Category Archives: Records Management

Knowledge brokering

In response to a post about knowledge brokering by Richard Vines on the ACT-KM listserv, I thought I should also share my comments here.

Before knowledge management came along and gained some traction as a discipline (or at least, a particular kind of management approach) we had libraries where information was provided, some of which was used to solve business problems and improve decision-making. While this form of explicit knowledge transfer was usually one way, in smaller special libraries inside organisations (especially corporate institutions), there were opportunities to harness tacit knowledge through knowledge brokering (even if at the time we weren’t calling this a knowledge broker role).

In my experience in working in special libraries in international banks in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, it was indeed one of my key (implicit) roles to act as a knowledge broker within the organisation. The reason was that it was my job to help people solve problems and improve decisions through providing information and knowledge. And even back then, some of us realised that books and journals and newspaper clippings weren’t the stuff of real competitive advantage – human capital was.

My knowledge broker experience sought to match up those with the right knowledge at the right time to those who needed it. In many cases, this brokering role became an addition to the basic information search, analyse, and deliver role I was already playing. The matching was often serendipitous, often opportunistic, and had relatively poor scaleability en masse. However, it did require me to build relationships and trust, while at the same time demonstrating keen awareness for what people were working on and what interested them. In this sense, the knowledge brokering was highly personal.

Nevertheless, knowledge brokering in these contexts of the time performed the role of matching existing tacit knowledge within the organistion to those individuals where it was needed. At the same time, my knowledge broking role also considered the compliance and “Chinese-Walls” issues so important within investment banking.

Finally, I must say that the opportunities arose because the “library” was regarded as being “neutral” and thereby had the ability to leverage trust, conversation and multiple interactions from which knowledge brokering was possible.

The bottom line, however, was in making conversation and establishing people connections; something that knowledge management still strives to reproduce (with more scale) today.


On open government

This evening I discovered the text of a speech by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on working smarter in government (i.e. the civil service).  Now working smarter, and leveraging what organisation’s already do more effectively,  are at the heart of good knowledge management.  The speech is much broader than simply having the civil service become more efficient – Brown outlines a vision for open government and engagement with the citizenry.  Interestingly, what Brown says about government and public engagement sounds very similar to the sentiments expressed in the Engage Report that I blogged about in my previous blog post.

In particular, Brown says: “We will ensure that people can get access to the information they need to engage in dialogue with public service professionals; and in doing so reduce bureaucratic burdens. This will drive improvements in public services, making them more personal and cost-effective, whilst at the same time strengthening democratic deliberation and giving frontline workers and voluntary organisations the freedom to innovate and respond to new demands in new ways. We are determined to be among the first governments in the world to open up public information in a way that is far more accessible to the general public … In this way people will no longer be passive recipients of services but, through dialogue and engagement, active participants – shaping, controlling and determining what is best for them.”

I applaud the sentiments expressed in this speech by Gordon Brown.  Similarly, the Engage Report in Australia says: “Engagement is the central theme of this report. It deals with the connection of people to information so that knowledge assets can be re-used to create new and often unexpected value. It deals as well with the growing opportunities for more effective collaboration with citizens in different dimensions of government – policy development, regulatory reform, program and service design”.

Yet I still have that nagging concern that public-government engagement is not what it appears.  Sure, I understand the desire to publish government content (in greater volume no doubt, but hopefully in a form that is of most value to the public).  I applaud the use of web 2.0 tools to facilitate some form of public feedback or dialogue.  I certainly understand the view that the public has a right to be informed and that government needs to become more accountable.  These are all good things and are very big steps for government to be actively pursuing.  Yet, how much of all of this is just an enormous content dump, and how much of it will be real engagement – engagement where citizens actively become involved with the workings and decsions of government departments and agencies?

Web 2.0 requires a different way of thinking.  There is more emphasis on distributed intelligence and networks rather than centralised control systems and fixed hierarchies.  Web 2.0 is not about control, but more interested in the dialogue and “the conversation”. Web 2.0 tools and applications are interactive and immediate.  And most importantly, web 2.0 thinking is the thinking of the new world environment of the 21st century so there is no excuse not to partake of the best that web 2.0 can offer.  It’s simply evolutionary organisational dynamics.

