lecturers of today’s world.

Getting the balance right in the context in which we operate is the real challenge.

On good writing

I was reading the Sunday Canberra Times a couple of days ago over a morning cup of tea.  A short syndicated article in the Sunday Focus section alerted me to the fact that this year is the 60th anniversary of the death of British writer, Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell).  George Orwell is one of my favourite authors; up there with Charles Dickens, Emile Zola, Milan Kundera, Wallace Stegner, and Patrick White.  Funnily enough, all those writers might be termed under the heading, “classic” fiction, establishing my literary preferences very clearly.  I do enjoy the odd contemporary novel but for the most part, I enjoy the story and the writing of my classic literary heroes.

I first read George Orwell at school when our English class studied the novel, Nineteen Eighty Four.  I later re-read the book and saw the film starring actors John Hurt and Richard Burton. I also went on to read Animal Farm and Keep the Aspidistra flying.  I enjoyed all three novels immensely.  I will have to find these three books at home for a re-read.  One thing I can say, is that all three novels were brilliantly written and totally absorbing. 

Each story had a significant message.  I always found the message in Nineteen Eighty Four as being equally applicable to the communists (the focus for Orwell) as for the “democracies” when it came to influencing and manipulating public opinion through various methods of propaganda, political “spin”, and news bias.  And Animal Farm was, and still is, quite a metaphor for management science as well as for politics!

A feature of the writing was its quality.  The Canberra Times article (“Orwell still packs a punch”) lists six qualities that Orwell recognised as being indicators of good writing:

1. “never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print
2. never use a long word when a short word will do
3. if it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out
4. use the active rather than the passive
5. never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent
6. break any of these (above) rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous”

These are sound writing principles, albeit I see some scope for compromise depending on the appropriate context in which one writes.  Nevertheless, Orwell’s six writing principles essentially say to write for your reader – your audience – so that they have no difficulty in understanding what you have to say.

I think the principle of making what we have to say understandable to our audience is very good advice indeed.  The challenge for all of us is to keep good writing principles in mind in all our communications.

And so off to the bookshelves at home to search for my Orwell novels to be read again….sometime in the near future!

On the Christmas break

Firstly, let me wish readers the best of the Christmas season.  I hope that people can find some peace and happiness over the Christmas break.  While Christmas is usually a time for friends and family; it is also a time for personal reflection and hope. 

Part of that personal reflection and hope is enhanced by some serious reading time.  In the coming month, I do hope to get through a number of books that have sat idle in boxes during all the house moves I have had this year.  And I hope to be able to read a few more new books that should come my way on Christmas Day, including an Elizabeth Jolley trilogy that I have been keen to spend time with for many years now.  Also on order, and likely to arrive in January, is the non-fiction Niche Construction by Odling-Smee, Laland, and Feldman.

Until January then, have a wonderful Christmas break and a happy New Year.

On why human resource management has been a major disappointment

One of my greatest annoyances is the failure of human resource management (HRM) to adequately utilise knowledge management practices and experience in developing and nurturing the human capital of organisations. HRM seems more interested in staying bounded by payroll, employment law, and offering some training courses than actively trying to heighten the capacity and capability of the workforce to work smarter, more collaboratively, and more effectively. Indeed, HR might find some insights into a number of current HRM issues around staff engagement, the ageing workforce, and retention of corporate knowledge by utilising the knowledge management literature and knowledge management experience.

Essentially, HRM is largely reactive, control-focused, and fails to take leadership responsibility for an organisation’s intellectual and social capital. HRM is a big disappointment.

I was complaining about this lacklustre performance of HRM to a former colleague of mine last week. He commented by saying that he wasn’t surprised since the Human Resources Department is, as he put, “an agent of management control”. He went on to argue that HRM is involved only in those areas of workforce management in which centralised control can be practiced. Payroll and training courses were classic examples. HRM overseeing employment law was also important in not only controlling the workforce, but in protecting the organisation (management) from legal action. Legal aspects of employment law also had a mandatory element for ensuring regulatory compliance.

I could see the logic in his argument. In fact, much of my professional experience in a range of organisations pretty much matched the examples he gave on what an HR department actually did. If HRM was really about management control, then utilising knowledge management that encouraged innovation and collaboration, the building of social capital and emergent relationship networks, were actually at odds with the HRM goal of personnel control.

My latest Accenture newsletter had this article on “how HR can elevate its business impact to enable high performance”. The article categorises various functions of HR. The first function matches the controlling function my colleague and I discussed earlier – personnel control. The second function accorded by the Accenture article was “people development” or talent management . People development generally means training and sending management to leadership courses where (in my experience) little change to existing bad management styles actually takes place! It might also involve elements of recruitment. The third rung in Accenture’s ladder is “talent multiplication” that “takes efficiency and quality gains and spreads them upward through the organisation”. Accentures goes on to say that “HR is able to drive business results by equipping the workforce with the right knowledge, resources and freedom to deliver breakthrough advances” – funnily enough, this statement is what knowledge management is all about!

Hello, HRM, is anyone out there paying attention?

On knowledge management and human resources

Some of you may already know that I am a great believer in the interplay between knowledge management (KM) and human resource management (HRM). I consider both KM and HRM as catalysts and facilitators for developing and enhancing an organisation’s intellectual and social capital. I believe KM is more than just managing databases and HRM is more than just payroll.

KM and HRM actually have a number of responsibilities in common: learning and development, enhancing staff performance, staff retention, team building and effectiveness, organisational development, and cultural change. The approaches may differ but I believe that the strategic and practical outcomes are the same – to equip individuals, groups, and the organisation to innovate, solve problems, establish effective workflow, and deliver quality services and outputs (both internally and externally).

I was therefore very pleased when I found out about a post-graduate course being run from Lancaster University Management School in England. The course is a Master (MA) in Human Resource & Knowledge Management. The course looks at “the conditions in which HRM and knowledge management have become the central links between people, work, and technology in contemporary organisations”. Excellent!

I wonder if there are any other examples of KM and HRM being featured within the same training or academic course.