Category Archives: Organisational behaviour

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 tiny revolutions and change

One of the more interesting elements of working in the information industry is constant change. There are changes in information technology, in information seeking behaviours, in information channels, and in the intensity and spatial characteristics of information access, use, and re-use.  In addition, there are changes happening within organisations, groups of people, and individuals.  And sometimes we want to initiate change ourselves.

In many cases, however, initiating change is akin to the never-ending challenge of rolling the metaphorical boulder up a steep hill; something the modern-day Sisyphus would be all to well aware.  It isn’t enough to have a good idea.  One must “sell” the idea to key decision-makers, and then wait to see if anything transpires. To make “it” happen, we have to take the responsibility, lest we keep pushing boulders up hills all our working lives.

Naturally, there is some tension over the speed at which ideas get translated into action, depending on where one stands in the milieu of stakeholders.  But for those of us who like to see good ideas take root quickly, it is worthwhile to consider making tiny revolutions for change. After all, Rome wasn’t built-in a day and nor was US health reform!

David Gurteen alerted me to a blog post by Chris Brogan called Tiny Revolutions.  Tiny revolutions are the small steps necessary to get things done. Brogan isn’t specifically talking about turning ideas into action for organisational effectiveness, but I see what he has to say generically and I can apply the thinking to organisational contexts.

The first step is usually the easiest – you have an idea or want to take some action.  Brogan goes on to say: “What happens next is that you move from thinking into action-taking.  That step is huge, by the way. The difference between thinking about something, deciding something, and DOING something is like the difference between firing a gun and just throwing the bullet”.

Brogan asks us to think about some of the steps along the way. The first is what we already know from experience – in most cases, people and organisations don’t like change and they try to resist it. Brogan reminds us though that we need to take daily action that are made up by many smaller events (some of which you may even be completely unaware). In the course of these tiny revolutions leading you to “the moment”, you will need tools of some sort – “”You need new ways to see, new ways to think, new ways to evaluate, new methods of support. You need to try new skills, learn more about different ways of doing, you need to build new habits and forge new alignments.”

But the revolution won’t be totally devoid of pain. Brogan says that “Moving from one state to another involves pain. It might be emotional. It might be physical. But pain is part of revolution”. Indeed, sometimes the pain is shared and sometimes the pain is disproportionate to the originator of the idea.  In those situations, it is imperative to provide continuous communication, feedback, modifications if necessary, and understanding.

Brogan concludes that not everyone may want a revolution. Indeed, in my own workplace experiences over the past twenty-odd years I have seen plenty of obstacles to good ideas simply because it was easier and more comfortable to do nothing.  On the other hand, sometimes tiny revolutions emerge by themselves and gain traction along the way because they are good ideas.  Tiny revolutions are around us everywhere – how can we use them to improve ourselves and our organisations?

On media needing multiple platforms

Hot on the heels of my blog post yesterday, an AFP syndicated article on the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) website today says that media companies must look at multiple publishing platforms to enhance revenue streams. 

The article, Media need multiple platforms: execs, says that “with advertising revenue eroding and free content abundant, media companies are going to need to adapt their strategies to the new environment ushered in by the internet, they said at the Bloomberg BusinessWeek 2010 Media Summit.   Hard to believe it has taken the media companies this long to work out this very fundamental change to publishing and content creation!

And why is it that media companies have been so slow?  Perhaps it comes down to sticking one’s head in the sand and pretending change isn’t happening. Or perhaps a media company might like to think it can bully alternative publishing and content creation providers out of the media business.  But perhaps it all comes down to the fact that changing traditional media publishing means doing new things.  And doing new things means thinking very hard about a changed publishing environment where control is no longer the sanctity of media company monoliths.  We already see how traditional and control-centred companies like to work in the music industry; desperate to hold onto oligopolistic control of music content and distribution despite a rapidly networked digital world.

However, change is inevitable and some media companies are actively looking at all the opportunities.  Julie Michalowski, vice-president for business development at Conde Nast, was quoted in the SMH article as saying:  “What we want to continue to do is to build digital relationships so that we can have a multi-channel relationship with our consumers that includes print and includes other ways that they want to access us”.  Hooray for that!

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 bad complexity

How many times have you had to do a task and throughout the experience say to yourself, “there must be an easier way to do this – why do they make it so complex when it should be so simple”?  I often have this very thought when paying a bill or searching for a product on a website – why is it so difficult to get what I want done?  After all, don’t these people want my money?

