Blog Post : Incentivising knowledge sharing behaviours

35 people attended this NetIKX event held at the British Dental Association on the afternoon of Tuesday March 18th 2014. Steve Dale spoke on the ‘hot topic’ of  ‘gamification’. Quite simply, ‘gamification’ is the process of applying game elements to non-game applications using the fundamentals of human psychology to address motivation, ability levels and ‘triggers’ in individuals. The ultimate aim is to increase individual, team and organisational performance. Steve instanced a number of examples – from a multitude: within the NHS (a gamification app to encourage exercise); within local government (Halton Borough Council puts RFID tags on bins to track correct recycling by households and rewards good practice by awarding points that can be redeemed at local shops); within the market place (Supermarket club cards and loyalty cards). Steve cautioned against an  unthinking approach to adopting ‘gamification’ within an organisation. He emphasised the need to think carefully about organisational culture and to ensure that organisational goals are clear. After Steve’s talk and questions we moved on to syndicate sessions where five groups devised a gamification strategy to achieve an objective within their organisation. We then talked about the strategies. The event closed with networking, wine and nibbles. For Steve’s presentation go to and for more information on Steve go to

Graham Coult has done an excellent write up of this event for the journal “Managing Information” Vol. 21 Issue 2 2014 pp. 26-28. ISSN13520229. This is a subscription journal go to

robrosset NetIKX ManCom




January 2014 Seminar: When space matters (for collaboration, innovation and knowledge transfer)


Paul delivered a thrilling tour around the world, looking at how the physical space available for knowledge management will affect the outcomes. He shared his wealth of experience with appropriate slides and anecdotes to ensure his audience were given plenty of insights into what works well and what less so. Paul also provided practical exercises to wake up our brains and get us thinking more adventurously. If stand up meetings in dramatic scenery did not appeal to everyone, we certainly gained a wide ranging set of tips to help us deliver with more breadth of knowledge.


Paul J Corney is a Senior Business Manager with broad global experience across a range of industries from energy to finance to software to government to information and knowledge management.
He is a business developer, coach, mentor, project director and practitioner able to deal at all levels of organisations. He is proficient in turning around underperforming businesses and helping people to realise their potential. He enjoys helping organizations to improve the way they work and to equip people to make better decisions.
His background is financial yet eclectic: He spent 25 years in the City as Senior Manager at Saudi International Bank and as a Vice President at Zurich Reinsurance. He was an early pioneer of intranets in the mid 90’s, one of the first ‘knowledge managers’ in the city of London

In 1998 he embarked on a portfolio career that encompassed, consultancy, coaching and pro bono charitable work.

During that time, he has been Strategy & Business Advisor to the CEO of a dotcom software organization (Sopheon PLC) for 3 years, Information & Knowledge Advisor to the CEO of a leading reinsurance broker (BMS Group) for 7 years and Managing Partner of a successful consulting organisation, Sparknow LLP from 2008-2012. In 2014 he was a founding Trustee of PlanZheroes a UK Charity.

Time and Venue

January 2014, 2pm The British Dental Association, 64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS


No slides available




No blog available

Event report: From data and information to knowledge: the Web of tomorrow – a talk by Dr Serge Abiteboul

Some notes taken at the Milner Award Lecture by Dr Serge Abiteboul for the Royal Society on 12th November, From data and information to knowledge: the Web of tomorrow. Dr Abiteboul was awarded the 2013 Milner Award, given annually for outstanding achievement in computer science by a European researcher.

Serge Abiteboul

Dr Abiteoul’s research work focuses mainly on data, information and knowledge management, particularly on the Web. Like NetIKX members, he is interested in the transition from data to knowledge. Among many prestigious projects, he has worked on Apple’s Siri interface and Active XML, a declarative framework that harnesses web services for data integration.

In a charming French accent, he explained to us that he was going to talk about networks – networks of machines (Internet), of content (Web) and people (social media).

Nowdays information is everywhere, worldwide. Everything is big and getting bigger – the size of the digital world is estimated to be doubling every 18 months. A web search engine now is a cluster of machines – maybe a million machines. In the past getting ten machines to work together was a big challenge! Engineering achievements have enabled hundreds of thousands of computers to work together.

