Information Design, with Conrad Taylor and Ruth Miller

On 26 January 2017, the speakers at the NetIKX meeting were Conrad and Ruth. Conrad has written up the two talks below. A fuller account of his own talk can be found on his Conradiator site at http://www.conradiator.com/kidmm/netikx-infodesign-conrad.html, as he notes below.

Photo David Dickinson

 

For some comments on the meeting, by Claire Parry, see the very end of this report.

Conrad’s Account

The topic of the NetIKX seminar on 26 January 2017 was ‘Information Design – approaches to better communication’. Information Design (ID) is a collection of practices using visual design, clear writing and thinking about human factors, to making information easier to understand – especially information for the general public. Information designers work across a range of types of media, from road signs to government forms, user manuals to transport maps, bank statements to legal contracts, and increasingly information presented through computer interfaces and Web sites.

I was the first speaker, running through a background history and the theoretical underpinnings of ID, and showing examples with a strong visual component. Ruth Miller then took over and focused on the Plain Language side of things. Both Ruth and I have been active around the Information Design Association in the UK (IDA) for 25+ years.

Here, I’m giving only a brief summary of my own presentation; as I had prepared it in written form with illustrations, I’ve thought it best to convert that into a kind of stand-alone essay; you can find it at http://www.conradiator.com/kidmm/netikx-infodesign-conrad.html. Ruth’s contribution, however, is presented below at greater length, as it isn’t represented elsewhere.

Introducing Information Design

In my opening presentation I explained that the awkward label ‘Information Design’ emerged in the late 1970s as a rallying point for a diverse bunch of folk committed to clarity and simplicity in information presentation. That led to the founding of the Information Design Journal, a series of conferences, and organisations such as the IDA. Some people came into this from a graphic design background; some were committed to the simplification of written language. Psychologists, linguists and semioticians have also contributed their insights.

Despite this avowed interdisciplinarity, the ID community has sadly kept aloof from people in information and knowledge management. One of the exceptional people acting as a bridge is Liz Orna, long associated with NetIKX and its predecessor the Aslib IRM Network. In her writing, Liz has long emphasised the important role of ‘information products’ as artefacts designed for conveying knowledge.

Visual examples across the ages

I then conducted a whistle-stop history tour of innovation in making complicated stuff easier to understand through pictorial and typographic means, including:

  • Tables, a surprisingly old way of handling information (reaching way back to Sumeria in about 2500 BCE). My table examples included tide-tables, ‘ready reckoners’, and text in tabular formats.
  • Diagrams/drawings, ranging from more exactingly accurate ones such as anatomical atlases and sea-navigation charts, to line drawings and schematic diagrams which remove unnecessary detail so that they can focus on communicating (for example, how things work).
  • Harry Beck’s London Underground diagram got a special mention, given its iconic status. It is often called a ‘map’ but in reality it is a service network diagram, and this approach to transport information has been copied worldwide.

Harry Beck underground diagram

  • Charts and graphs including Joseph Priestley’s first timeline, William Playfair’s invention of the line and area chart, and Florence Nightingale’s ‘coxcomb diagrams’ for presenting statistics.
  • Data maps, such as John Snow’s 1854 plot of cholera deaths around the Broad Street pump in Soho.
  • Network diagrams as used to represent links between entities or people, or to explain data flows in a software system.

I also mentioned business forms and questionnaires as an important genre, but I left this topic to Ruth who has more experience with these.

Where did Information Design thinking come from?

The above examples, which I illustrated using pictures, illustrate trends and innovations in the presentation of information. Next I looked at how the quest for clear communication became more conscious of itself, more bolstered with theory, and better organised into communities of practice.

This seems to have happened first in improving the clarity of text. In the 1940s, Rudolf Flesch and Robert Gunning proposed some objective ways of measuring the readability of text, by calculations involving the length of sentences and the average number of syllables per word.

Flesch Readability Chart Flesch Readability Chart

In the UK, Sir Ernest Gowers formulated a guide to plain English writing to educate civil servants, culminating in the famous book The Complete Plain Words, which is still in print after six decades and a number of revisions.

In the Second World War, the technical sophistication of weapons plus, in Britain, the need to engage the public in war preparedness seem to have been drivers for innovations in technical documentation and the creation of training materials, and the job description ‘Technical Author’ came into being. As this trend in technical documentation continued in the post-War era, technical communicators organised themselves into associations like the STC and ISTC. In the richer industries such as aerospace, technical documentation also pioneered the use of early WYSIWYG computer systems like Xerox Docomenter and Interleaf for document composition.

In 1943, the UK Medical Research Council formed its Applied Psychology Unit in Cambridge, initially to investigate how to help armed forces personnel understand and cope with information under stresful conditions. Post-war, APU researcher Pat Wright went on to investigate factors in text legibility and comprehension; Don Norman contributed to the establishment of Cognitive Science as a discipline, and helped Apple Computer as its first User Experience Architect.

In 1978, NATO sponsored a conference in the Netherlands about human factors and the design of non-electronic information displays; the papers were published as Information Design in 1984. The Information Design Journal was set up in the aftermath of the event and was then the focus for a number of conferences in the UK. As for the IDA, it was launched in 1991.

Some issues and developments

I rounded off my presentation by touching on three issues which have been woven in and out of Information Design practice down the years:

  • Desktop publishing’, which put typesetting control and on-screen design into the hands of graphic designers, was a powerful enabler for information designers in particular.
  • Understanding the reader remains a challenge for anyone who truly seeks to communicate clearly. It’s dangerous to make assumptions about what will make sense to a user community unless you find out about that community. Today there is growing sophistication in using qualitative research methods and even ethnography to inform more effective writing and design.
  • Prototyping and usability testing – making prototypes is easier than before. Testing them with a sample of people representative of the eventual users can provide very useful insights, as Ruth would later illustrate from her own experience.

I closed my section of the meeting by speculating that the realm of information and knowledge management has hitherto tended to be dominated by librarians and like professionals, who focus on curating and organising collections of information resources. I would like there to be more engagement between this group and those actively engaged in designing and creating the information products which Liz Orna has described as having a central role in conveying knowledge between people.

Liz Orna on the chain of communication

I then handed the meeting over to Ruth.

Ruth Miller on plain language

ruth-millerRuth explained that she did not train to be a plain language communicator; she fell into it and found it a perfect match for her personality. Like many people who work on improving communication, she notices things that are odd or confusing in everyday life, and wonders how they could be organised better. She would describe herself as a Simplifier: someone who looks at information and thinks about how to make it easier for people to understand.

More recently, Ruth has had the experience of teaching English to unaccompanied minors, as a volunteer at a refugee camp in Greece.