Brown in his speech goes on to say: “But if the purpose of our reforms is not only to be more efficient, but to meet future challenges and re-engineer our public services from good to great, Whitehall has to let go – and empower staff and the public to shape provision in meeting local needs and priorities” (my bold and italics).  This cultural change will not be easy.  The same issue was identified in Australia in the Engage Report – that there is a strong cultural and operational tendency within government to withhold information.  There are many reasons, some of which are spurious and others that have some legitimacy. Traditional control-based organisations in government will need to change if open government is to become a reality. But there are realistic concerns around privacy, political risk, and copyright – challenges all of which can be overcome I must say.

The challenge for open government and increasing citizen engagement with government is not the web 2.0 tools which are readily available.  The challenge is how to foster a culture of openness and collaboration in government agencies.  In addition, there may be significant resource issues around content management and web sites, records management systems, information management, and knowledge management.  The classic organisational problem, “we don’t know what we don’t know”, is no longer now just a knowledge management problem; it’s now a government-wide problem that must be overcome before open government can be effective.  However, the fundamental success factor for open government will be people-based – trust and organisational culture being pivotal.

The vision for open government espoused by UK PM Gordon Brown and in the Engage Report for Australia are commendable.  They are optimistic and challenging.  But they also offer opportunities for knowledge management to become a significant and active stakeholder in the way in which open government might unfold.  I certainly hope so.

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.

On RMAA Convention 2008 – report (3)

Who would have thought that I could make three  blog posts out of the first day of a conference? Well this is the third instalment. I will focus on three papers that dealt with electronic document and records management systems strategy and implementations.

The three presentations were delivered by Jo Stephenson (Victorian Department of Transport), Matt O’Mara (Wellington City Libraries), and Jo Golding (Eraring Energy).

Jo Stephenson detailed her experience in project managing the implementation of an EDRMS across a state government department. The focus was on the people in the strategy and this implementation. Key messages included understanding the diverse work practices and variety of information systems in use; use stories from the front line about the current unstructured information environment (and this is something I am currently collating myself in my current role to support the rest of the EDRMS strategy); listen, capture and reflect on what people are saying; understand the organisational drivers and business activities; involve people along the journey; agree on a start and an end point; communicate often and widely; and, simplify the message – save it, find it, secure it, and save it.

Jo also had some common sense advice about communicating the “what’s in it for me message?”. This is always good practice in my opinion, but too often these basic behavioural and attitudinal factors are left until the end of the implementation. If staff are only exposed to the EDRMS for the first time in training and then in a live operating environment, then people not only feel left out of the actual process but are also reluctant to embrace change based on a lack of understanding about “what’s in it for me?”. Usually, we offer compliance and governance as key drivers for user adoption. Jo recommends advocating other attributes of more direct relevance to people doing the work – for example, improve access and retrieval of documents, assist in decision-making, and saving time.

I recommend understanding the workplace behaviours and workplace needs of individuals within your particular organisation in order to give you a better understanding of where these “touchpoints” are most relevant and where there is likely to be the greatest impact.

I did ask Jo about critical success factors, especially one she mentioned on increased data storage requirements. Increasing data storage might not always indicate success in my opionion. Volume does not always equate to data quality.

Matt O’Mara spoke about implementing an information strategy. Matt only had four months in which to develop a strategy and he chose to concentrate on identifying business needs and business problems, and then looking at what solutions might be relevant and how the solutions would be enabled. I certainly agree that matching problems to solutions helps in getting senior executive interest rather than trying to win support based on records management principles alone. Matt also recommended doing a benefits analysis. In addition, Matt talked about information management maturity models (I have alluded to them in a previous post) and the use of an issues register.

I had to agree with Matt that building sound information management foundations was a critical dimension for organisational success, something that still rings true in the Web 2.0 world.

Jo Golding outlined how she approached the task of establishing an EDRMS within a major NSW energy utility. The corporate information strategy was based on three key objectives:

  • protect our information
  • decrease risk
  • effective use of business information

There was wide consultation with the different Eraring Energy sites. Jo emphasised the importantce of utilising the knowledge of the people within the organisation to discover culture (at different power generation sites), staff-organisation relations, leaders and champions, and effective rewards. Rollout and training occurred together and Jo admitted being fortunate that Eraring had compulsory training days (T-days) that she could leverage for the necessary EDRMS training and skill updates (among other channels).

The common theme that struck me was the recognition that any strategy and implementation needs to find acceptance and support within the organisation. One of the ways I have approached this kind of thing in the past has been to use informal channels to build internal relationships from which more structured and formal communication initiatives can take place. In large organisations (like giant government departments) this approach may well be impractical.