Dr Abiteoul’s assumptions

1. The size will continue to grow
2. The information will continue to be managed by many systems (rather than a company like Facebook taking over all the world’s information).
3. These systems will be intelligent – in the sense that they produce/consume knowledge and not simply raw data.

The 4 + 1 V’s of Big Data…

Volume, Velocity, Variety, Veracity = four difficulties of big data. There is a huge mass of data, more than can be retrieved. And it is changing fast, particularly sets of data like the stock market. Furthermore, the information on the web is uncertain, full of imprecisions and contradictions. Search engines must contend with lies and opinions, not just facts.

Dr  Abiteoul’s +1 is Value – the bottom line is, what value comes from all this data? How does a computer decide what is important to present?

Data analysis is a technical challenge as old as computer science. We know how to do it with a small amount of data; the next challenge is to do it with a huge amount. Complex algorithms will have to be designed. These will need to do low level statistical analysis, because finding the perfect statistics will take too long. Maths, informatics, engineering and hardware are all needed.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis 2.17)

People often prefer being given one answer rather than a multitude of options to sort through. When we ask another person an answer, they don’t reply by giving us twenty pages to read through, so why should we interact with machines (search engines) like that? (Note – should information professionals be very selective and choosy with the information we put forward to customers, would they prefer a reading list of five books rather than twenty?).

Machines prefer formatted knowledge, logical statements. Machines can be programmed to find patterns – e.g. Woody Allen ‘is married to’ Soon-Yi Previn. But people write that two people are married in many different ways. How does a search engine cope with all the false statements and contradictions, e.g. ‘Elvis Presley died on 16 August 1977’ and ‘The King is alive’!

The real problem with the accuracy of Wikipedia is not incorrect amateurs but paid professionals with their own agenda, paid by companies to take a particular viewpoint.

The difficulty is when to stop searching – when to find just enough right answers. Precision, the fraction of results that are correct, must be balanced between the amount of results retrieved. There is a trade off between finding more knowledge and finding the correct knowledge. Machines will have to be programmed to separate the wheat from the chaff. Knowing the good sources, the trustable sources, is a huge advantage for this.


Next, Dr Abiteoul mentioned librarians! He praised the way that a librarian may suggest you read an article that transforms your research. Or you may hear by chance a song that totally obsesses you. Computers lack this serendipity – they’re square. Information professionals take heart: there is value in chance, in browsing shelves, in the ability of your brain to make suggestions computers wouldn’t.


We cannot archive all the data we produce – there’s a lack of storage resources. How do we choose what we keep? The British Library is tackling this question through its UK Web Archive project, which involves archiving 4.8 million UK websites and one billion web pages.

The BL Web Archiving page says: “We are developing a new crowd sourcing application that will use Twitter to support an automated selection process. We envisage that in the future, automated selection of this sort will compliment manual selection by subject experts, resulting in a more representative and well-rounded set of collections.” So perhaps the web of the future will need both expert people and star computing systems.

The decisions of machines

Decisions are increasingly made by machines. For instance, automated transport systems like the Docklands Light Railway, or auto trading on the stock market. How far do we go with this, asked Dr Abiteoul. Would a machine be allowed to decide that someone is a terrorist and kill them, and if so at what level of certainty? At 90% sure? At 95% sure?

Soon machines will acquire knowledge for us, remember knowledge for us, reason for us. We should get prepared by learning informatics, so that we understand them.

There were so many ideas flying about that I was unable to note them all down! Luckily the whole lecture is freely available to watch at

Blog post by Emily Heath.

May 2013 Seminar: Managing change


The successful management of change is essential for organisations in order to achieve positive outcomes when implementing new or revised policies, procedures and projects. During the seminar we discussed how to go about successful change management.
In an introduction we learnt that the majority of change projects fail – countless studies have found between a 60-80% failure rate for organisational change projects. So we were pleased to hear the speakers gave us their tips for successful projects! She focused on how to develop online communities during organisational changes and prove their value.

Online communities have an important role to play in our society – some have changed the world… Indymedia (started World Trade Organisation (WTO) protests), Occupy Wall Street, Howard Dean‘s presidential campaign via (he set up natural and real communities in every state, which Obama copied for his election campaign) and most famous of all, Julian Assange and Wikileaks. They also talked about the impact of good of anecdotes. Find your success stories and make sure you get them heard!