Plain language is not new. ‘Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in few words,’ it says in Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) (32:8), which dates from about 200 BCE. From Ptolemaic Egypt, we have a letter from a Minister of Finance to a senior civil servant, saying ‘Apollonius to Zeno, greetings. You did right to send the chickpeas to Memphis. Farewell!’ These quotes are from a 1988 pamphlet called ‘Making it Plain: a plea for plain English in the Civil Service’, with a foreword by Margaret Thatcher.

Thatcher promoted plain language writing. Early in her first government she engaged Derek Rayner, former CEO of Marks and Spencer, to commission a series of reports on efficiency in government, the ‘Rayner Reviews’. One of these, Forms into Shape (1981), analysed the use of forms in the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS), and recommended the setting up of specialist Forms Units in government departments. Ruth would have more to say about forms design later, from her experience inside one of those units.

Ruth showed an illustration from the horticulture manual Flora, Ceres and Pomona by John Rea, beside an excerpt in which Rea says that he ‘has not inserted any of those notorious lies I have frequently found in books of this subject, but in plain English terms, set down the truth in every particular’. This is the earliest use Ruth has found of the phrase ‘plain English’ – it dates from 1665.

When plain language explanation should be unnecessary!

In many circumstances you shouldn’t need an explanation. Ruth showed a photo of a bathroom tap with a square knob set some centimetres to the right of it, from a British hotel. She couldn’t figure out how to make water come out of it. Evidently she wasn’t alone in this: the hotel had added a sign saying ‘Tilt Taps to Operate’ – which only made matters more confusing (the tap does not tilt, and there is only one of it). ‘Turn knob to operate tap’ would have been better – but even then, it’s an example of information as a prosthesis; had the artefact been better designed in the first place, it would not be necessary to help it with an information crutch.

Ruth also showed a photo of a fine mahogany boardroom table she had encountered at a business meeting. It’s useful to have a table on which to place your bag, so you can unpack the things you need for the meeting. On this table was placed a sign, ‘Please Do Not Put Briefcases on Tables as It Damages the Surface’. Ignoring points of dubious grammar, and the strange capitalisation… isn’t it just daft to provide a table you can’t use as a table?

‘If you go away from this meeting with only one thought,’ said Ruth, ‘it should be: think about the whole situation and challenge the need to explain, however clearly, something that is nonsense in the first place.’

Siegel and Gale experience

After working in government service, Ruth moved to the communication consultancy Siegel and Gale. This was an exciting time when computer technology and laser printers were changing how personalised documents such as utility bills and bank statements could be delivered. Now less ‘computerish’ fonts could be used; layouts could be more sophisticated; type size and boldness could be used for emphasis.

Siegel and Gale caused a stir in the 1990s with their redesign of the British Telecom phone bill. This put summary information on the front page, and more detail on follow-on pages; it used simplified language, and logical grouping of items. As a result the number of customer billing enquiries fell by 25%. BT also found that customers paid bills more promptly.

Siegel and Gale once won the Design Effectiveness Awards with a humble Royal Mail redirection form. Before the redesign, that form had an 87% error rate when customers filled it in, costing Royal Mail about £10,000 a week. The redesigned form paid for itself in just 17 days!

Siegel and Gale also moved into the redesign of bank statements. For Barclays, they changed the technical language of ‘Debits’ and ‘Credits’ to ‘Money out’ and ‘Money in’. In other words, name things the way people think about them, in the language they are used to.

Conrad had mentioned ethnographic research in passing; Ruth refers to watching people use things. Once she had worked on a booklet for TalkTalk, to help people set up an Internet router at home. They then embarked on research to see how effective the booklet design had been. What had really helped was the inclusion of photos: this is what’s in the box, this is what it will look like when you have set it up, and so on.

This project did have its moments of comedy. There was a particular router which doubled as a picture frame: you could slip a photo into a slot on the front of it to ‘domesticate’ the thing. Ruth overheard someone telling a friend that she had just about set her router up, and had managed pretty well – but she wasn’t quite finished; now she had to find a photo! (Perhaps they should have added the word ‘optional’?)

Plain language: campaigns for awareness

The case for plain language use was championed within the public sector in Britain, Australia and Canada. In the USA, the lead was taken more by private business. In the US financial sector, they wanted people to understand things like investing. The US Securities and Exchange Commission pressed for consumer agreements to be written in language that people signing up to them would understand.

In the UK, the Plain English Campaign deserves credit for raising awareness and getting the bandwagon rolling. They were and still are a force for good. They were also very clever at marketing. Doesn’t ‘Plain English Campaign’ sounds like a publicly-funded body, or an NGO? In fact, they are a commercial business.

The ‘Crystal Mark’, which the PEC invented, was a brilliant idea and a money-spinner too. Many companies believed that getting a Crystal Mark on one of their documents was a mark of quality, like a kite mark. If you saw a Crystal Mark, the implication was, no-one should have a problem understanding it. But that isn’t necessarily true, partly because PEC is financially motivated to award Crystal Marks, but also because their focus is far too narrowly set on language construction. An over-long and complicated set of Terms and Conditions, set in small and hard-to-read type, would still get a Crystal Mark from the PEC – if they deemed the language to be ‘plain’.

Recent experience

More recently, Ruth has worked freelance, and she showed some small examples of projects which have brought her pleasure. She has enjoyed working with Standard Life, simplifying their policy documents, and materials about investments and pensions. What got them walking along the road to simplification was a letter from a customer who complained:

My degree is only in mechanical engineering. I can understand differential calculus, I can design all the machinery for a sewage treatment works, I can design you a bridge but I cannot understand what my policy is worth.

In the redesigns, they introduced summaries, and contextual notes, and made use of two-colour print. She added: these may be humble documents; but when you do them well, it can actually get noticed, and besides, it improves the quality of people’s lives.

Form and function: lessons from the DHSS experience

Ruth has long enjoyed doing battle with forms. When she was a civil servant, the language used in forms was from the 1950s, and they were very difficult to fill in; no wonder that the launch of the Campaign for Plain English was marked with shredding forms in Trafalgar Square!

Ruth once worked in a unit in a government department (the DHSS); this team had a brief to radically improve such forms. The team included writers and designers, and had a decent budget for research and testing too. They had input from Pat Wright, the applied psychologist Conrad had mentioned, and the Adult Literacy Basic Skills Unit; RNIB providing input about impaired vision. They investigated what trips people up when they try to fill out a form – type size, vocabulary, question sequence, whatever.

The unit was supposed to redesign 150 forms and in the first two years they managed about eight! However, that seemingly slow progress was because the research and testing and analysis was very ‘front loaded’ (it paid dividends later).

With forms, there is sometimes a trade-off between length and complexity. Some forms in her collection are booklets of 28 or even 36 pages! People appear to prefer a long but easy to understand form. Reorganising questions so all you have to do is tick a box is helpful – but it takes space. Clear signposting to take you to the next relevant part of the form is good – and also takes space!

