Blog for July 2021 Seminar : Ethical Artificial Intelligence

This seminar dealt with the complex issue of ethical artificial intelligence and ontologies. The speaker was Ahren E. Lehnert, a Senior Manager with Synaptica LLC, a provider of ontology, taxonomy and text analytics products for 25 years –

The central focus of Ahren’s talk was on the relationship between ethics, artificial intelligence and ontologies. Arificial Intelligence (AI) in practice means machine learning leading to content tagging, recommendation engines and terror and crime prevention. It is used in many industries including finance and insurance, job applicants selection, development of autonomous vehicles and artistic creativity. However, we must be careful because there are some outstanding examples of ‘bots behaving badly’. For example, Microsoft’s chatbox, Tay, learned language from interaction with Twitter users. Unfortunately, Twitter ‘trolls’ taught Tay anti-semitic, racist and misogynistic language. Tay was closed down very quickly. Here we are in the territory of ‘ghosts in the machine’ – is that photo really an image of (say) Arnold Schwarzenegger (actor and politician) or is it somebody else who is posing as him or who just happens to look very much like him. More difficult is when you encounter an image of somebody that you know is dead (say) Peter Cushing (actor) whose photo may have been edited into an image that suits a particular project or viewpoint. Are we OK or not OK with these things. It does matter.

Information professionals frequently encounter machine learning –

Now, however much we may want to go “all in” on machine learning, most companies have not worked out how to “de-silo and clean their data”. Critically, there are five steps to predictive modelling : 1) get data; 2) clean, prepare and manipulate data; 3) train model; 4) test data; 5) improve. We must be sanguine about the results. We will not build a ‘saviour machine’ (!). Machine learning basics include : 1) the need for big data; 2) the need to look for patterns; 3) the need to learn from experience; 4) the need for good examples; 5) the need to take time. We can find good and bad examples of machine learning and we can use the examples of science fiction as portrayed in television and film. For example, ‘Star Trek’ portrays stories depicting humans and aliens serving in Starfleet who have altruistic values and are trying to apply these ideals in difficult situations. Alternatively, ‘Star Wars’ depicts a galaxy containing humans and aliens co-existing with robots. This galaxy is bound together by a mystical power known as ‘The Force’. ‘The Force’ is wielded by two major knightly orders – the Jedi (peacekeepers) and the Sith (aggressors). Conflict is endemic. So bad examples of machine learning (where machine learning fails) arise from insufficient, inaccurate or inconsistent data; finding meaningless patterns; lack of time spent by data scientists on improving machine learning models; the model is a ‘black box’ which users ‘don’t really understand’; unstructured text is difficult.

What is the source of biases which are making their way into machine learning ? Well, people generate context and people have biases to do with : language; ideas; coverage; currency and relevance. Taxonomies are constructed to reflect an organizational viewpoint. They are built from content which can be flawed. The coverage can have topical skews. They can be built by a single taxonomist or a team. The subject matter expertise can be wanting.  Furthermore, Text Analytics is ‘inherently difficult’ : language; techniques; content. Algorithms in machine learning models depend on training data which must be accurate and current with good coverage. Here is a quote from Jean Cocteau – “The course of a river is almost always disapproved of by its source”. Is the answer an ontology ?

What is ethical AI ? What does it mean ? It means being Transparent, Responsible and Accountable. Transparent – Both ML and AI outcomes are explainable.

Responsible – Avoiding the use of biased algorithms or biased data.

Accountable – Taking action ‘to actively curate data, review and test’.

FAST Track Principles – Fairness, Accountability, Sustainability, Transparency.

Whose ethics do we use – the ethics of Captain Kirk from ‘Star Trek’ or the ethics of HAL the computer from ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’. We are back with our earlier ‘Star Trek’ / ‘Star Wars’ conundrum. How will these ethics work out in practice ? How will we reach consensus. How do we define what is ethical and in what context ? Who will write the codes of conduct ? Will it be government ? Will it be business ? Who will enforce the codes of conduct ?

What are the risks given AI in practice ? Poor business outcomes; unintended consequences; mistrust of technology; weaponization of AI technology; political and/or social misinformation; deepfakes; skynet.

Steps towards ethical AI. Steps to success within the organization. Conduct risk assessments; understand social concerns; data sources and data sciences; invest in legal resources; industry and geo-specific regulatory requirements; tap into external technological expertise. There will be goals and challenges to overcome. There should be an ethical AI manifesto or guidelines. An ethical AI manifesto will identify corporate values; align with regulatory requirements; involve the entire organization; communicate the process and the results; nominate a champion. Many existing frameworks of AI Ethics guidelines are vague formulations with no enforcement mechanisms. So,to get started on the AI programme we must clearly define the problem :  what do you want to do ? Why do you want to do it ? What do you expect the outputs to be and what will you do with them ? We must seek to ‘knowledge engineer’ the data to provide a controlled perspective and construct a ‘virtuous content cycle’. We aim for a definitive source for ontologies – authoritative, accurate and objective. Pay particular attention to labelling, quality data and training data. Get the data and create trust in the consuming systems and their resulting analytics and reporting.  Use known metrics. Remember that governance applies to business and technical processes.


