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: 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


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 ( 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!

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 – @RoovenP)

Power of social interaction…

3 Nov 2015: “More knowledge is created in social interaction than can ever be found in a database.” @grantgross … via @CMSWire

Self directed learning…

12 Nov 2015: Self directed learning – The L&D 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.


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 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


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

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]

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.

July 2015 Seminar: Hillsborough – Information Work and Helping People and NetIKX AGM


We welcomed Jan Parry, President of CILIP, to talk about her role in the Hillsborough Inquiry. This meeting was preceded by the NetIKX AGM. Jan Parry explained how, after 23 years, records and information revealed the truth about the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster. She was the only Information Professional on the secretariat of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, whose report in 2012 revealed what was found in over 450,000 documents they reviewed.

Jan took us through the events and moments leading to the tragedy and its aftermath, including video footage, and talked about the formation of the Panel and its work, together with the work of the information professionals involved in the background. The work has led to two new ongoing inquiries and a new inquest.


Jan Parry is CILIP’s current President and she is also Chair of the Network of Government Library and Information Specialists (NGLIS). Jan had a long library and information career within the Civil Service. She started in the Health and Safety Executive working in the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate Library. She managed two libraries and then moved on to top-level government work, implementing a Whitehall wide ministerial briefing system. She joined the Home Office in 2001 and worked on various programmes and projects, including the Tackling Gangs programme, Home Office Reform and developing an Information Centre out of the Home Office Library. In 2009 Jan was asked be part of the secretariat of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, where she had to find all the bereaved families of the 96 who died at the disaster and plan the final Panel disclosure at Liverpool Cathedral.

Time and Venue

2pm on 21st July 2015, The British Dental Association, 64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS

Pre Event Information

Learning Objectives
. Recognising the role of records discovery and records management
. Appreciating the significance of information management and advocacy
. Understanding the importance of planned public disclosure


Not currently available




See our blog report: Hillsborough : Information Work and Helping People

Study Suggestions

You may want to read more by Jan Parry:

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:

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:

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 <> and her blog at<>.

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

Steve Dale





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 :

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 : . 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


Steve Dale summarising his group’s discussions

Information on the Move Seminar Tuesday May 13th Part 2

Max Whitby of Touch Press http// 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