Many forms have an introductory paragraph which tells people how to fill in the form (write clearly, write in block capitals, use a black pen…). However, research shows that hardly anyone reads that bit. In any case, people’s behaviour is not changed by such prompts, so why bother?

If you want to provide guidance as to how to fill out specific parts of a form, provide it at the ‘point of use’ – embed your explanations, and any necessary definitions, right in the questions themselves. An example might be the question: ‘Do you have a partner?’ Then you can clarify with something like ‘By partner we mean someone you are married to, or live with as if you were married to them’.

It’s useful to establish what graphic designers call the grid – a set of rules about how space is to be used on the page to lay out the form. For example, the questions and explanations might be placed in a leftmost column, while the space for answers might span the next two columns. Ruth showed some examples of gridless and chaotic forms, later redesigned according to a grid.

Once upon a time, forms would be made up only of type, plus solid or dotted lines (for example, in letterpress printing of the early 20th century). That has created a set of norms which we don’t have to feel bound to these days. Today, lithographic printing permits the use of tints (printing a light shade of a colour by using a pattern of dots that are too small to be individually distinguished). Tints can help to distinguish which parts of the form are for writing into (with a white plain background) from those parts which ask the questions and provide help (where type is set on a tinted background). A second print colour, if affordable, can also be helpful.

Testing also found that it was very helpful to re-jig questions so they could be answered with tick-boxes. Boxes which are used to determine a ‘yes/no’ condition should follow a ‘yes’ kind of question, as in ‘Tick this box if you are married’.

Some such yes/no questions, if answered in the affirmative, will lead to others. Perhaps controversially, Ruth’s team in the DHSS reversed the usual order so that the ‘No’ tick box came before the ‘Yes’ one: this helped them to lay out the subsidiary questions more clearly. (In an online form, of course, such subsidiary questions can be made to disappear automagically if the answer is ‘No’.)

Ruth mentioned ‘hairy boxes’ – those pesky ones with vertical separators that are intended to guide you to place one letter in each demarcated space. They’ve proved to be a complete disaster. Someone mentioned the US Immigration form for filling out before the plane lands, which has this feature.

That’s not the only problem with that US Immigration form, remarked Ruth. It’s very bad at conveying the relationship between question and response space: people often assume that the space for the answer is the one below the question. Only when they come to the last question do they find that the questions are set below the spaces for answering them.

Signposting is important in complex forms, helping people to skip questions that don’t apply to them (‘If you answered ‘No’ here, go forward to Section C’).

For the benefits claim forms, the DHSS team realised that many claimants don’t have the fine motor skills to write small, so they made more space for the answers – and left a substantially larger space for the signature.

Many forms end at that point, but the DHSS team added a section to tell the form-filler what to do now, what supporting documents to attach, and what would happen subsequently. It helped manage expectations and gave people a sense of the timescale according to which DHSS would respond.

Quick exercise

Ruth got us to work in pairs on an exercise based on the competition which the Plain English Campaign used to set in the pages of the Daily Express. She had multiple copies of three or four real life examples of gobbledygook and invited us to simplify the messages; we wrote our alternatives on the small A4 white-boards which she uses in teaching, called ‘show-me’ boards in the trade, so we could hold them up to compare alternatives across the room.

One of the original offerings read: ‘We would advise that attached herewith is the entry form, which has been duly completed, and would further advise that we should be grateful if you would give consideration to the various different documents to which we have made reference.

One suggested rewording was ‘Please note the documents referred to in this form’; another was ‘Here is the entry form; please note the referenced documents.’ PEC’s original winner was ‘Attached is the completed entry form. Please consider the documents referred to’ – though she personally preferred that ‘Here is’ version. We went through another couple of examples too.

Problem areas which people noted include:

  • use of the subjunctive mood in verbs
  • use of the passive tense in verbs
  • long sentences with multiple clauses

In the wording of contracts, it may be unclear who is meant by ‘we’ and ‘you’  in something  the customer is supposed to sign. Jane Teather said that the company had commissioned the form, they should be ‘we’ and the customer ‘you’.

Something else that occupied us for a few minutes was the changing norms around the use of ‘shall’ versus ‘will’.

Four Cs

Ruth offered four Cs as ideals — Clear, Consistent, Concise and Compelling.

The ‘consistency’ ideal suggests that if you set up a convention in the communication – such as who is ‘we’ and who is ‘you’ in a text, and what something is to be called – you should stick to it. This is defiance of a literary concept of ‘elegant variation’, the idea whereby you ransack the thesaurus in a hunt for synonyms, rather than re-use the original term; that may make for a fine essay, but for these purposes, bin it. Once you have called a spade a spade, stick to it.

In written communications with a broad public, subsidiary clauses and relative clauses are probably confusing and best broken out into separate sentences, said Ruth. Likewise she pronounced a fatwa against parenthesis: anything in brackets or between en dashes. They are not bad English by any means, but you risk confusing the wider audience. In any case, stuff in parenthesis is at risk of being thought as of lesser importance (though you might move ‘bracketed bits’ to the end, she said, which is what I am doing now).

A question was raised, in response to a redesign Ruth showed of transforming a bullet list into a tabular layout, about the implications of using tabular data online for accessibility for blind computer users. My own feeling, confirmed after discussion with others, is that an HTML table will ‘linearise’ nicely when reduced to readable text e.g. for voice synthesis presentation: first the header row will be read, then the first body row, then the next, and so on. However, this isn’t good enough. A table is an inherently visual device which allows the reader pay selective attention to rows and columns. Really, the information should be completely re-organised to make an audio presentation meaningful to a vision-impaired person. (Think about how you would present the information on radio!)

Ruth’s overall approach to making textual information more accessible includes these tips:

  • Look to patterns in the text which can be exploited, for example by reorganising material into bullet lists. If Ruth sees a series of clauses linked by ‘and’, she considers bullet points as an alternative.
  • If a list of bullet points gets excessively long, analyse to see if it can be broken into two shorter lists.
  • Break up large slabs of text; Ruth avoids paragraphs which are more than three or four lines long.

Four mantras

Here are four other thoughts which Ruth offered in the course of the afternoon:

  • ‘Nonsense in plain language is still nonsense!’ – as someone in Standard Life had remarked.
  • Rob Eagleton, an Australian practitioner in plain English: ‘It’s the writer’s responsibility to be clear, not the reader’s responsibility to understand.’
  • ‘Clear writing stems from clear thinking.’
  • ‘Simplicity isn’t simple to do.’ Communicating well is an art, a craft, a skill, and it is not that simple to do well. Because writing is something everybody does daily, it’s tempting to think that everone can do it well. Testing reveals this is not true! There is scope here for learning and for training.