Rob Rosset 26/07/2021




Blog for March 2021 Seminar: Working during the Covid pandemic

The theme for this seminar was Working during the COVID-19 Pandemic: sharing insights and experiences and was a break from our normal seminar format. We had eight speakers, and each spoke for ten minutes or less.

Paul Corney

Paul’s personal reflection was not necessarily about the pandemic – rather, on the last 20+ years. (He’s worked from home as a base since 1998.) He presented five slides.

There’s something Paul does that he calls ‘a walk to work’. He thinks having a routine is really important. From discussions with people in the last year, he’s observed that those people who have difficulties around social interaction have had the biggest problems. Having a routine gives your day more structure. Secondly, you should go straight for the big tasks – it’s all too easy to do the most banal things to put off dealing with the difficult stuff. That’s always been true, but has been amplified by remote working.

Paul has a concept he calls ‘peripheral virtual vision’. When people gather in the same space, you get a sense quite easily of what is going on in the room, but it’s challenging to do that in a virtual environment. So, we shouldn’t let people wander off camera, because if we see each other, you can pick things up from faces and body language. Having two people running the meeting works better, as he and Chris Collinson experienced during the year.

One ‘trick’ he uses in virtual meetings is to get people to talk about their proudest moments. At the start of any interaction, people are naturally nervous, especially if they don’t know each other. So one practice he’s transferred from the physical to the virtual environment is to get each person to describe something they’re proud of to one other person – and the second person then tells the whole group. Firstly, this makes it easier for the first person to open up; and the second person really has to listen well. Paul finds that listening in a virtual environment is pretty challenging.

Another technique is to get people to talk about objects. When he was doing work at the Asian Development Bank, he asked the chief executive to bring an object to the meeting, and he brought a pebble. Paul asked him to tell everyone about the pebble, and the CEO described in great detail one of the ADB’s dam construction projects.

In the course of the last year, we ‘lost the water cooler’. In assignments in the past Paul actually used to stand by the water cooler and it was a good way of observing how conversations flowed in an organisation. In some work with AstraZeneca, a colleague used this idea of a virtual water cooler for get-togethers around learning. Each week there would be a set time, and somebody would be persuaded to talk about something they had been doing in the field of learning. This got conversations going and revealed deep insights.

He ended by referring to a presentation GitLab made at a CILIP conference on virtual working. They run ‘virtual coffee chats’, which Paul has done as well. You select half a dozen people from around the organisation, who then have ‘virtual coffee’ with a senior member of the organisation. By rotating membership of these groups you develop a cadre of people who can all ask questions of each other.

Finally, Paul said that running virtual meetings means working harder; and you shouldn’t assume that the person who was good at running physical meetings will always be the best to run virtual ones. If you are in a knowledge or information management role, now is the time to brush up on your facilitation skills.


Dion Lindsay

Dion’s theme was Recruitment. But first he remarked that this pandemic has been helping him to react purposefully to changes that he hadn’t seen coming – and how to enjoy the ride!

In January 2020 Dion was on the planning committee for the UKeIG’s annual study day. Because of lockdown, they had to change this rapidly into Zoom webinars. He was so ‘paranoid’ about getting the presentation right in Zoom that he overdid the preparation, invested in bits of technology that he’s probably never going to use, and became a bit of a ‘know-all’. He started to develop a reputation as the person to go to for making a success of Zoom meetings.

He also found himself working in a pool of trained assessors for police recruitment. That was a bit of a surprise, and he finds he is enjoying it immensely. It’s a good example of how in response to COVID the careers that we pursue can become more ‘portfolio’ in nature. Two years ago he underwent a week’s arduous training, and passed; but nothing happened for a long time thereafter. He got security-vetted, then just as he was about to do some assessing in real earnest, he was completely retrained to deliver it online.

The start of the pandemic accelerated the change to online, but that change was going to happen anyway, he thinks, because of the new target to recruit 20,000 new police officers. Dion can’t see how those targets could have been met if the assessors (and those being assessed) had to turn up to physical recruitment centres. He hopes there will be some study of how COVID changed working practices, including in the fields of knowledge and information management.

Dion likes doing this recruitment work in part because he finds the candidates fascinating, in how they work things out, how they present themselves, how they se the world, and what they tell Dion about the parts of the world he doesn’t get to see.

Towards the end of summer 2020 as we slid again towards lockdown, Dion interested himself in digital products for knowledge management. He started with an assumption that the vendors of such digital systems might be misrepresenting knowledge management to sell their products, but he’s more of a fan now, and the two questions seem to be (a) do knowledge managers recognise what we are trying to do in what the suppliers are talking about? And (b) how much can we learn from the start-up and beta versions about what we might want knowledge management to look like in ten to thirty years?

He’s also involved as a ‘critical friend’ for Knowledgeplace which is a meeting place, marketplace and a mini-Wiki for knowledge management designed by Lukasz Rozinski. He’s involved in a lot of the beta-testing and trying to explain concepts. He’s also enjoying designing workshops with David Byrne to help teams discover what non-workplace skills and aptitudes team members have that the workplace will need in the next few years.