Lesley Trenner, Change Coach, a highly qualified and respected Change Coach specialising in leadership, career and midlife transitions. She has coached hundreds of clients ranging from top executives to job-seekers to people facing mid-life challenges like redundancy, career change or eldercare.

Janet Kaul, Knowledge Officer, NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre. Janet provides project and content management for the main website, as well as a personalisation site and corporate search tool. She handles service delivery, including writing business requirements and logging, tracking, and escalating bug fixes for those systems, and liaising with internal IT and vendors. Other responsibilities include handling business analysis, analytics, information architecture, taxonomy, testing, training on web systems, and user engagement. She consulted on the information architecture and usability of multiple other NHS websites, did training on corporate values, and assisted with projects including knowledge transfers, business process improvements, publications, intranet planning, and new employee orientation. She created and maintained a knowledge toolkit for retaining project and employee knowledge, and managed the transition of the corporate website into a new content management system, including tightening up the content and creating a new information architecture.

Before joining the web team, she did corporate knowledge management, setting up a knowledge library and running harvests and retrospectives, as well as managing a corporate library and knowledge networking site. She created a knowledge management group for NHS knowledge managers and spoke at various knowledge and information management seminars.

Time and Venue

2pm on 13th May, The British Dental Association, 64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS


Not available.




See our blog report: Managing change

March 2013 Seminar: Knowledge management: past, present and future


Stuart Ward was the original founder of NetIKX when it evolved from previous Information Management groups. He led the meeting through the changes in KM since then and provided a model of how to help our businesses see the value of KM.
Lissi gave an overview of her research into three case studies showing how KM has been used in charity organisations. She was able to draw out some of the factors in the success of these programmes as well as some of the problems to avoid!


Stuart Ward, Forward Consulting, established Forward Consulting in 1997 to specialise in Business Change Management, HR, and Information Management. He set up Forward Knowledge Consulting in 2003 to provide knowledge management consultancy. Prior to 1997 he had over 8 years as a senior company director in the electricity industry with experience of IS and business management at executive team level in commercial, public and private sector organisations. He has a track record of achievements in information management and IT, major business change management, HR, quality improvement, business process redesign, project management and cost reduction. He has excellent communication, team building, business analysis, project management and influencing skills.
He was the founding member of NetIKX (Network for Information and Knowledge Exchange) in 2007, first Chairman until July 2008.

Specialties: Change management, information and knowledge management practice, policy, strategy and performance assessment (Knowledge and Information Index). He believes in creating business value through better use of information and knowledge. He knows about recruitment processes and practice. He is an accredited police SEARCH Assessor. He lectures at University level.

Lissi Corfield, The Knowledge Advantage, was Head of IT at VSO, (Voluntary Service Overseas) for many years and has recently gained a PhD in Knowledge Management from the Open University. Her study was based on research in three major UK charities.

Time and Venue

March 2013, 2pm The British Dental Association, 64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS


No slides available for this presentation




See a blog report: Knowledge Management: past, present and future – notes on a NetIKX seminar

A seond report was written by Val Skelton for Information Today: Knowledge management: past, present and future

Study Suggestions


Digital native or digital immigrant – does it matter?

Karen Blakeman and Graham Coult, 28 January 2013 #NetIKX59

The first seminar of NetIKX’s new 2013-2015 programme looked at the issues we all face in a technology-driven world.  It combined two of our key themes: harnessing the web for information and knowledge exchange, and developing and exploiting information and knowledge assets and resources.

Karen Blakeman – RBA Information Services
‘Born digital: time for a rethink’

As Karen reminded us, the phrase ‘Digital immigrants’ can be traced back to Marc Prensky’s paper, ‘Digital natives, Digital Immigrants’, 2001. This paper is free to download and there is also a follow-up Part2 paper. Prensky made the argument that the US education system was no longer fit for purpose for a younger generation born with new technologies exploding around them.

Karen Blakeman speaking.

Karen Blakeman speaking.

Pre-internet, many information professionals were using subscription databases with no graphical interfaces. A lot of asking people we knew or asking other professional institutes was done back then. In contrast a wide range of innovative, imaginative search interfaces exist now:

  • ChemSpider – a free chemicals database which lets you search on a graphic, or even draw a chemical structure yourself and search on it. “Wonderful!” said Karen.
  • Mendeley –  a useful specialist search engine to find specific  forms of information, for instance patents, hearings, television broadcasts or computer programs.
  • WorldWideScience – pulls together information from a wide range of science websites and presents them in a visually appealing way.
  • – an amusing punch card style mock-up of what Google would have looked like in the 1960’s.