Reactions

We would be interested to hear people’s reactions to this topic. Meanwhile here are some thoughts posted by NetIKX committee member Claire Parry:

  • Given the constraints of a half-day seminar, we inevitably only scratched the surface of this vast topic. Several participants commented afterwards that they would have liked to discuss design issues specific to online forms – maybe a topic for a future seminar?
  • I also wondered how we could take the discussion forward to apply information design principles to the Internet of Things, the need for documentation to be readable by both humans and machines, the ‘mobile-first’ philosophy and the move towards embedding user manuals in products.
  • As these are all areas where there is a clear need for interdisciplinary collaboration, it was encouraging to see participants from both information management and technical communications backgrounds contributing to the seminar and acknowledging our common aims. In an era of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’, clear and accurate communication is more important than ever.

Human Capital – The Last Differentiator: Conrad Taylor writes

The speaker at this meeting was Rooven Pakkiri, who describes himself as helping business managers in organisations to use social media tools to further ‘Social Knowledge Management’.

RoovenPakkiriWhen he was working for the National Westminster Bank in the late nineties, Rooven attended a training session introducing the Internet, which for him was a transformative experience. He concluded that, as this technology would ‘level the playing field’ between large and small organisations, the main differentiator between successful organisations and those less so, was how they made use of ‘human capital’.

For me this begs a few questions. For a start, what is human capital? I think that Rooven specifically equated it with knowledge and, to be more specific, with ‘intellectual knowledge’. This is probably truer in some business contexts than in others – and, of course, it’s an opinion well tailored to appeal to Knowledge Management types. However, there are fields of collective human endeavour where plenty of other human attributes contribute a great deal to the success of organisations – for example, empathy and kindness, loyalty, patience, attention, bravery, honesty and imagination.

It also seems clear that there are many kinds of organisation where the key to success is a very material form of capital, where, for example, you need money to invest in building plant, access to cheap electricity and perhaps political leverage, as well as hiring people with the requisite knowledge and skills.

Rooven asked us to recall when we first used Google. (Actually, I thought further back, to the ‘fast’ aggregated search facility on GeoNet, to Gopher and, when the Web came along, to Altavista and OpenText.) The reason we are able to find out so much online, he said, is because it is in human nature to want to share information.

He also set up a dichotomy between broadcast television and ‘the Internet’ (I think he meant the non-social-media side of the Web) on the one hand, and the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on the other. The first set he characterised as ‘broadcast media’, and rather old hat, and the latter group as made up of user-generated content.

I’m less inclined to see these as opposed; rather, each form has its strengths and weaknesses and we combine them in ways that work best for us. Many tweets and Facebook postings contain short-form URL links to blog posts, YouTube videos, online articles and other more considered forms of exposition.

There was some discussion about the degree to which people are prepared to share their knowledge, especially if their relative monopoly of it confers status and power. Rooven talked about some organisational practices, and technology deployments, which could be used to encourage people to share knowledge within their organisation, for example ‘reverse mentoring’, where a junior person shadows a more senior and more knowledgeable employee and writes blog posts representing the senior’s knowledge and insights.

There is an issue here about what kind of organisational culture encourages people to part with knowledge, the possession of which may well make them more secure in their position and less disposable. It reminded me of one of David Gurteen’s knowledge cafés at which someone from the HR department of a consultancy enthused about their knowledge sharing culture, while in discussions after, people from PWC said you’d be mad to give any advantage to your ‘colleagues’, who were always scrambling to climb over you to the top of the heap.

Then Rooven cited Deloitte as saying that, these days, employees have to be treated more like customers than subordinates. Again, I think that can only be true in certain organisations and work-roles. I see no evidence that the modern shop-worker, bus-driver, nurse, teacher or fast-food restaurant worker is treated with this sort of consideration.

Rooven’s next foray into knowledge transfer looked at the enhanced opportunities for self-directed learning which the Web gives us access to, for example videos on YouTube, TED talks and participation in online groups. I think Rooven’s view is largely that any sufficiently self-motivated person can, by dint of tracking down online training materials and doing a lot of study, succeed in learning anything. He spoke approvingly of Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion that 10,000 hours of study and practice can turn anyone into an expert. (This is from Gladwell’s book Outliers, which Steve Pinker has described as made up of ‘cherry-picked anecdotes, post-hoc sophistry and false dichotomies’; I certainly think that autodidacticism doesn’t suit everyone and that interpersonal knowledge transfer still has its place.)

What does it take to make knowledge transfer an ongoing phenomenon in an organisation? Rooven’s business is based on working with HR departments to get collaboration and knowledge sharing going, using network software platforms such as Yammer, Jive and Connections. Here I would have liked more use cases, though I guess Rooven is hampered by issues of confidentiality.

There is, however, some literature to draw on here, such as Julian Orr’s study of Xerox photocopier and printer repair technicians, and Etienne Wenger’s case study of staff at a medical insurance firm, which informs his book Communities of Practice. But this can fall flat, as seems to have been the fate of the Local Government Association’s Knowledge Hub.

Rooven suggested that people who act as ‘connectors’ between people and networks are amongst the most valuable people in companies. This is virtually identical to Wenger’s thoughts on the role such people play – he calls them ‘brokers’.

Towards the end of his talk, Rooven mentioned a computer game where the player has to put together a winning football team by choosing the best mix of players with different talents. He asked, what if companies similarly assessed the human capital attributes of their employees (and potential recruits) and put together ‘teams’ fitted to solve the important problems of the day? Here at least Rooven appeared to acknowledge that intellectual knowledge is only one of a number of desirable aspects of human capital.

I was less impressed by his suggestion that the business world should move towards a general ‘labour on demand’ model, shopping around in a skills marketplace and using short-term contracts to get jobs done. Doubtless that is the logic of capitalism, but it is a poor recipe for human security and development.

Rooven spoke for longer than is usual at a NetIKX meeting and, after the tea break, he offered to continue with a demonstration of some of the software platforms he uses, but we opted to stick with the NetIKX tradition of syndicate groups, of which there were three, each discussing a separate question.

I was in a group that discussed whether business is moving increasingly from the domain of the Complicated to that of the Complex. That is, is the world of business akin to the engine of a Ferrari, which a competent mechanic can disassemble, fix and reassemble? Or is it like the Brazilian rainforest, a complex ecology of interplaying organisms and factors, where not only is it impossible to know everything about the system, but you can’t even know what factors you don’t know about? (The ‘unknown unknowns.’)

Rooven said this was from an article in the Harvard Business Review: ‘A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making’ by Dave Snowden and Mary Boone. It appeared in November 2007 and you can find it here: https://hbr.org/2007/11/a-leaders-framework-for-decision-making. The article presents Snowden’s ‘Cynefin Framework’, in which a situation requiring decisions to be made is analysed as belonging to one of four possible Domains: Snowden labelled these as Simple (later changed to Obvious), Complicated, Complex and Chaotic. Rooven’s question focused on the middle two domains.