All told, said Dion, his experience of the pandemic has been really interesting and sometimes exciting.


Perrine Guy-Duche

Perrine told us how her company changed their entire Intranet during lockdown. She’s been working for two years at CRU, which specialises in market analysis and price assessments within the global metals, mining and fertilisers industries. They have about 300 employees spread around the world, with the HQ in London and offices in seven countries, and major time zone differences.

The intranet platform is the only place where all employees can share knowledge and collaborate wherever they are in the world. The decision to replace the platform was taken for efficiency and cost reasons. They had nine months to complete the project before the contract with the previous intranet supplier ended.

As in any project, it’s important to establish a strict and realistic timeline. At the beginning of 2020 they managed at least to select the new provider, but then came lockdown, and everything since has had to be done remotely, from the signature of the deal in April to the migration in August and September.

Communication was key in keeping everybody informed and involved. About ten workshops were held remotely, and a community of ‘champions’ was engaged early.

On the positive side, it was a great equaliser to have everybody working remotely – easier than having some people in a room and others connecting remotely. The situation also forced people to be really organised, important given the tight timeline. Perrine offered some tips – an online meeting needs an agenda, communicated in advance; teams need to have regular meetings even if just a catch-up for a few minutes. For example during the migration Perrine and two colleagues met briefly each day to see if things were OK, or were there questions or problems.

Being online means that you can record all your meetings, and write up meeting minutes after; not having to take notes during the meeting removes a distraction. Perrine also think it gives you a break to think and focus on your project, by digitally ignoring people! On the other hand, if you can ignore them, they can ignore you.

The technology allows us to act almost as if we were in the same room. A challenge is that people believe they can multi-task, but they can’t, and if people allow themselves to be distracted, you message will be lost in the process.

A final challenge is that one loses in part the human dimension, which may impact your choice of a business partner.

However, the project has gone well, and the solution was delivered six weeks ahead of schedule. By January, three months after launch, 100% of employees were engaged with the new platform. The feedback has been very encouraging and people are saying the new platform has enhanced collaboration in their teams and across the business. Obviously the overseas colleagues are delighted to be able to collaborate regardless of where they sit.

Some takeaways, which should be relevant whether you are in lockdown or not — Keep it simple, the simpler the better; go out and ask the business what they need; and most importantly, be prepared, for it will make everything easier later. This kind of project must be driven by the business and not by IT, because it is not for office automation but for knowledge management. Make use of your team of champions; and communicate – the more the better! (If you feel you are communicating too much, you’ve probably got it just right.)


Yasmin Dubash

Yasmin who is now the knowledge manager at CBRE spoke about starting this job at the beginning of the COVID crisis. She started looking for a new job in October 2019 and was grateful to be offered the CBRE role in November. She was on a three months notice period, so didn’t actually start the new job until 2 March 2020.

The first couple of weeks of the new job were very busy and she was fortunate to meet a lot of people around the business. Her manager was really supportive in introducing her to people, and getting meetings set up.

On Friday 13 March, Yasmin and a colleague started reading and hearing of the developments with COVID, and the possible impending need to work from home, and decided to take their laptops home that day. That weekend, an email came through from CBRE saying that they were advising employees to work from home if possible – that was a week before the Government ‘stay at home’ announcement.

Yasmin has worked from home in previous jobs, but for a few days here and there, normally when she’s had a big project on or needed to do a lot of reading. So working from home was not unfamiliar, but on the other hand, not something she’d done regularly, and especially not when starting a new job.

With a new job you expect an induction process, socialising and getting to know people face to face. Most of the relationships Yasmin built were done over Zoom. Initially Yasmin was apprehensive that she’d not be able to build up rapport with people to get her work done. But everyone was in a similar position, which helped. Everyone has understood that it is still important to cultivate those relationships.

Yasmin feels that when meeting online, it is important not just to get stuck into the work, but getting to know people too, how they’ve been feeling, what they’ve been doing. She’s fortunate that her manager in giving her time with people. She’s now on the Junior Board, which has again given opportunities to meet more people around the business.

The offices re-opened temporarily during summer 2020, and Yasmin jumped at the chance to go in for a couple of days a week. Though that doesn’t sound like a lot, it still gave her the opportunity to see people face to face. As Yasmin lives alone, she especially welcomed the social interaction, and the ability to have those small and casual conversations that you wouldn’t likely do over Zoom, which is geared around half-hour pre-booked meetings.

To start a new job under these circumstances is daunting, but you have to be tenacious, use your initiative, put yourself out there and talk to people. It helps to be self-motivated, but Yasmin confesses she has struggled with that, and she thinks many other people have too. The monotony does sap the motivation, but colleagues can do what they can to motivate each other.


Sophie Sheinwald

Sophie is a photographer. Before COVID came along she worked at personal brand and event photography. She also had a book published, Generation Share, about inspiring change-makers. Last year when lockdown was impending, she went upstairs to sort things out. As she looked through old photos, she discovered documentation of work she’d done 20 years before as a freelance artist in healthcare environments. She also found portraits she had taken of NHS staff.