Establishing an authentic personal profile and building relationships within and between organisations helps improve the effectiveness of raising awareness and garnering participation through more formal communication channels. Moreover, marketing a service or a new workplace activity is improved by harnessing real and personal connections.

My notes reveal one final thought for further consideration: we need to see beyond information management and knowledge management within our organisations. Sure, we have discrete activities and responsibilites that fall within particular designations (as do health professionals), but we need to improve our understanding of the relationship between those knowledge and information activities, increase the depth of our networks, and leverage our skills and capabilities more effectively. I believe we are all heading in the same direction so let’s work together to make the journey more valuable.

Finally, I must thank the presenters and the attendees of the RMAA Convention 2008 whom I managed to talk with on Monday (and Professor Julie McLeod this morning at the IIM breakfast) for some stimulating thinking and discussion – all good stuff!

ON RMAA Convention 2008 – report (2)

In my blog post on Monday I gave a brief summary of the presentations I attended at the RMAA Convention in Sydney. I have finally sorted through my notes and here are some of the discussion points.

The keynote speaker was Dr Julie McLeod from Northumbria University who spoke about the adoption and adaption of records management tools and methodologies. She was interested in the question: “do organisations consider their (standards and methodologies) applicability”. This is one of the considerations that I often find myself contemplating – what standards to adopt and how to apply them, or are they applicable to the workplace context at all?

There were some key drivers for adoption of the international standard – best practice, credibility, profile, promotion. For those organisations starting out, compliance and governance, nature of the standard, and resourcing issues were most important. Against the adoption or adaption were competing resources and priorities, low incentive, lack of newness, and the belief that standards weren’t that important. Finally, some organisations from the study had actually ceased to use the standard at all, albeit modifying the standard and adapting it to better reflect organisational context (something I believe is often necessary). The upshot is that the international standard is still subject to context and/or the needs of particular organisations.

In addition, another study that looked at records management compliance toolkits (IGT, IMCC, RMCAS, and Risk Profiler) had a range of responses. Not surprisingly, the responses related to the applicability of what the toolkit could deliver within the organisational context. The value and benefits of the toolkits were expressed in these key areas:

  • assess and measure compliance and capacity of the the organisation in terms of records management
  • benchmarking
  • to help identify strengths and weaknesses

Personally, I don’t find much value in prescriptive toolkits but I am willing to explore the four used in the study to understand their potential applicability in the real world, or otherwise.

The third study presented by Dr McLeod was AC+erm – accelerating the pace of change in electronic records management. The study explored critical issues and strategies, coming up with 19 critical success factors, ten of which were specific to electronic records management systems. People featured in eight themes and common amongst them were these three:

  • lack of senior management understanding about records management and uncertainty about their own role in relation to it
  • records management needs different skills and knowledge base than other business areas
  • records management principles need to be valued as an integral part of the organisation

The results should not have been a surprise to those working in the information and knowledge industry!

Professor McLeod concluded by saying that the evidence from her research indicated that standards and methodologies were being adapted and adopted, both in terms of tools and principles. Organisations were doing research and work-based evaluations about records management. And there is growing support to advance the principles and practice of records management within organisations. The final analogy was the bridge – based on standard principles of design and construction, but adapted for specific use and locations. Professor McLeod looked forward to bridging the gap between principles and practice even further.

My comment here is that the intersection between theory and practice makes perfectly common sense if you allow yourself to adopt and adapt according to the specific needs or challenges of the environment in which one works. The emphasis may differ, but practice and theory (standards and methodologies are part of that) are worthy of dual and intertwined consideration. I never see them being self-exclusive.

I am attending an Institute for Information Management (IIM) breakfast tomorrow morning and hope to hear more from Professor McLeod at that (very early) function.

More commentary on the Monday RMAA Convention presentations tomorrow evening…and I will follow that up later with some discussion about intranets and content management, another workplace project I am working on with my team.

On the Sydney records management convention – Day 1

I attended the first day of the Records Management Association of Australia (RMAA) Convention at Darling Harbour in Sydney. It’s the only day I could have attended out of a three day program. I also took advantage of the extensive trade exhibition to talk with a number of vendors and records managment service providers.

I took a stack of notes in my usual hurried writing scrawl. And I am hopeful of getting access to all the presentations from today via the RMAA web site to ensure my notes are complete. I will provide more detail about the presentations I saw today, plus comments, in my next blog post. But some brief notes from today…

The keynote speaker was Dr Julie McLeod from Northumbria University in the United Kingdom. Dr McLeod spoke about three projects she and her research team were working on looking at records management standards and methodologies. The talk was particularly relevant to the convention theme – adopting and adapting – a theme that has been, and remains, of critical importance to me in my working experiences.