Although the basic either/or question was hardly worth discussing, we pushed the topic further. Organisations have a dynamic life in which some aspects are complicated, but rules have emerged to regulate them. Sometimes the organisation finds itself struggling with complexity where the dynamics are hard to figure out, but that’s not cause for despair. Snowden’s recommended response is to probe the situation by devising experiments that are ‘safe to fail’, and see which of these interventions move the situation in a desirable direction.

So, we had quite a lively syndicate session, even if the connection between the question we’d been posed and the topic of Human Capital was very loose.

I’d like to extend this topic towards other human attributes, and towards know-how and tacit knowledge, not just what organisations think they can squeeze out of employee’s brains.

Human Capital – The Last Differentiator: Lissi Corfield writes

Introduction

At our seminar on 19th January,  Rooven Pakkiri spoke about – “Human Capital – The Last Differentiator”. If you want to hear a recording of the talk, then you need to join NetIKX (www.netikx.org/). For another view on the meeting, see Conrad Taylor’s comments in the next post.

Human capital 1 croppedDoes our knowledge management work fit the model of Kew Gardens or Richmond Park?  Rooven Pakkiri picked his metaphors well!  This one provided two excellent images to highlight the different scenarios knowledge management might face in their places of work.  His slides were a powerful part of a very coherent look into the future of organisational knowledge management.  Feedback from those attending the seminar made clear that this had been a very enjoyable as well as valuable session.

Let’s start with some ideas that are already familiar to us all.

Knowledge Retention

How can an organisation tap the knowledge of experts so that it does not leave when they do.  He suggested ‘reverse mentoring’ where you pair a bright young employee with your elder expert, to blog about their ideas.  This is a bit more dynamic than than the rather sterile and late in the day ‘exit interview’.

Or how do we flesh out increasing training provision while enabling the organisation to become a learning organisation.  Rooven advocates the power of self directed learning, where the trainee can proactively use web resources to meet their needs at a pace and time to suit themselves.  Youtube and Ted talks were his favoured choices, but of course, this could be mixed with the ever increasing array of MOOC’s and other resources available on-line…

And the familiar issue of culture – do we as humans ‘like sharing’ or do we naturally withhold our knowledge to emphasise our own power.  I really appreciated his perspective on this, focusing on the sharing that goes on with social media to suggest that we have a strong instinct to share with our social groups.  If this does not happen at work, perhaps we should investigate the barriers to sharing that the workplace presents.  Where companies only reward individual performance in isolation from the wider team work, humans are likely to curb their sharing nature to play the system.  Changing the system then might be more appropriate than trying to dabble with ‘culture change’.

Human capital 3 croppedChallenges in the workplace

Rooven then moved into less familiar territory for knowledge managers.

How do we ‘manage’ information and knowledge flows between people when digital is changing so fast? Once BYOD (bring your own devices) flummoxed IT departments who wanted to control all the parts of the IT system.  Where do we stand when people have even more autonomy and BYOA takes over (bring your own applications)?  How will we, as information professionals cope with no control over any of the digital systems that staff are using within one office?  The advantages for staff themselves are very apparent though; as they work with the applications they enjoy using, rather than those enforced by the organisation.  But working out how to integrate the resulting communication and sharing links looks like chaos.  Will we cope?

Human capital 2 cropped

We considered the fate of numerous well-known brands that have been knocked out by digital change. One prime example was Blockbuster, a firm whose business model rose and fell within our own lifetime.  Netflix was their nemesis.  Rooven asked us to face these ‘Black Swans’, changes that can come out of the blue and disrupt business patterns entirely.  Again, it is easy to see the advantages – if you love opera and theatre and now can watch the best productions live streamed to your local cinema.  But we all have to be aware that ‘out of the blue’ amazing changes may affect our own patch of the world of work.

One more example that I found fascinating was the growth of gamification.  I had seen this as about rather crude reward systems based on kids’ games.  But Rooven introduced us to a key aspect of FIFA, the football game that has been popular for a few years now.  The key was not prizes and rewards, but the skill of building a cohesive team that would play together.  Clearly not a team of top stars – even someone who has no interest in football could see that this would be a team overloaded with prima donnas!  The football game player is encouraged to consider the way teams work and meld a team that will bring out the best in everyone.  Now that is a skill that clearly has resonance in our working lives.  So will people willing to take the roles of ‘lynchpin’ and facilitator become more vital than subject experts once so much knowledge can be accessed across the web.

Unknown Knowns and Known Unknowns

If we have looked at the unknown knowns and the known unknowns, the only place to finish was in the unknown unknowns!  The really scary stuff – or is it the really exciting place to be?  We talked about where knowledge and information professionals and librarians may be developing in the future.  As we know, the key knowledge resources are primarily in people’s heads, but with digital changes, are we now moving to a world where multi-faceted relationships brush aside organisational hierarchies?  Where knowledge management does not become easier or any less important, as it has to be ready to move with the unknown opportunities that will emerge.  We may be tending our internal glories, as Rooven modelled in his image of Kew Garden.  Or will we be looking at open systems, more on Richmond Park lines?  His talk left our heads reeling in a most stimulating way.  The images did look enticing (see http://www.slideshare.net/Rooven/icon-uk-2015)!

Questions for the delegates

Here are the three questions that Rooven set us to discuss in the seminar sessions:

  1. Did the group agree with Robin Dunbar’s assertion that humans can associate with a maximum of 150 people?
  2. Google allows us to know how to find something, rather than actually knowing anything – what are the implications for KM and Human Capital?
  3. Is it true that business is moving increasingly from the domain of the Complicated, to the domain of the Complex?

Questions for you

Three questions for members (and others) reading about this seminar:

  1. What changes to your work have unexpected digital revolutions caused?
  2. What ideas do you want to contribute relating to Rooven’s three seminar questions?
  3. Are there ideas here that you would like followed up in a future seminar?

We would be interested in your feedback.

Some relevant Tweets from Rooven

(See https://twitter.com/RoovenP – @RoovenP)

Power of social interaction…

3 Nov 2015: “More knowledge is created in social interaction than can ever be found in a database.” @grantgross http://www.cmswire.com/information-management/knowledge-management-grapples-with-agility-complexity/ … via @CMSWire

Self directed learning…

12 Nov 2015: Self directed learning – The L&D world is splitting in two http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/blog/2015/11/12/the-ld-world-is-splitting-in-two/ … via @C4LPT

A culture challenge!  