As the NHS applause events started, this sparked in Sophie an idea which grew into a nationwide photographic tribute to healthcare workers. She wondered, what if she again photographed portraits of NHS staff, and what if it could go nationwide through the participation of other photographers?

On 22 March 2020 she put up a Facebook Live post, and it went viral. The project is called ‘2020 Vision Project’. Photographers joined up – as far north as Aberdeen, also in Northern Ireland, in Wales, all over the North; 100 photographers in all.

The photographers were briefed to book sessions with healthcare workers. Initially she hoped the NHS would make the nominations, but of course they were incredibly busy. However, portrait photographers are used to communicating, and those who had joined the project were happy to contact health workers in their local area. Each healthcare worker was photographed either in a studio or outdoor spaces, and all with social distancing.

This project was created on the go and it took a lot of detailed organising with spreadsheets etc. ‘We have a collection of healthcare workers photographed behind the mask and quite deliberately not in their uniforms.’

Sophie then showed her screen with the online gallery, showing a selection of the portraits. Alongside each is some text in which they tell stories of what has challenged, what has inspired them.

As an example she showed a portrait of a Marie Curie hospice social worker. He had so many difficult conversations who obviously wanted to visit their loved ones, but couldn’t due to COVID restrictions. ‘Telling people that they couldn’t come and visit was really hard,’ he said. ‘I used virtual visiting to help families stay connected. It was a privilege to support the process and to be there to facilitate this.’

Another, from Birmingham, wrote: ‘I’m privileged to work in one of the most super-diverse cities in the country. I have worked with some of the most vulnerable people in the city, but yet they demonstrate heart and resilience. The so-called global pandemic has put the microscope on the historic health inequalities and has put the magnifying glass on some of the systemic challenges that have troubled citizens for decades. The fear, panic, isolation, death, loss, confusion, bereavement, were the biggest challenges we had to face. The invisible virus did not discriminate.’

There was an exhibition is September, in Bishopsgate in London, and to see all those photos and all those stories made them realise that these are worth archiving.


Conrad Taylor

Conrad read from a prepared text and started by saying, oddly, that for him it had been a good year for lockdown and remote working – because computing and communications technologies have evolved to the point where they’ve helped him to get by. Because his work for 45 years has been in graphic design and writing and media, and freelance for most of that, he’s long been used to working alone. And he’s lived on his own for 30 years as well.

Home for Conrad at the moment is a single room in a hostel for homeless people, which accommodates about 80 households. It’s a busy place and keeping a two metre distance isn’t possible in the corridors – plus many people have come to his door asking for help. COVID has let the residents off lightly; people have on the whole been sensible.

Conrad next talked about 35+ years of personal experience with the developing capability of computers and of ‘telematics’, the old name for electronic remote working. But first he cited the philosopher Hegel who in Science of Logic (1812) remarked that a gradual but steady change of the quantitative aspects of a thing can flip over into complete qualitative change.

For about 12 years Conrad worked as a graphic designer and a preparer of publication artwork using such tools as scalpels, rubber cement, technical pens, rub-down Letraset lettering, and galleys of type that had been sent out to a phototypesetting agency. He could not see that computers would be of any use to him. But then in 1986 he and his wife bought the combined toolkit of the Apple Macintosh and Aldus PageMaker ‘desktop publishing’ software.

A few years later he bought a 2400-baud model and started to experience telematic communications, first though GeoNet and then through a university backdoor to the Internet (at the time, the Internet in the UK was open only to academia). ‘I joined a couple of ongoing international online conferences,’ he said – nothing like Zoom, of course, but in the form of email discussion lists with thousands of members. ‘Back then we were acutely aware of limited bandwidth and we behaved ourselves accordingly.’

In the early 1990s, the Internet became something that anyone could join – in Conrad’s case, though a subscription to an ISP, Demon Internet. And things got technically very exciting.

Really, the early 1990s were exciting years in which to have a ringside seat. Senator Al Gore wrote prophetically about an ‘Information Superhighway’. Tim Berners-Lee had just invented the World Wide Web. Adobe launched Acrobat, a way to move accurate images of documents across the Internet. Conrad began to learn and experiment with these technologies.

But fast-forwarding to the present day, Conrad compared then and now. His 5G cellular hub gives him download speeds of over a hundred Mbps – over 40,000 times faster than that old dial-up modem. The Internet protocols (TCP/IP) are the same now as they were back then, but the quantitative change have made qualitatively different things now possible.

‘So I can listen to Corelli concertos, write collaboratively on Google Docs, share large files, update my Web site, check the news and weather, shop online, swap regular emails with Mum,
see loads of pictures of cats [on Facebook], and join this meeting…’

How has this technology change affected how Conrad has worked during lockdown? He gave a number of examples. Conrad offers the service of recording conferences and meetings, and either editing the audio to podcast form, or making a transcript. This year he has not been able to attend events in person with his recording gear. However, he’s received audio files from an engineering company for transcript, and made a transcript of the audio of a couple of Zoom meetings.

