Monday, 28 February 2011

LIKE 22 Event – What is Knowledge Management Really?

Thursday evening saw me back at the Crown Tavern, Clerkenwall for another very enjoyable LIKE event, which had been sold out for ages beforehand - What is Knowledge Management Really?
The four speakers were set a very challenging target of 3 minutes each to give us their answers to the question, and each approached it in a very different way.
First up was Matthew Walsh, knowledge manager at the Medical Defence Union.  He gave a rapid fire description of the 5 key principals the MDU uses, and mentioned that they’ve adopted Sharepoint for their implementation:
1.       All users must be able to add content in an intuitive place
2.       Collective responsibility for information added to the system
3.       Information should be shared wherever possible
4.       Information must be current and accurate to enable decision making
5.       Information should be easy to retrieve
Next to speak was Linda Woodcraft, from Hay Group.  Linda said that promoting KM is hard to do, when consultants have better things to do with their time, especially if there is little top down approval / promotion of KM efforts.  She said they try and do KM ‘by stealth’, for example by embedding KM processes into daily workflows.  She then described one such tool, a knowledge exchange called ‘ask the experts’, where responses to questions asked are tagged and published across the firm.  They receive around 4-8 questions per day onto this system.  Linda finished by saying that connecting people to content is OK, but connecting people to other people is ‘real KM’ and is harder!
Third to take the floor was James Andrews, Knowledge & Information Manager at the British Red Cross.  James described their three-pronged approach to KM, with a strategy taking into account People, Processes and Technology.  He said that they felt the people element was unordered (collaboration, networks, etc) while the process side was ordered (compliance, structured data, records management, etc), and that the technology element straddled across both and acted as an enabler.
Last but not least to speak was Katharine Schopflin , Head of Knowledge at the House of Commons.  Katharine admitted to being sceptical about KM when it first came to prominence, but said she has become a convert over the years.  She described the distinction between IM and KM as being “if information management is ensuring people can find data and information in a system, knowledge management is enabling people to find ‘stuff’ that’s never been written down.”  Katharine said that in her experience informal methods have worked best, for example a staff forum.  She also emphasises that there is an ongoing need to define and explain KM and demonstrate how it helps organisations to work better.
The rest of us were then given a rather more generous 20 minutes to discuss the ideas raised by the speakers and come up with our own answer(s) to the initial question – but it flew by and seemed like we’d only just started when time was called!  After pooling all our feedback it was time for the meal and a second glass of wine, along with such pleasant networking that I didn’t leave until gone 9pm.
- Nicola Franklin

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Making your portfolio work for you at interview

It’s the job interview. You’ve painstakingly researched the company. You’ve arrived early, shaken hands vigorously and smiled sweetly. You’ve settled into your patter, you’re answering the questions well. And, just when everything seems to be going smoothly, the question arises: “Could we see your portfolio?”

The art of putting together a portfolio is relatively simple. The art of talking through your portfolio and really making it work for you is one that surprisingly few candidates master.

When clients put together a job description it invariably covers a wide variety of desired skills and experience. So when they meet you face to face you should never forget that they want to tick off as many of those boxes as possible. As a former PR I spent many an hour wading through files trying to figure out what to put into my sleek black folder. As someone with considerably less creativity than your average MP’s expense form my aim was never to produce something which was attractive on the eye. Instead I decided to focus on producing something which encapsulated a little bit of everything that I did in my role. Yet now, as I sit on the other side of the fence interviewing candidates at all levels, I am amazed by how many portfolios focus on one thing and one thing only – coverage. Worse still I feel deflated when I sit listening to someone ploughing manfully through the umpteenth piece of coverage they achieved for campaign X, as I know that’s how the client will feel as well.    

Running an interviewer through your portfolio is actually the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the true breadth and depth of your experience and skills. However, too many candidates talk generally about campaigns that have been done within their team, and then proceed to flick through pages of coverage in an effort to prove they were a success. Whilst this may be true it’s imperative to realise that to get the most out of your interview you need to use your portfolio material to make it abundantly clear what YOU have done, and YOU only.

No matter whether you’re early in your PR career or a seasoned practitioner, think hard about what is expected of you at your level, and how you can demonstrate that with one or two tangible materials. Think about every step of each campaign and every aspect of your daily job: What do you do? What are you responsible for specifically? How did your action and work affect specific campaigns? What were the highlights? And so on and so on.