18 Dec 2015: imagine HR tagging indivduals and their content for 1 month – calculate the impact in terms of inclusiveness, culture shift and credibility

Human Capital – The Last Differentiator – Tuesday 19 January 2016

How do you keep your skills relevant in an ever changing environment?

Can Social Knowledge Management provide answers?

As we adapt to new workplace challenges (or opportunities) at a time when organisations are looking to increase productivity and make savings through automating routine work, we need to think about the ’human differentiator‘ – in essence, ensuring that we are all still employable!

In this interactive presentation at the next NetIKX meeting, Social KM expert Rooven Pakkiri, will discuss how we can transform the way we engage in our work, with radical strategies based on ‘Social Learning’, ‘Talent Insights’ and ‘Decision Sourcing’.

As we move forward, a key differentiator of successful organisations will be whether and how they are able to leverage in a consistent way the talent and knowledge of their workforces so as to meet their objectives. Companies that are bound by tradition and hierarchy will struggle to compete.

This session will enable us to consider how we fit within this changing environment and how we can continue to learn new skills and remain relevant.

Speaker

Rooven Pakkiri works with clients to deliver sustained adoption strategies for collaboration platforms such as Yammer, Jive and Connections. His focus is on engagement (often through HR) with the business managers in an organisation. Together they design, develop and deploy a highly customised Social KM road map that revolves around the use of the social tool set in order to solve client-specific business/organisation problems or to address current opportunities. Everything Rooven does is led by business/organisation requirements and user adoption and not by the features and functions of the chosen collaboration technology.

A veteran of the dot.com era, Rooven is a digital evangelist who focuses on the way technology changes organisational communication and collaboration. He is an author and regular speaker on the subject of Social Knowledge Management and how it is transforming the corporate rule book. Rooven is also the co-founder of a regular thought leadership event in London at which independent thinkers discuss issues of user adoption and cultural transformation.

As a Social KM consultant, Rooven is responsible for developing client-specific adoption strategies and immersion programs. As part of this process Rooven employs a number of techniques such as  scenario modelling, content seeding, champion identification and community development.

Intended Learning Objectives

  • To be aware of how we fit within the changing organisational environment
  • To learn how to keep our skills relevant in this ever-changing environment
  • To understand how Social Knowledge management can provide answers

Venue

The British Dental Association, 64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS (The nearest London Underground Station is Bond Street)

Registration is at 2.00 pm and the meeting will run from 2.30 pm to 5.00 pm, with a glass of wine and light refreshments to follow until 6.00 pm.

Seminar Costs

If you are a NetIKX Member or join NetIKX when you register, there is no charge.

Non-members are welcome to attend.

Please register at http://www.netikx.org/content/human-capital-last-differentiator-tuesday-19-january-2016.

Athough the normal rate for non-members is £50, there will be discounts available for returning members and others. For further information, please send an email to web[at]netikx.org.

Connecting Knowledge Communities – 23 September 2015

Syndicate session in progress

Syndicate session in progress

The aim of this meeting  was to bring together at least some of the UK communities concerned with knowledge and informatin management. These communities and organisations have different emphases, different modes of operation and even different approaches to membership. Some have regular meetings and a paid membership, while others are virtual and have no formal status or funds. Between these two extremes, there are many variants. In addition, different communities draw their members from different groups, both in terms of occupation and of industry.

NetIKX invited a range of such communities and organisations based in the UK, but mainly in London, to give short presentations on their genesis, membership and operation.

Communities that accepted this invitation and those who spoke on their behalf were:

Claire Parry spoke on behalf of NetIKX itself.

In addition, although not able to make a presentation at the meeting, David Gurteen and SLA Europe (the European Chapter of the Special Libraries Association) indicated that they were happy to support and be associated with the event. LIKE (London Information and Knowledge Exchange), CILIP and TFPL Connect-Ed also expressed interest in this initiative.

Each speaker described (in different ways) how their organisation came into being, how it operates and who its members are. The presentations, including one on NetIKX itself, were divided into pairs, each  followed by the usual NetIKX syndicate session, within which there was discussion of individual experience of networking groups and whether there is scope for these groups to collaborate and, if so, how it might be done.

While not leading directly to any future cooperation, this meeting provided a basis upon which there could be future developments. In the mean time, all those who attended have a better idea of the organisations that meet the needs of the knowledge and information communities and how they operate.

Seek and you will find? Wednesday 18th March 2015

We had two excellent speakers for our Seminar on 18th March, entitled “Search and you will find?” Karen Blakeman and Tony Hirst. The question mark in the title was deliberate, since the underlying message was that search and discovery might sometimes throw up the unexpected.

Learning objectives for the day were:

  • To understand the commercial, social and regulatory influences that have (or will) influence Google search engine results.
  • To be able to apply new search behaviours that will improve accuracy and relevance of search results.
  • An appreciation of data mining and data discovery techniques and the risks involved in using them, as well as the education and skills required for their disciplined and ethical use

Karen Blakeman delivered an informative and thought-provoking talk about our possibly misplaced reliance on Google search results. She discussed how Google is undergoing major changes in the way it analyses our searches and presents results, which are influenced by what we’ve searched for previously and information pulled from our social media circles. She also covered how EU regulations are dictating what the likes of Google can and cannot display in their results.

Amongst many examples that Karen gave of imperfect search results, this one of Henry VIII’s wives stood out – note the image of Jane Seymour, where Google has sourced the image of the actress Jane Seymour.

Blog image re Jane Seymour

This is an obvious and easily spotted error, others are far subtler, and probably go unnoticed by the vast majority of search users. The problem, as Karen explained, is that Google does not always provide attribution for where it is sourcing its results, and where attribution is provided, the user must (or should) decide whether this is a reliable or authoritative source. Users beware if searching for medical or allergy symptoms; the sources can be arbitrary and not necessarily from authoritative medical websites. It would appear that Google’s algorithms decide what is scientific fact and what is aggregated opinion!

The clear message was to use Google as a filter to point us to likely answers to our queries, but to apply more detailed analysis of the search results before assuming the information is correct.

Karen’s slides are available at:  http://www.rba.co.uk/as/

Tony Hirst gave us an introduction into the world of data analytics and data visualisation and challenges of abstracting meaning from large datasets. Techniques such as data mining and knowledge discovery in databases (KDD) use machine learning and powerful statistics to help us discover new insights from ever-larger datasets. Tony gave us an insight into some of the analytical techniques and the risks associated with using them. In particular, if we leave decision making up to machines and the algorithms inside them, are we introducing new forms of bias that human decision makers might avoid? What do we, as practitioners need to know in order to use these tools in a responsible way?

As Tony explained, the most effective data analysis comes down to discovering relationships and patterns that would otherwise be missed by looking at just one dataset in isolation, or analysing data in ranked lists.  Multifaceted data analysis, using – for example – datasets applied to maps, can give unique visualisations and more insightful sense making.