For some years Conrad has collaborated with Bob Bater on a number of projects, one involving compiling information about future energy alternatives. Internet-enabled desk research has helped him to study e.g. wind turbine and petrochemical and nuclear technologies, often starting off with Wikipedia and then plunging into the scientific and organisational research literature. Working in a text editor, he’s made Web-page prototypes and used an ftp utility to load them to his Web site for Bob to take a look at.

He’s also done some video editing for a friend’s Indian classical dance portfolio. Riaz sent him the uncut source video via Dropbox, and given that hundreds of megabytes of video data were involved, the 5G download speeds came in handy! Rather than Zoom, for personal use Conrad has a video link account, and Riaz and Conrad had several editorial conferences over that. Conrad posted the finished video cuts to Google Drive for Riaz to retrieve.

The Fairholme House Garden Project is an initiative to build a community food-growing garden space at the hostel where he lives. It has pulled in support from the Lambeth GP Food Coop and from Lambeth Council and construction will start in late April 2021. Conrad hosts a resource page with publications compiled as a rolling log of developments and a knowledge repository: made with Affinity Publisher software, saved as PDF. See

‘Let’s turn to team collaboration in this project,’ he said. ‘Not easy because this thing has gathered more stakeholders than a vampire-hunting party.’ Email and telephone conversations and socially distanced meetings in the hostel grounds weren’t getting everyone together.

Lambeth Council IT is enslaved to all things Microsoft, so the virtual committee aimed to use Skype for Business Meetings on 4 March. ‘It didn’t work – so we flipped to my account. He recorded the meeting with QuickTime, prepared minutes, and emailed them to the others the next day.’

Conrad has also joined a Facebook group for home gardeners and small farmers in Ghana (45,000 members). This brings up some knowledge management issues, as people ask the same questions again and again. He used Google Docs to draft some materials for them about tropical soil improvement strategies, which involved downloading about half a gigabyte of electronic documents for study.

Thirty years ago, very little of this online research and media production and large file transfer would have been possible. Which is why, said Conrad, it’s been a good year for a lockdown. For him personally, anyway, because of how ‘the job’ has gone digital.


Melanie Harris

Melanie, who works for DWP, started by remarking that everybody’s experience of lockdown has been different. She has experienced a lot of changes. For her, the beginning of lockdown was difficult – her late partner Tony died on 9 June, of lung cancer, and in the run up to lockdown there were hospital appointments to cope with. Then in the Autumn, she had a totally unexpected whirlwind romance and now has a new boyfriend and is happier than she has been for ages. They live in separate homes, and meet up at weekends.

In the gap between Tony’s death and the funeral, Melanie learned that she and three colleagues were being redeployed to the team, because the DWP library was offering only a limited library service, which had to be COVID-related. She started her training, which was quite frustration – but she passed it. Through the training, she learned about HTML: the team’s job was to convert PDF documents into HTML.

The team was fantastic to work with; they were so friendly, and it helped her recovery from bereavement. Now they are back in the library, and this is mainly what she wanted to talk about. They were head-hunted by another part of the Department. This started with an IFLA conference (International Federation of Library Association and Institutions) which was held at Caxton House where she works. Trevor Huddlestone, now her boss, was so impressed with it that he was anxious to get the library on board with him. The team used to be in Digital – very nice people, but they never ‘got’ what library and information services were about. But now they are working in the Central Analysis and Science Directorate, working jointly with social researchers. It is such a different atmosphere!

One of the bizarre things is that in this time of COVID they can’t make investment in the library, so they are able to spend more time working on content. They are currently in the stage of working out what everyone’s job will be. So, her experience of lockdown has been interesting for all sorts of reasons.


Edward Jewell

Ed is in public library service in Jersey. Jersey is in a lucky space right now – there are only five active COVID cases, and from 3 February they have been able to open their central and community libraries, and the mobile libraries are also circulating. The offer is currently still fairly limited. People can browse in the library, study there, use the computers, and storytime sessions for children have resumed. They have also started hosting small third-party meetings.

Everything is still carefully managed. There is no casual soft seating; the first floor is ‘controlled space’ so they take contact-tracing details for anyone who comes to use a computer or study. They still have two-metre distancing, and mandatory wearing of face-masks will be in place until at least May.

There were some grim moments during the year. Just before Christmas, they had a thousand cases in a population of 110,000; Ed himself went down with COVID at that time.

He can still remember the first corporate SMT business continuity meeting on 11 March 2020, when their director-general told them everything would be minuted for future judicial enquiry. The expectation was that 50% of the workforce might be ill at any one time.

Twice in 2020 the central library nearly got taken over for other functions; once they almost lost it to Gold Command, and the other time it almost became a temporary morgue.

The first priority through all of this has been keeping staff safe and supported. It’s been interesting hearing people’s experiences of working from home. What Ed and colleagues have experienced has been an all-encompassing and rolling change management process. Comfort zones have been completely swept away. Most of the staff have been working from home for extended periods, and operating rules have been changing day by day.