Karen believes that the ‘digital native’ or ‘digital immigrant’ labels are not helpful and “we have far more useful things to worry about”! Using Google effectively, producing good digital photos – none of this comes naturally to any of us – we have to learn.

The major issue for many of us is not going to be the technical side of using technology but the cost, which could lead to poorer people and those living in remote areas being excluded. Many parts of the UK still do not have broadband.

School homework is often internet based now, with students expected to carry out research online – more difficult for children who have slow internet at home or no internet access at all.

Under new government policy rules, jobseekers will soon be forced to sign up online with a job seeker’s website named Universal Jobmatch, or face losing their benefits (see this Guardian article, ‘Unemployed to be forced to use government job website’. Those without internet can use their local library – unless, of course, the library has been closed down!

The Millennials may know how to use social media, but perhaps not in a work context. We tend to have an expectation that just by using the internet regularly, the younger generation have absorbed excellent web analysis and communication skills. This is not always the case. University lecturers often report that their students lack awareness of how to assess the validity of sources and construct their own argument in an essay. Perhaps the sheer amount of information available online has resulted in too much spoon-feeding.

Ultimately Karen believes that it’s your attitude to technology that matters, not what technology you were brought up with. It’s down to personality – your level of curiosity and happiness to explore, an individual thing rather than an age thing. This is demonstrated by an interview on the BBC website with a pensioner who enjoys gaming – ‘Computer games keep me mentally active’.

Karen’s presentation is available at

Graham Coult, Editor-in-Chief, Managing Information
‘Research behaviours: the evidence base’

In support of Karen’s talk, Graham gave us an overview of research which has been undertaken into research behaviours – “Karen was the main course, I’m the pudding”. He told us he would present a “selection, even a miscellany, not exhaustive” of relevant research, taken from Emerald and ASLIB’s database of research articles.

Social media at the university: a demographic comparison’. Alice B. Ruleman, University of Central Missouri, US (2012)

In this study, Ruleman analysed the demographic differences between faculty staff and students in terms of their social media use. She found that social media is by no means a youthful obsession, with both staff and students being active users of social media, just in different ways.

Graham Coult speaking.

Graham Coult speaking.

Kilian, T., Hennigs, N. and Langner, S. (2012), “Do Millennials read books or blogs? Introducing a media usage typology of the internet generation”, Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp.114 – 124. ISSN: 0736-3761.

The author of this study sought to add to the relatively small amount of empirical research done so far on the social media use of the “Internet Generation”. They found that although social media use amongst Milliennials is generally high, Milliennials as a group are not homogeneous in their online behaviour. Using a large-scale empirical study with over 800 participants, the authors identified three different subgroups of Millennials:

  • ‘Restrained’ – relatively low tech savvy, low social media usage group
  • ‘Entertainment seeking’ – the biggest group. Using social media for entertainment, but consuming passively, rather than creating new content themselves.
  • ‘Highly connected’ – the smallest group, predominantly male, busy creating content such as blogs or videos, leading a very active digital life.

Perhaps surprisingly, ‘information seeking’ was the main reason the surveyed Milliennials gave for using social media. Facebook are planning to enhance their search capabilities through their new Facebook Search service. Who needs Google+ or indeed Google if Facebook does search? This could create a situation where large groups of Facebook users never search outside Facebook.

Vandi, C. and Djebbari, E. (2011),”How to create new services between library resources, museum exhibitions and virtual collections”, Library Hi Tech News, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp.15 – 19. ISSN: 0741-9058.

This paper discusses lots of ways to link up traditional sources using mobile technologies. There is evidence that new technologies (mobile etc) can increase use of “traditional” library services in unforeseen ways.

Graham’s conclusions:

  • There is still a great need for a trusted intermediary such as an experienced information professional. This need has probably increased rather than reduced.
  • Lack of access to technology, and lack of skill in its use, will increase disadvantages for certain user groups.
  • Editing and curating, picking out the best quality information, is likely to become a sought-after skill as information overload increases.