Amongst many other techniques, Tony discussed Concordance Correlation, Lexical Dispersion, Partial (Fuzzy) String Matching and Anscombe’s Quartet.

Tony’s slides will be available at: http://www.slideshare.net/psychemedia

Following the keynote presentations from Karen and Tony, the following questions were put to the delegates:

  • How can organisations ensure their staff is using (external) search engines effectively?
  • How do you determine the value of search in terms of accuracy, time, and cost?
  • If I wanted to know how to use data visualisation and data analysis tools, where do I go? Who do I ask?

 

The delegates moved into three groups to discuss and respond to these questions (one group per question). The plenary feedback as follows:

Group 1 – How can organisations ensure their staff is using (external) search engines effectively?

  • Ban them from using Google
  • More training
  • Employ specialists to do research
  • Use subscription services
  • Change the educations system.

Group 2 – How do you determine the value of search in terms of accuracy, time, and cost?

  • Cost and Time are variable
  • Accuracy is the most important criterion
  • Differentiate between “value” and “cost”

Group 3 – If I wanted to know how to use data visualisation and data analysis tools, where do I go? Who do I ask?

Lastly, we’d like to thank our speakers and the delegates for making this such an interesting, educational and engaging seminar.

Karen Blakeman (@karenblakeman) is an independent consultant providing a wide range of organisations with training, help and advice on how to search more effectively, how to use social and collaborative tools for research, and how to assess and manage information. Prior to setting up her own company Karen worked in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry, and for the international management consultancy group Strategic Planning Associates. Her website is at www.rba.co.uk <http://www.rba.co.uk/> and her blog at www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/<http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/>.

Tony Hirst (@psychemedia) is a lecturer in the Department of Computing and Communications at the Open University, where he has authored course material on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Information Skills, Data Analysis and Visualisation, and a Data Storyteller with the Open Knowledge School of Data. An open data advocate and Formula One data junkie, he blogs regularly on matters relating to social network analysis, data visualisation, open education and open data policy at blog.ouseful.info

Steve Dale
20/03/15

 

 

 

 

Business Information Review is seeking a new editor

Business Information Review is seeking a new editor to replace Val Skelton and Sandra Ward from the end of March/Early April next Year. They will have completed five years of editing by then – and they think it’s time to hand over what is fun, exciting and challenging! Due to the decision of Val Skelton and Sandra Ward to complete their joint editorship of Business Information Review in March/April 2015, Sage Publications would like to find replacement editor(s). Val and Sandra have job shared the editorship. Details of the post, which is remunerated, and how to apply for it can be found at : http://bir.sagepub.com/site/includefiles/BIR%20Call%20for%20Editor%28s%29.pdf

Val and Sandra are happy to answer queries about the post. Contact :

 

Communities of Practice for the Post Recession Environment Tuesday 16th September 2014

35 people attended this Event at the British Dental Association in Wimpole Street. Our speaker was Dion Lindsay of Dion Lindsay Consulting : http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dion-lindsay/3/832/920 . Dion tackled big questions in his presentation. Are the principles established for successful Communities of Practice (CoP’s) in the 1990’s and earlier still sound today ? AND what new principles and good practices are emerging as social media and other channels of communication become part of the operational infrastructure that we all inhabit ? Dion started of with a couple of definitions. He explained the characteristics of CoP’s. In essence it begins with ‘practice’. Practitioners who discuss and post about practical problems. Practitioners who suggest solutions and develop practice. These solutions are at the practical level. Hence, competence at individual and corporate level is increased.  It continues with collaboration – the development of competence in an environment short of money ! He instanced the Motor Neurone Disease Association (MNDA) where he had developed an electronic discussion board in the 1990’s. In 1998 this electronic discussion board was taken over by University College London (UCL) and became an electronic discussion forum. It had cumulated 40,0000 posts. An analysis showed that the forum splits 80% moral support and 20% problem solving in terms of posts.

How about Communities of Interest (CoI’s) ? These are all about people who share an identity. They have a shared voice and conduct a shared activity. So ‘identity’ is a critical characteristic Also, there is an ongoing discussion about interests, an ongoing organisation of events and an interest in problems and solutions. This can take place in the workplace or in the public arena. Now to differentiate CoP’s from CoI’s. CoP’s get most attention in the workplace. CoI’s – there most serious work is detached from the workplace. There is a dearth of literature on this.

Success factors for CoP’s :  A successful CoP must be a physical community / A successful CoP must not have management setting the Agenda / To be successful CoP’s must have recognisable outcomes / Treat CoP discussions as conversations. Just taking the recognisable outcomes aspect it is necessary to emphasise that ‘the knowledge as it is created must be communicated’. In @ 2005 Shell and MNDA () reported similar findings in creating a Knowledge Base from CoP outcomes :  Cost :- 20% (30%). Value :- 85% (90%). Compare to standard  Knowledge Base stats : Cost :- 80% (70%). Value :- 15% (10%). These figures speak for themselves.  So we can sum up the reasons for a revival in interest for CoP’s as follows : Cost pressure on training and formal means of development in the workplace / collaboration and social media are accustoming organisations to non-structured working / the need to find ways of keeping employees engaged / technology for discussion forums is less of a challenge.

Dion concluded his talk by saying that ‘you really have to want  to do it’ to run a successful CoP. There is a benefit in commencing. There must be proper facilitation. There must be adherence to best management practice. A CoP is, in reality, a ‘Community of Commitment’. It fits in very well indeed with project management.

Graham Robertson – a NetIKX ManCom Member – then gave a brief history of NetIKX going back many, many years to when it started up at Aslib. Lissi Corfield – another NetIKX ManCom Member – spoke about our current ideas at NetIKX to take things forward as people are not coming along to meetings as frequently as they used to do. She talked about building resources in Information Management and Knowledge Management on the website and publicising and, indeed, interacting with our group on LinkedIN. Both Graham and Lissi are practitioners in Knowledge Management.

Under Lissi’s supervision we then broke up and started syndicate sessions at the close of which each syndicate reported back to the meeting. The main points are highlighted below.

Syndicate 1 : How to gain management support for CoP’s – the fears and successes.

 

  • Fear may be seen as presenting formal advice.
  • Encourage openness with no anonymity.
  • Resource of sharing policy together.
  • Each table is its own CoP.

Syndicate 2 : How do you become involved in existing CoP’s ? Should you bother ?

  • Senior actors are already connected.
  • Impose / grow organically.
  • Cross organisation / grows out of a need.
  • Can we learn from Quality Circles ?

Syndicate 3 : What is a good moderator ?