They have tried to be as clear and as consistent as possible in the communication going out; and although it’s been time consuming, from day one they had daily whole-team meetings and senior team meetings (using Microsoft Teams). Just getting the IT in place was a nightmare, with laptops being carried around the island. Regardless of what was actually on the agenda of those meetings, they were important in breaking down the isolation of people working from home.

They have had to adjust the building plans around scenarios rather than certainties. Moving out of lockdown has been proving just as complicated as moving into it. It’s a challenge for the leadership team because people want some certainty and a solid base to work from, but things are still necessarily quite fluid. It’s quite tiring for those who don’t have much of a say in what’s going on around them.

What they found really useful was getting feedback all the time – talking to the Health and Safety people, talking to staff and customers. Just before they reopened for a while in June 2020, they did a ‘dry run-through’ with volunteers in the library, to see how it worked. They reset that and ran it again and again, so people could practice interacting with the public again, as it had been months since they’d done that.

They got cracking straight away on home deliveries, getting thousands of books out to people during the first lock-down. All the storytime sessions were moved on-line, and they’ve also seen a massive growth in use of other online resources. Lots of Library staff started to support the local government ‘Connect Me’ helpline, which was signposting islanders to practical local help, whether about finances, education, health, all those practical things.

It was the personal stories that had most impact on Ed. The support of library staff was really appreciated by those to whom books were being delivered at home, also parents with small children appreciated the online storytelling as a sort of anchor for their children, a recognisable face.

In the first opening back in June, the library operated what could be called a ‘takeaway’ service – in and out in five minutes to collect a book. It became apparent that people were desperate for computer access. In some cases, people didn’t have the hardware at home; or, they could not afford the data – either way, it turned out that a lot of people hadn’t had Internet access for three months. They’d been out of touch with their families, were unable to search for jobs. So when the second lockdown came around early in December, they ensured that that regulation was changed so that side of the library service could stay open.

The experience made it painfully clear how many of the inhabitants of Jersey live on or below the poverty line. Many callers to the ‘Connect Me’ helpline were having to make decisions between heating, or feeding themselves or their pets. So now, they are thinking of rolling out that telephone service in more of an enquiry-based way while moving out of lockdown, and have been undergoing training for that.

They find themselves having to manage customer expectations. Just the previous week they had been having a discussion about reinstating seating in the library, and expectations from the public are high. It is wearing for the staff – but chocolate helps!

There’s a new book out by Scott Galloway called Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity, based on the proposition that the pandemic has accelerated social and business trends by about ten years. The newly invented services such as online storytelling and the ‘Click, Call and Collect’ service have proved popular and work well, but need integrating into a more day to day framework. Finance is also a challenge, with a 50% loss of room hire charges. Priorities going forward will be around supporting education, mitigating social isolation, extending digital inclusion, and supporting the island’s economic recovery.

Breakout sessions

There had been breakout sessions halfway through the afternoon (and the first five speakers), and in the half hour remaining, David Penfold who was running the session called on people from the groups to comment. Here we note some of the points made, without attribution.

  • It seems clear that things can get done better through remote working; when lockdown ends, will these amended work practices persist?
  • Mental health issues resulting from isolation may be a problem.
  • If there is a shift to remote working, the need for large office space in city centres will decline, which is bound to have macroeconomic effects in the years to come.
  • Paul’s recommendation that in video meetings everyone should be on camera does not consider people’s different situations e.g. those with poor bandwidth or a poor mobile data contract.
  • Will we understand now that broadband Internet is infrastructure as important as, say, roads?
  • Perhaps the pandemic has raised the profile of knowledge management, because you can’t work remotely without efficient access to up-to-date information.
  • How can we learn from these experiences, perhaps by archiving them?



Blog for January 2021 Seminar: Managing Knowledge in Project Environments

How can we manage knowledge more effectively in project environments? This was the question posed in the most recent NetIKX seminar, led by Judy Payne, an independent consultant and co-author of Managing Knowledge in Project Environments .

How do project managers define KM?

Judy began by comparing the 2012 and 2019 versions of the APM Body of Knowledge (BoK) definitions of knowledge management (KM). The 2012 entry reads ‘Knowledge management is the systematic management of information and learning. It turns personal information and experience into collective knowledge that can be widely shared throughout an organisation and a profession.’ Many participants felt that this confused the concepts of information management and knowledge management and failed to cover important aspects of KM such as managing tacit knowledge. The 2019 definition, however, is considerably broader, describing KM as ‘the holistic, cross-functional discipline and set of practices concerned with the way organisations create and use knowledge to improve outcomes.’ We agreed that this was an improvement, but the issue of defining KM to those outside the discipline remains. Judy pointed out that knowledge managers and project managers often have different mindsets, and it can be difficult to integrate KM into the project management body of knowledge.

The KM context within project management can be complex, as much of the KM which occurs within project management is not explicitly recognised as such – and conversely, much of what is labelled KM is often information management. Within a project environment, KM is often treated as a series of separate activities rather than as a tool to help produce better outcomes. There is a widespread belief that KM is simply a matter of capturing ‘lessons learned’ at the end of a project, whereas capturing knowledge is only one aspect of KM. In fact, KM practices can and should be integrated into the way a project is managed and the working environment.