Graham’s presentation is available to NetIKX members at

Related links:

By Emily Heath

March 2012 Seminar: The role of KM in supporting new ways of working


This NetIKX event looked at innovation within organisations and demonstrated the value that KM can offer. Case studies were discussed from the Chartered Management Institute.


John Davies, Business Consultant, Head of Learning and Consulting, Idox plc  He specialises in Strategy and change management
Piers Cain, Chartered Management Institute.  Head of Knowledge Management. He is also a change management specialist.

Time and Venue

March 2012, 2pm The British Dental Association, 64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS


No slides available



Study Suggestions


What next for the Web and information services? Linked data and semantic search

By Nicola Franklin

Where is the web going?  That was the question the speakers at the 2nd November 2011 NetIKX seminar were aiming to answer.  This join event, run with the Information for Energy Group (IFEG) and hosted at The Energy Institute, addressed the issue of linked data and the semantic web.

Whereas Web 1.0 might be thought of as ‘brochure ware’, one-way communication, and Web 2.0 has come to mean interactive, two-way communication online, the future seems to be for information and knowledge management itself to move onto the web.

The two speakers at this session described how this phenomenon is coming about, from two perspectives – Richard Wallis of Talis from the point of view of a producer or publisher of linked data onto the web, and Dr Victoria Uren of Aston University from the perspective of a researcher searching the semantic web.

What is linked data?  Richard gave an excellent introduction to the topic, leading us through a logical path to understanding how information from different data sets can be shared, merged and used online.  When the web originated, it was about publishing text documents with links to other text documents, using html.  Linked data is about linking ‘things’ to other ‘things’, by giving them a label or identifier (a URI).  Things also have attributes, like a name, size, location, etc.

The example Richard used was a spacecraft. 

A spacecraft is a ‘thing’ and can be given a label, such as:


To make sure this is a unique label, some more information might be added, for example:


To make sure people know it is your spacecraft you might add some extra information:

To store (publish) some information about this object on the internet you just at http://

When people start thinking about things, their attributes and how they link up together, they tend to think visually:


To transfer this into machine readable ‘computer speak’ the ovals are replaced by brackets:

<…/spacecraft/1969-059A>                    =  a thing

name Apollo 11 CSM                                       = an attribute and the value for that attribute

This language is called Resource Description Framework, or RDF for short.

Once common objects, or ‘things’, which are being  talked about by different people, in different locations, are identified by the same RDF label, then attributes or data about those things can be merged from those different sources – the data can be linked.

This can be very powerful.  For example, location data drawn from the Ordnance Survey can be linked with local authority data or central government data or NHS data.  This could answer questions like “how much was spent by this organisation in that area on this service, when this party was in power?”.

An example of linked data in action can be found on the BBC nature website.  This links together video archives from the BBC, information from Wikipedia, and information from other species or habitat-specific websites from various other organisations, displaying them all on one page.

Linked data can be used within an organisation, to publish data behind a firewall using intranet tools, which links together information from different business units, or held in different (perhaps incompatible) IT systems.  It can also be used to publish data externally to the internet, where other people and organisations can link it to their own data – either by using the same identifiers for ’things’ in common, or by mapping between their identifier and another one used for the same ‘thing’.

Some common standards are emerging, where ontologies or naming schemas are being published and adopted to ensure that different organisations use the same identifying labels to refer to the same ‘things’.  One example can be found at, which is the standard being jointly adopted by Google, Bing and Yahoo.

How about semantic search?   Victoria’s talk began from the opposite end of the spectrum – given that linked data exists on the web, how do you search for it?

Traditional online searching is based around keyword search, which uses methods such as counting words, page ranking using links, controlled form searching (eg; OPAC) or metadata.  These methods were developed for searching text.  To search structured data needs a different approach.

Victoria listed a range of query languages that have been developed but said that SPARQL, which was based upon SQL, was the most widely utilised.  As it isn’t reasonable to expect users to familiarise themselves with a query language like this in order to carry out a search, a more friendly user interface is needed.

Again a range of methods have been developed:

  • Keywords
  • Forms
  • Graph based
  • Question answering
  • Tabular browsing

Victoria described the pros and cons of each method:

Keyword searching is easy to use but is restricted to simple searches for ‘a thing’.  Forms are a familiar interface, and allow more complex searches than single keywords, but forms need to be predefined and are therefore restrictive.  Graph based searches give a visual representation of the data, but this is hard to do for anything more than one ontology (ie, data from one source).  Natural language question answering is easy for the user, and good for heterogeneous data sets, but requires some heavy duty computing power to avoid being very slow.  Tabular browsing, where you start with one keyword and are presented with a whole range of linked words to chose from to narrow the search, can be clumsy.