  • Challenging
  • Active/passive
  • Online/in person
  • CoP/CoI
  • Ground rules
  • FAQ’s/steering friendly discussion
  • Energy
  • LinkedIN

Syndicate 4 : Developing IM and KM resources for the NetIKX website

Valuable contributions were made by David Penfold, Martin Newman and Conrad Taylor.

Robert Rosset input suggestions of individuals and organisations from whom NetIKX had learned on the WIKI page of the website.  Rather like potter’s clay it needs to be worked into shape. An ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory.

Rob Rosset 22/09/15

 

 

 

 

 

Selling Taxonomies to organisations, Thursday July 3 2014

Blog for NetIKX  July 3rd 2014  Whatever happened to Margate?

The NetIKX meeting this month was highly popular.  I thought a session on Taxonomy might be considered dull, but I guess the hook was in the title: ‘making the business case for taxonomy’.  The session did provide great ideas for making a business case for an organisational taxonomy project, and the ideas were suitable for other contexts where direct quantifiable benefit will not be an output of the project and so immediate impact on ROI is not a simple computation.

There were two case studies presented.  The first from ‘Catalogue Queen’ Alice Laird, (ICAEW), faced the business case quandary head on.  How did they get hard headed finance to budget for their taxonomy plans?  The winning move here was to show in small scale the value of the work.  People in the business realised that the library micro-site was the best place to find things and asked why this was so.  The knowledge management team were able to demonstrate how the taxonomy could increase organisational efficiency and so helped prove the case to all website users.

This case study also provided tips for running a taxonomy project.  They used a working group from the body of the organisation, but kept the team small to ensure each person involved was clear about the relevance of the project to them and their team.  They also made the project stages clear: a consultation stage might show where there were contradictions and confusion, and so there was a following stage where the people with appropriate expertise would to step in to make firm decisions.  By setting out the stages clearly, they avoided protracted discussion and also made good use of the skills already available within their team.  In this way they fully exploited their assets! All in all, it was good to hear a crisp report about a well organised project, and we all wish them luck for their imminent implementation.

The second case study looked at using a taxonomy to help share data between different organizations in the UK Heritage sector.  In a talk called ‘Reclassify the Past’, Phil Carlisle (English Heritage) entertained us, explaining a particular problem that fuelled the need for a taxonomy project.  At one point, although the classification system worked well in most respects, some vital geographic data was not included.  As a result, a search on, for example, Margate came up with a blank, even though the data was in there.  The danger was of reputation loss – particularly with people living in Margate!  Highlighting this type of blip was another useful way to sell a structured taxonomy project.  Search, even with a good search engine is more complex than many people realise and poorly organised metadata can cause problems that ‘Google it!’ may not solve.

This case study also provided an interesting operational tip.  In order to create the best platform for sharing, this team gave away the software they were using to others in the field, as the cost was outweighed by the overall benefit of standardisation.

The session ended with a lively set of discussions.  I was with a group trying to identify more closely how a taxonomy should be classified: animal, vegetable or mineral? We found some paradoxes to play with.  For example, does a taxonomy work as a device to structure data or is a structure already in place, the basis for the taxonomy?

To conclude, it was ironic that one of the speakers commented jokingly, ‘there’s no gratitude!’  Fair comment, as basic information infrastructure projects do not usually attract riveted attention. But, at this meeting at least, where taxonomies are loved and cared for, and business case tips are welcomed, the speakers could rely on full appreciation and gratitude from a very attentive audience.

Lissi Corfield (posted by robrosset)

Graham Robertson giving feedback on his group's discussions

Graham Robertson giving feedback on his group’s discussions

IMG_3670

Steve Dale summarising his group’s discussions

Information on the Move Seminar Tuesday May 13th Part 2

Max Whitby of Touch Press http//www.touchpress.com came to talk to @30 people attending the NetIKX seminar at the British Dental Association in Wimpole Street, following on from David Nicholas (see related blog Part 1). Max’s company specialises in creating apps which are interactive and provide information or assist in education. In other words, these apps have a point, they are not games. They have created an app of  ‘The Periodic Table’ and ‘The Solar System’ and ‘The Orchestra’. Users spend hours looking, listening and reading the annotation on these apps. For example, on the app for T.S. Eliot’s great poem “The Wasteland” , there are multiple readers including Fiona Shaw, Alec Guinness and T.S. Eliot. Three of their music apps have been nominated for an award from the Royal Philharmonic Society. Max displayed a couple of the apps on screen – one in particular caught my attention – ‘The Orchestra’. This features the instruments (looking at each instrument from every angle); the music (including the score); the conductor. Amazing.

Following on from Max’s talk we had refreshments and then divided up into two syndicate groups. These working groups addressed two different issues. “1) Taking an example of the rich functionality and content of the Touch Press app, think of an app that your organisation could develop that would engage and/or educate and/or inform its users/customers”. Syndicate 1 came up with five ideas. Members from the Ministry of Justice suggested an information app for internal use within the Ministry. This app could identify all the things that policy makers needed to know (to connect with) in order to produce proper policy. The current tools are paper documents, documents held by records management or information controlled by external contractors. It is a question of packaging up such tools and presenting them in a uniform but innovative way on an app. Members from the Institute of Energy suggested an educational app. On their current website is an interactive matrix demonstrating “The Energy Chain”. It is linked to an offsite database (massive)  held in a separate location. An app could have one part of the database in order to describe “The Energy Landscape” (a mixture of visual/text/statistics). It could be used by anyone: researchers, students, members of the public. Attendees from the Medical Defence Union came up with an app about things to avoid, in terms of risk mitigation for medical professionals. Another attendee from the Department of Health suggested two apps – one about how the body functions, with different levels of knowledge, so it can be used by health professionals and members of the public; the other app to address the issue of IT Support. This would cover everything to do with Service Management from issues with suppliers to logging all support calls in one place. It was believed that such apps would offer a richer experience than textbooks or documents.

Syndicate 2 dealt with the question “What is the role of the information professional in a disintermediated, information rich world.” They came up with the idea for today’s Information Professionals to go out into the market place. Information Professionals are competing with IT people who have no background or skills in information management. The talk was about trust and embracing traditional skills of quality assurance and quality control so that information is trusted. Such an approach calls for advocates who are very relevant for the organisation in question. Librarians were once embedded in certain organisations (like the pharmaceutical industry) but not today. This syndicate focus was on disintermediation rather than ‘information on the go’.

Steve Dale wrapped up the syndicate sessions by stating that there was always a need to evaluate the information we receive – we can’t rely on algorithms, which can be degraded. The Syndicate Sessions ended and the attendees enjoyed a glass of wine (or two) and nibbles. It was a most successful seminar. Our thanks to NetIKX ManCom for organising the Event and in particular to Suzanne Burge, Melanie Harris, Anoja Fernando and Steve Dale for running the Event on the day.

rob rosset