Waterfall or agile? What does this mean for KM?

Judy then went on to compare the linear and iterative approaches to project management: within a linear (‘waterfall’) environment, knowledge is static, knowledge creation and application are separate and knowledge boundaries develop between stages, whereas in an iterative (‘agile’) project, knowledge is dynamic and flows well throughout the project and knowledge creation and application can be integrated. However, KM can pose a particular challenge in an agile environment due to the lack of documentation. One participant noted that although knowledge transfers well from one sprint to another, it is lost at the end of the project. The ‘correct’ approach is often dependent on the organisational culture, with some more traditional organisations being uncomfortable with the pace of the agile approach.

Sharing our experiences

For the breakout sessions, we were presented with three questions: what are your stories (good or bad) about KM in project work?; what are other examples of ‘hidden’ KM in project work? and how might KM thinking help you in future project work? Feedback from the sessions uncovered a number of common themes, including the fact that sometimes projects are ‘hidden’ in KM rather than the other way round – many of us had experience of working on something that could have been approached as a project but was not. Another theme was the way in which project managers focus on a linear progression with a clear outcome that can be measured in terms of material impact, whereas the benefits of KM cannot always be demonstrated so neatly: it was suggested that maybe we need to focus on benefits rather than objectives and on outcomes rather than outputs. Many thanks to Judy and to all who attended and contributed to this informative and highly interactive seminar.

By Carlin Parry. January 2021

Blog for November 2020 Seminar: Framework and ISO standards for Collaboration, KM and Innovation

At first glance it may seem counterintuitive to have standards for innovation and collaboration – these are, after all, things which many people perceive as happening organically and spontaneously:  the myth of creativity as a ‘Eureka moment’ is still prevalent, despite evidence to the contrary. Standards are often viewed as being imposed by authority and making work processes more cumbersome and bureaucratic. In this seminar, Ron Young of Knowledge Associates outlined how standards can in fact provide a framework for creativity and innovation and how they can be applied within an organisation.

Ron began by outlining the need for standards in knowledge management, starting with the 1998 white paper on ‘UK competitiveness in the global knowledge-driven economy’, a high-level strategy for the UK which acknowledged that effective collaboration, co-creation, knowledge and innovation were difficult to copy and were therefore key to global competitiveness and sustainability. As humans, we like to collaborate and share, but trust needs to be in place for this to succeed. Trusted partnerships and a collaborative business model are vital. The development of blockchain technology is relevant here as it provides a decentralised trust model for the exchange of information. Ron reminded us that trusted systems are as important as trusted people.

The importance of collaboration was illustrated by a number of examples of international projects, ranging from the establishment of the first Europe-wide KM team in 1999, the first pan-European KM conference in 2000 and the first global KM community of practice in 2001, through to the publication of the global KM standard, ISO 30401 in 2018. This standard was also adopted by the European Space Agency as the basis for its knowledge management governance framework.

We then learned more about the published standards ISO 44001 (collaborative partnerships), ISO 30401 (knowledge management) and ISO 56002 (innovation management) as well as the way in which these, along with ISO 55001 (intangible asset management) and ISO 27001 (information security) all fit together to form a common framework for knowledge- and information-driven thought leadership. Knowledge asset management (the ‘Internet of Assets’) is fundamental to achieving organisational objectives, but ethical considerations are also crucial, especially as we enter a world dominated by artificial intelligence. This has been recognised by the IEEE in their work on ethically aligned design. Ron pointed out that all ISO standards now ensure that the principles of the standard are embedded in the standard itself. As technologies, processes and people all change over time, principles remain the same and provide a reminder of why we are ‘doing’ KM. We need to make sure that knowledge is transformative and strategic and to build a ‘virtuous spiral’ of knowledge.

As is traditional at NetIKX seminars, the talk was followed by syndicate sessions (replicated in Zoom by breakout rooms) during which we discussed the issues covered in Ron’s presentation, including our own experiences of using and applying standards, the ethical implications of artificial intelligence and the importance of keeping the ‘human in the loop’ in KM processes in which algorithms and machine learning are incorporated. We were all impressed by the way in which Ron made a potentially dry subject so interesting and relevant to everyday KM practice.

Rob Rossett


Blog for October 2020 Seminar: Information as an Asset and the Hawley Report

In 1995, a ground-breaking report, Information as an Asset: the Board Agenda (which came to be known as The Hawley Report) was published. This report called for a recognition of corporate information as a strategic asset and laid out the responsibilities of boards to identify their information assets and to ensure that these are managed appropriately and deployed to best advantage. It was developed by a group led by Robert Hawley, the CEO of Nuclear Electric, and aimed firmly at boards and senior executives. The report itself disappeared from view for several years after publication, but it remained an important milestone in corporate knowledge and information management.

In 2017, CILIP and KPMG launched a joint programme of work to plan and deliver an updated version, which was published in February 2019 as Information as an Asset: today’s board agenda’. This was based on a survey of over 540 respondents who gave insights into their respective organisations. The authors noted several developments in the field since the original Hawley report, including the importance of AI, text and data analytics, machine learning, and robotics; the development of systems which learn faster than humans; the growth of ‘big data’; the increasing need to protect information assets; and the socio-political climate around recognition of the value and management of personal data. In early March 2020, a further report, ‘The Edge of Intelligence’, was published by the Financial Times.