Victoria felt that semantic search is very good for corporate data management, where information is typically focused around one topic area and it is very useful to be able to bridge between different data silos.  She gave examples of Drupal7, Virtuoso and Talis as systems that can be used for this.

Following a coffee break Syndicate Groups were set up to discuss several questions:

  • What is the value to a business of using linked data and semantic search?
  • Who would use the stuff from our organisation?
  • What are our needs for corporate data management – what tools are needed?

I took part in one of the two tables discussing the first question.  We felt that linking silos of information could help more people to find the right information, more quickly, and also to discover information they previously didn’t know existed (and therefore wouldn’t search for).  This could lead to finding the people behind the information and strengthening relationships.  It could also increase efficiency, raise cross-fertilisation and improve innovation.

During the group feedback session and discussion that followed, the issue of the risks of open and linked data was brought up.  Could increased ease of access to some data, and the linking together of many pieces of data from different sources into one location, be misued?  One example given was of insurance companies, potentially refusing to insure someone for a life or healthcare policy who they’d discovered had an unhealthy lifestyle.  Another example could be terrorists making use of combined information from Ordnance Survey data + google maps + other data sets to plan atrocities.

Linked data tools and open data publishing seems to have many potential benefits and also some risks; as with any rapid change the regulation and safeguards against the risks will probably lag behind what is taking place in practice.

September 2011 Seminar: Developing our capability – A practical tool-kit for IM/KM practitioners and their customers


Chris introduced the subject by saying that River Diagrams are a way to visualise the results from a maturity model or self-assessment tool, looking through the lens of knowledge-sharing.

This: “provides a systematic framework for carrying out benchmarking and performance improvement.”
Chris described knowledge management as a learning marketplace, with supply (of people with knowledge) and demand (of people needing to learn).  For any marketplace to work effectively, however, it needs a shared currency (so there is benefit to both sides in making the trade) and a common language (so that what is being traded is clearly understood by both parties).

Chris described a River Diagram exercise from his time at BP, where they wanted to compare their 99 business units to agree which operational areas they all had in common (eg health & safety, corrosion management, water handling, etc), and benchmark performance of all the business units in each area.


Chris Collison is an Independent Consultant. He works with Knowledgeable Ltd, as a Knowledge Management Coach, Trainer, Facilitator and Speaker.  He works with a wide variety of organisations, helping them to improve their performance by discovering and sharing what they know.  Chris has had the privilege to work with over 130 clients, including: Shell, Pfizer, Roche, ConocoPhillips, Schlumberger, Vodafone, Syngenta, Oracle, PwC, the NHS, UN, World Bank, International Olympic Committee and ten UK Government departments.

Time and Venue

September 2011, 2pm The British Dental Association, 64 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8YS


No slides available




See our blog report: Developing our capability – a seminar with Chris Collison

Study Suggestions

Chris suggested this link might be of interest:

Developing our capability – a seminar with Chris Collison

By Nicola Franklin

Yesterday afternoon saw me crossing London to attend my second NetIKX seminar, which I was looking forward to after a very interesting first foray a few months ago on the topic of social media use in organisations.  On this occasion we were to learn about the use of River Diagrams in facilitating knowledge sharing, from ChrisCollison, originally from BP and now working independently via Knowledgeable Ltd.

Chris introduced the subject by saying that River Diagrams are a way to visualise the results from a maturity model or self-assessment tool, looking through the lens of knowledge-sharing.  According to the OGC (* please see note below – Ed) a maturity model

“provides a systematic framework for carrying out benchmarking and performance improvement.”

Chris described knowledge management as a learning marketplace, with supply (of people with knowledge) and demand (of people needing to learn).  For any marketplace to work effectively, however, it needs a shared currency (so there is benefit to both sides in making the trade) and a common language (so that what is being traded is clearly understood by both parties).

The process of creating River Diagrams, and analysing them using Stairs Diagram (more on these later!) facilitates the creation of this common language as well as highlighting clearly which parties have knowledge and which parties need that knowledge.