So, as an example:
-      If a campaign started with a new business pitch or proposal show examples of where you were involved (maybe brainstorming ideas, maybe drafting part or all of the presentation). This could be a single campaign, a monthly proposal, or a PR plan for the entire year
-      If you played a role in campaign development, setting the strategy and objectives, and developing the tactics, then get all relevant examples into the portfolio. This is particularly important as it allows you to show that you understood exactly what each campaign was designed to achieve, to demonstrate the clever work you did to hit those objectives, and to then relate all this to the end result (see ‘end result’ below)
-      If you managed other team members and can bring this to life, do so. Even if you simply want to show how you manage your day with a to do list, it’s all relevant to the role for which you’re interviewing
-      If writing is a key aspect of your role show the full breadth of what you’re capable of. So this could be press releases, feature articles, executive profiles, case studies, blog entries, news alerts and much more. And if you want to show how you can take a story and adapt it to different audiences, put the same release or article in multiple times, and highlight how you achieved just that
-      If you played a role in budget management show evidence of how you manage this
-      End result: frequently this will be media coverage, but it could also be many other things, including a perception shift, an event, an increase in sales, social media chatter etc. So don’t just stuff your portfolio full of coverage for coverage’s sake. Look back at the objectives, look at who the campaign was aimed at, and include the most relevant examples of why it was a success
-      Reporting – not everyone’s favourite pastime but an essential part of any future role. Be it contact reports, monthly reports, multi-agency reports or annual reports, show what you contributed specifically
-      And finally, evaluation. Online or offline it’s a vital part of a PR’s arsenal, so demonstrate how you had your say

A portfolio that is well thought out and presented will help you position yourself as someone with authority and confidence. Someone who can succinctly and effectively show exactly what value they are to their business, and how they tick all the relevant boxes required for the job that is on offer. A portfolio which is full of pretty pictures but leaves you with little opportunity to sell yourself can be more damaging than good.

Ultimately the separation will not be “Who has the most jazzy material to present?” It comes down to “Who has the most to contribute to my company?”

- Tim Court

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Initial impressions of the 2nd Fragmentation Meeting

Yesterday afternoon around a dozen people sat round a table to continue the discussions begun in December about how the various information societies and groups can work together more effectively.

We initially each had a 2 minute slot to make comments either arising from the record of the first meeting or to give the views of the various bodies represented on what the issues are or how they can be addressed. Several interesting ideas were brought up, including:

* Within government the profession is seen as a disparate grouping of organisations that don’t work in a coherent fashion
* ‘the profession’ is expanding into new areas, from social media to data protection, and these areas are often not staffed by people from a ‘traditional’ information background
* There is a perceived need to define the interface between technology and information – the plumbing and the water, perhaps!
* There is increasingly blurring between information and IT roles and skills
* Organisations have a pressing need to manage their information overload but are either ignorant of, or have misunderstandings about, the contribution information professionals could bring
* The world is changing increasingly fast – and information professionals are not changing as quickly so a disconnect is in danger of growing
* Information professionals may by nature be ‘control freaks’ – but in today’s world is flexible guidance needed more than controls or rules?

We moved on as a whole group to discuss ‘what are information practitioners’?

This produced a lively discussion. We started by thinking of job roles that could / should be included and which were outside the scope of the profession – especially in terms of information producers (writers, designers, publishers) compared to information organisers or managers. Do researchers fall within scope? How about information architects?

We moved onto consider skills – is there one core skill set that all information professionals have? Perhaps an ability to organise information, whether that is called cataloguing, classification, taxonomy, metadata, file plans or any other label.

Mark (Field) made a commitment to organise a third meeting, for as many of the participants of the first two meetings who wished to remain engaged with the process, at which we need to move from a discussion of the issues to the creation of some concrete outcomes. Suggested outputs included a précis of the initial LinkedIn discussion, an Information Manifesto and an Information Charter, and a mechanism whereby all the groups involved can draw on the collected expertise of the members to draft joint statements, for example to the media, government or employment groups.

We are also still hoping to host an open invitation meeting, advertised as widely as possible, for any interested individuals to voice their ideas – we are just in need of a venue capable of holding such a gathering – volunteers anyone?

Another review of this meeting has been posted by NetIKX on their blog

- Nicola Franklin

Thursday, 17 February 2011

"Fragmentation or Collaboration?" - A Personal View

Today sees the publication in CILIP Update with Gazette of my report on the 'Fragmentation death of the information profession' LinkedIn thread and subsequent meeting which took place on 14th December 2010.

I believe that increasing the collaboration and communication between the various associations, societies and groups representing the many parts of the information profession is a vital goal.

In my view it is indeed a great shame that previous efforts towards some of the groups working together have 'fizzled out' (as one of the previous organisers of such efforts put it to me).

One can only wonder 'what if...' 
  • what if the groups had been collaborating effectively over the past 10-15 years;
  • what if they had been prominent in the media as a coherent voice clearly demonstrating the value of trained information professionals finding, filtering and translating the information overload the everyone was talking about;
  • what if they had been talking to employers about the dilution and devaluing of business information if the banks et al went ahead with their outsourcing/offshoring moves;
Perhaps librarians wouldn't have to be fighting quite so hard against the view that 'we have the internet, why do we need libraries any more' if there had been more effective advocacy and promotion and education all along.  It is hard to suddenly try and prove the point when there is a crisis, when there hasn't been a consistent and effective campaign of promotion or explanation of the value of professionals helping people find the information they need. 

This is why I volunteered to help Mark Field, the knowledge manager working at the Department for Education who began the discussion thread, organise the face-to-face meetings and any other work which may come out of this effort. 

It would be too easy to say 'it's too late, what's the point'.  This is not even from a point of view of self interest - whether for one's own job as an information professional, or for my job as a recruiter of information professionals - it is from the perspective of society as a whole.  If we want to live in a democracy, then citizens need and have a right to freely available access to all kinds of information.