The next speaker I heard was the seminar presentation from Jo Stephenson from the Victorian State Department of Transport. Jo told us about the EDRMS implementation at the Department. Jo said the implementation was “all about the people” and how the people-focused approach took shape throughout the project. For me, that pretty much goes without saying – the people are certainly high on my list of considerations when implementing any information and knowledge management systems or processes.

After Jo, back in the auditorium, was the presentation by New Zealander Matt O’Mara. I have seen and heard Matt present before (at IIM in Canberra last year) so I was pleased to hear again about his EDRMS experiences at Wellington City Council. Matt spoke on implementing an information management strategy and this was naturally of real relevance to me in my current workplace context.

After lunch I went to the presentation from Jo Golding from Eraring Energy. I worked with Jo in the mid-1990’s at Parliament House in Canberra so it was great to catch up with her later. Jo spoke about implementing an information and change management strategy, based on her experiences at Eraring Energy. Once again, I had some more relevant content.

The last presentation I attended for the day was from Trevor and Adele from Sutherland Shire Council. They spoke about their EDRMS experiences within a local government context.

During the remainder of the afternoon I chatted to vendors and records management service providers. Whether it’s records management, knowledge management or content management, I really love keeping up to date with what’s on offer in the broad information industry and this afternoon at the trade exhibition was no different. I also caught up with the people from InfoXpert, a company I have had some positive dealings with in the past.

I still have plenty of brochureware and web sites to chase up, not to mention people whom I met with today. My notes are a scrawl, as usual, but I won’t have any trouble rewriting them and adding my notations. My next blog post will have more detail, so if that sounds of interest, check back in to my blog tomorrow.

I do have an endnote from today’s convention: to the EDRMS vendor who thinks promoting it’s exhibitor stand with hard rock virtual guitar-playing animated computer simulation. It’s probably not a good idea to have the thrashing guitar music up so loud when you’re trying to give a product demonstration less than a metre away. Not the greatest customer experience I had today…perhaps some headphones for the Angus Young wannabes might help solve the problem!

On methodology in records and knowledge management

I have been working on a document and records management strategy and plan for my current employer. I am actually enjoying the challenge of assessing the organisation’s needs and capabilities in terms of the whole gamut of records management practice.

I am working with the DIRKS methodology from the National Archives of Australia because I am familiar with the system and it pretty much follows common sense, always a useful attribute in itself. The DIRKS methodology is also an Australian Standard.

However, I am naturally working with the methodology in a particular workplace context, with specific organisational goals, and with context-sensitive change management issues. I am therefore using the DIRKS methodology as a way of placing my thoughts and strategies into a framework from which to ask myself a range of questions and to check assertions and assumptions.

I quite like using the methodology this way rather than feeling constrained by methodologies that may not best fit the needs of the organisation, nor the context. As a consequence, I will be taking a broader look at other records management methodologies to see how approaches may differ. If you are in Sydney at the Records Management Association of Australia Convention next Monday, perhaps we can chat about it there!

Interestingly, Cory Banks recently asked about knowledge management maturity models. The request was interesting because I am looking at that particular methodology for some academic work I am doing in my Masters course. Once again, I am looking at the methodology as a vehicle to challenge my thoughts and give me ideas and guidance for a particular knowledge management approach.

And since I have initiated knowledge management projects in the past (and likely to do so in the future), I am more than interested in these kinds of methodological approaches – for better or worse! At least I will be able to judge how useful they may be for contexts I encounter in the future; if they are useful at all, or whether a particular methodology may indeed be mandatory at a particular workplace!

Like my records management example, I am looking at knowledge management maturity models in terms of the organisational goals, organisational capabilities and resource potential, and contextual environment.

I suppose I am lucky in the sense that I have had the flexibility to be able to use methodologies in the way I have. Some organisations follow particular methodologies to the letter, allowing no flexibility in consideration of organisational context and organisational structures.

I have seen methodologies become the centrepiece of organisational assessment and decision-making rather than being used as a tool to assist in organisational analysis, contextual understanding, and contextually appropriate solutions. In such cases, the methodology seems to be more important than the solution. Perhaps methodologies can work that way but complex problems do not respond well to such dogmatic approaches.

I would be happy to hear about people’s experiences with methodological approaches and assessments in either a records management or knowledge management context. Please feel free to make a comment.