Web expert, Gerry McGovern, offers an explanation in his recent blog post, Eliminating bad complexity. Gerry is not talking about complexity science but rather how complex an activity or task is.  Does the activity or task have to be that complex if it doesn’t lead to good customer experience?  Gerry makes the distinction between good complexity and bad complexity.   “Good complexity leads to greater convenience, choice and options. Bad complexity leads to frustration, wasted time and wasted money”.  I can definitiely say that I have often experienced bad complexity.

There are people responsible for providing services, especially on the web, who are not thinking of the customer but are thinking of their own personal agendas.  Tasks and activities are more difficult  than they have to be because the provider wants to do something else than serve the needs of the customer.

And this type of behaviour also occurs within organisations.  Gerry goes on to say: “Many organizations have enemies within. Departments and divisions care only for themselves. They will introduce complexity that makes the organization as a whole more dependent on them. In fact, the way modern organizations are structured rewards bad complexity”.

I often wonder whether organisations really care about good customer experience. 

I appreciate that understanding the customer and their needs is difficult.  Making complex organisations work together to maximise good customer experience is also not easy – but it can be done. Amazon.com is a great example.  Amazon has a simple (and ugly) website that makes it easy for the customer to buy products; usually books in my case.  In addition, Amazon gives me the occasional alert on books I might be interested in based on my searching and buying history; a service that is not intrusive and where I have often found a book that might otherwise have remained unknown to me.  The work behind the scenes at Amazon is probably a complicated and complex set of interactions and behavious but the customer experience is simple and fulfilling.

It seems clear to me that maximising good customer experience should lead to more sales and greater revenue.  However, perhaps increasing revenue is still not enough motivation to change “bad complexity” within organisations or in service provision.  There are obviously other motives in play…motives we see all the time as a customer, at work, in sport, and in politics.

Perhaps it is the customer experience that is “bad complexity”….. well, at least for many organisations.

On whether Knowledge Management matters

I’d like to start the New Year with a rhetorical question: does knowledge management (KM) really matter?

Well, it matters to me and to people within the KM world.  It matters to people who want to do their jobs more effectively and more efficiently. And it matters to conference organisers, book publishers, consultants, contractors, and people and institutions providing KM courses.

But does KM really matter to the people in organisations who have the power and authority to make the big decisions and then carry them out?  Based on my own observations and discussions with people, perhaps the only people who care about KM are the KM-ers in the industry itself.

There aren’t many examples of people like Bob Buckman from Buckman Laboratories (Book: Building a knowledge-driven organization) who really saw the benefit of pursuing a knowledge-driven strategy for his company.  I certainly read the Buckman Laboratories story with great interest, and might I say, with a great deal of hope that other organisations see the KM light as clearly and positively as Buckman himself.

It seems to me that the KM industry, and I am part of it too, spends a great deal of time talking about what KM can do; what KM could do; what KM might do; and what KM is all about, but actually struggling to get any key decision-maker within an organisation to actually support and promote an organisation-wide approach to KM.  Sure, we get by with the odd successful initiative or project and we can champion them (I certainly do!) but this is pretty small-fry in the big scheme of things.  We can lay claim to a nice intranet site, or a great social networking initiative, but rarely are these initiatives the well-spring of senior management.  More often than not, these KM initiatives emerge (struggle through by sheer individual persistence in many cases) and we celebrate them. In fact we actually make-believe that bottom-up approaches are the way forward rather than seeing these successes as symbols of bright KM cracks in a dull and disinterested organisational landscape.  Bright cracks of KM success are indeed positive, but they are not bright enough to penetrate the dim, dark recesses of conventional and political organisational management.

There was plenty to hear and read about “the KM success stories” when I did my Master of Knowledge Management course at University of Canberra, and all the readings and discussions on KM years prior to that.  In my Masters course, one subject on leadership highlighted the characteristics of great organisational leaders and how they made a big difference to their organisation – the US female newspaper publisher from yonks ago was the case study in fact (sorry, the details have skipped through my memory bank at this time).  And, of course, there are bestselling books and biographies of champion business leaders extolling more success stories.  I am not convinced that these tales are actually ever read by business leaders to stimulate thought about their own organisations, but perhaps they do.

However, in the ubiquitous world of organisations, all these success stories and learnings are the exception. We in KM seem not to be able to shift key management thinking and action towards an organisationally-driven knowledge management (or knowledge capable) enterprise, better able to recognise and solve internal problems, and more resilient and agile in the business environment.

So, does knowledge management really matter?

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.