I sincerely hope that the many and varied bodies that represent and provide services to all the different flavours of information professional take this opportunity to work together effectively - and don't let it fizzle out this time.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

A day of two halves

Yesterday was pretty hectic, as I rushed from the office in the morning to an ARMA Europe seminar in the afternoon to the SLA Europe Winter Warmer Quiz in the evening!

AMRA Europe Seminar

The ARMA event was held at the Ritz, sponsored by Autonomy, so a groups of records managers in their Sunday best enjoyed coffee/tea served in real china cups and saucers, while being served mini-high tea style nibbles (the tiny apple strudel come filo parcels with chocolate dipping sauce were particularly scrumptious!) on glass platters by a bevy of black suited waiters.  All very impressive and decadent.

All too soon, however, we were ushered through into another room, similarly swagged and gilded, to listed to what turned out to be some very interesting and informative talks.

First up was Galina Datskovsky, SVP Information Governance at Autonomy from the USA, and president-elect of ARMA International this year.  Galina gave an indepth review of the GARP standard (Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles) with some entertaining anecdotes of issues organisations can get themselves into without sound RM policies in place.  She said one indicator that RM isn't very developed at an organisation is where the records management team reports into Facilities, whereas an indicator of a more advanced programme could be where a committee of legal, compliance, IT, RM and users meets regularly to set policies and strategies.

Second to speak was Jon Guard of the DLM Forum and author of MoReq 2010.  He spoke about the difference between standards which set out principals, like GARP or ISO 25489, and those which are intended to be used to create functional specifications, like MoReq or TNA 2002.  Jon described the modular nature of the reviesed MoReq standard, which is designed to cope with the need for interoperability between systems and the specific requirements of differently regulated sectors.

SLA Europe Quiz

After a swift dash across town to the City, I met up with a group of colleagues from Fabric and we prepared to face Tony's scary questions.

Amid much hilarity and overly-loud whispers (well shouts in some cases) of the answers (which probably didn't help anyone around us, to be honest, since most of them were wrong), we managed to come storming into last place.  As this meant a 'booby' prize of six books to share amongst the team we weren't too gutted however!

In a change from previous years pizza was replaced by platters of nibbles - including chicken nuggets, sandwiches, nachos and chips.  This went down very well, as did the new table allocation system.  Great fun was had by all, and I only just managed to catch my 10.20 train home.

- Nicola Franklin

GCC Inching Closer to Unified VISA System

Following the recent announcement of relaxed labour laws in the UAE, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have announced that they are working on issuing ‘unified’ visas for ‘foreign tourists and businessmen’.  This is common sense – it means that people travelling to one GCC state on business will not need to apply for new visas when hopping around what is a relatively small geographical area.  It also makes life easier for GCC citizens wishing to take their foreign employees with them as they move around the region – maids for example.  Previously a maid would have to apply in advance for a visa to another GCC state, hindering the smooth movement of citizens (and therefore business). 

It will be interesting to see how this plays in Saudi Arabia, which has tough entry criteria – business men usually need an invitation from a business partner within the country before applying for an entry permit, a process which takes days or even weeks.  It will also be interesting to see if Saudi Arabia implements special provisions to prevent access to women who hold a unified visa.  Clearly such matters will take time to be ironed out but the thrust of all of these new laws is towards a more open, flexible business environment.  Great news for the region and for companies doing business here. 

- George Stothard

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Where is the country heading?

There is increasing awareness in the public arena of the growing threat to public libraries, through the fantastic work being done by the Voices for the Library Group and by young professionals like Johanna Anderson and her Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaign.   Added to this is the slower and less visible erosion of school library provision across the country, as described by Caroline Roche on the CILIP communities blog. 
 CILIP also reported a couple of weeks ago that the Government consultation paper ‘Liberating the NHS: An Information Revolution’, while a welcome focus on information management, missed out on consideration of the role of external content in the health service:
“...the importance of information to clinical practice, medical education and Continuous Professional Development by NHS staff, and the needs of research are not given sufficient coverage.”
Overall the picture is not a happy one.  Widespread misunderstanding &/or ignorance exists of the vital role that librarians and information professionals of all types play in ‘making sense’ of the information overload that is widely accepted to affect many people. 
Further closures of public and school libraries could deprive many of the most needy groups in society of access to information.  This loss is occurring at just that time in history where the internet and social media are making information literacy vital to success; success in work but also in life, in education, in getting a job, in claiming benefits, and so on across an ever increasing spectrum.
What will this country look like in 5 or 10 years time?  What will it be like if there are children growing up without access to a library of any kind, GP Consortia instead of PCT’s, again without librarian support to give them the medical evidence on which to base practice, and unemployed and disadvantaged people with no one to help them get online?
It doesn’t sound like a country to be proud of.  Blaming the public, or anyone else, for this state of ignorance won’t help resolve the problem, however.  If we are to avoid this situation becoming reality then all librarians, information professionals, knowledge managers – whatever we call ourselves – have to band together and reach out to the public and the government and make the case for librarianship.
- Nicola Franklin