OK, so what are River Diagrams and how do you go about creating one?

Firstly you need a group of participants.  These could be representatives from different departments within an organisation, people from several business units within a company,  or different stakeholders concerned with the same social, political or business issue.  Then you need to decide upon which topic or area of performance you want to benchmark or measure.

Chris described a River Diagram exercise from his time at BP, where they wanted to compare their 99 business units to agree which operational areas they all had in common (eg health & safety, corrosion management, water handling, etc), and benchmark performance of all the business units in each area.

First of all the participants needed to agree the operational areas and  ‘what success looks like’ for each one.  This is part of creating that common language.  To make the model work, they needed to agree five levels of performance for each operational area, from ‘world class’ (5) down to ‘basic’ (1).

This led to the creation of a self-assessment tool, looking something like this:

River Diagram Table

To fill this out, the participants from each business unit have a dialogue about where their unit falls, for each of the areas, until they agree a score for each one.  This results in a chart something like this, for this one business unit (let’s call them Group A):

River Diagram 1

Adding in the scores for the other business units increases the ‘width of the river’ or number of blue shaded cells:

River Diagram 2

With the remaining cells coloured green, the river analogy suddenly becomes clearer!

The ‘river banks’ represent those areas where none of the business units had a score.  Each group also records which two of the topic areas they would like to improve, and by how much.  Adding in this information allows the facilitators and participants to see where groups have knowledge to share (since they scored highly in that area) and where there are groups are keen to learn (since they logged a desire to improve their score in that area).

River Diagram 3

The black line shows the scores for Group A added to the composite diagram, and the two red lines show the two areas they chose in which they’d like to improve.

If you take one of the topic areas from the River Diagram, you can analyse the situation across all the groups in more detail for that topic by using a Stairs Diagram.  Here’s an imaginary Stairs Diagram for the ‘Corrosion’ topic area:

River Diagram 4

This shows each Group plotted according to the levels they scored (vertically) and the gap between their current level and the score they would like to reach (horizontal).  You can see that Group A could benefit from having a dialogue with Group B or E who are both at level 5 for this topic.

Chris went on to tell us about using the River Diagram technique to help the UN HIV and Aids group work with stakeholder groups across the world, to find out and benchmark the elements that make up a successful Aids management programme and to help the different groups learn from each other.

Chris emphasised that a lot of the work for this technique goes into the selection of topics and discussion to agree on the descriptions of each of the different levels, for each topic.

Once he’d explained how it all worked, it was time for us to have a go at creating our own River Diagram.  Since there wasn’t time in the afternoon session to write all the level descriptions, Chris had pre-prepared one based on a topic he hoped we were all familiar with – information and knowledge management!

He asked us to rate our own organisations for each of the topic areas he’d selected (eg, Knowledge Strategy, Using and Accessing Expertise, Exploiting Information, etc). It became clear that there would be a lot of value in getting different stakeholders in an organisation, department or other group to discuss where they felt their body scored for each area – and why.

One question that came up was, if one group’s goal was to improve in a topic, but none of the other groups had scored highly in that area, how could you improve ‘beyond the river’ (ie into an area on the ‘north bank’ that is coloured green)?  Several suggestions were made:

  • Bring in an external consultant
  • Set up peer referencing with another organisation (in your industry or from a completely different field)
  • Generate your own innovative solutions internally

Another suggestion from the floor was that it would be valuable to re-run an exercise like this in 6 months time, to get a comparison and measure whether any improvements had been made in the targeted areas.

A final thought that Chris added to the group discussion were two questions knowledge managers should ask the leaders in their organisation to ask all the time:

Of people with a problem = “who can you learn from?”

Of people with a success = “who can you share this with?”

The formal part of the afternoon concluded at about 5.00pm, followed by some equally enjoyable wine and networking.  I found this a very enjoyable and interesting session, and think this would be a valuable tool to add to any information and knowledge manager’s armoury.

Nicola Franklin

Director, The Library Career Centre Ltd

P.S. Chris also suggested these 2 links might be of interest:

*Note from the Editor (with thanks to Graham Robertson)

The OGC website will cease to exist from 1st October 2011Any new information will be published on the Cabinet office website: information currently on the OGC website will be available on the National archives website:

Please update any bookmarks you may have, and if you have any queries or questions please contact 
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