Twenty-five years on from the original Hawley Report, the information landscape has changed considerably, but the need to manage information as a corporate asset is arguably greater than ever.

NetIKX was pleased to welcome Stephen Phillips, an information professional whose experience spans over 30 years and includes having been Global Head of Business Services at a leading investment bank, to provide an overview of Hawley’s legacy and the subsequent developments within corporate knowledge and information management. Stephen took us through the key themes of the three reports and posed the question of how organisations are dealing with the current COVID-19 crisis in addition to those challenges already facing them pre-pandemic. Key findings of Dell’s recent Digital Transformation Index emphasised the importance of knowledge sharing, extraction of insights from data, skills in data analysis and related disciplines and the need to make business decisions based on data in real time. This survey was undertaken in July and August 2020, so reflected concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic more closely.

Although some issues raised in the Digital Transformation Index are specifically related to the current crisis – such as lack of economic growth and the need for increased cybersecurity due to home working – the key themes from The Edge of Intelligence remain relevant.

Stephen went on to explore these four themes, which reflect the areas where most companies lack confidence about their competencies – limited horizon scanning, ‘lost in translation’ (bridging the gap between data science and operational expertise), technical failure, and ‘data without democracy’ (sharing market intelligence across functions). In the 2019 Information as an Asset report, market research was consistently viewed as the most reliable source of intelligence, but there are signs that this may be shifting – particularly in light of the growing importance of AI and the Internet of Things (IoT). The McKinsey COVID Response Center has produced a set of response tools for business leaders which highlight the importance of talent (a factor which was notably ranked low in responses to the FT survey) and supply-chain resilience, as well as cybersecurity and the need to re-evaluate analytics models.

Drawing on the information from these sources, Stephen then invited us to consider a proposed set of priorities for what has come to be called ‘the new normal’:

* accelerated decision-making

* horizon-scanning

* data deluge

* talent

* democratising data

* insight

* intelligence and knowledge

* ethics and integrity

This formed the basis for discussion in the breakout sessions, where we shared our own views and experiences of issues such as the risks of decision-making based on algorithms, the increased role of social media in sharing information (or disinformation!) and the continued need for us as information professionals to convince others of the commercial value of knowledge and information management. As we navigate the ‘new normal’ – whatever that may turn out to be – our skills are increasingly needed.

Blog for the September 2020 Seminar: TRIZ

TRIZ (a Russian acronym for a phrase usually translated as ‘the theory of inventive problem-solving’) is not a well-known technique in knowledge and information management circles. It is the brainchild of Genrich Altshuller, an engineer, scientist, inventor and writer – who, incidentally, paid the price for his innovative thinking style by displeasing Stalin and consequently being sent to a labour camp. However, he used his experiences there to further refine his problem-solving techniques!

TRIZ is still most widely used in the engineering field, but the TRIZ principles are applicable to any kind of problems, not just technical ones.

Ron Donaldson, NetIKX committee member and TRIZ expert at Oxford Creativity, took us through the fundamentals of TRIZ in an intensive yet enjoyable seminar, enhanced by the wonderful cartoons of Clive Goddard. The TRIZ approach is based on the principle of analogous thinking – often we limit ourselves to the solutions found within our own area of expertise, whereas in fact we could apply solutions from other domains where similar problems have been faced. The advantage of this approach is that you learn to think conceptually and to view a problem in an abstract way, rather than becoming bogged down in detail.

But, given that most of us lack this breadth of knowledge, how do we access these creative solutions? Altshuller analysed 50,000 patent abstracts to identify how the innovation had taken place. From this he developed the essential TRIZ methodology: the concept of technical contradictions, the concept of ideality of a system, contradiction matrix and the 40 principles of invention. He also modelled creative thinking tools and techniques from observing creative people at work and uncovering patterns in their thinking.

At the heart of all problems requiring an inventive solution, there is a contradiction: for example, we want something that is both strong and lightweight, but how do we increase strength without also increasing weight? The existence of a contradiction does not mean you cannot solve a problem: Ron suggested that we need to ‘channel our inner Spice Girl’ and state what we ‘really, really want’ as there is usually a way of getting it without having to change anything!

Altshuller’s research identified three characteristics of creative people: they think without constraints; they think in time and scale, and they get everything they want. When you have identified your ideal outcome, you can work ‘backwards towards reality’.

One of the TRIZ tools is the contradictions matrix, which allows you to map the contradictions inherent in your problem and to identify inventive principles to solve them. We saw examples of the principles and how they can be used in different contexts: for example, principle 13 (The Other Way Round) could involve turning an object upside-down, or making the fixed parts moveable and the moving parts fixed. TRIZ also emphasises the importance of using the resources that you have, which supports sustainability and reuse.

Ron set us two questions to consider in the breakout sessions (which luckily, we were able to replicate effectively via Zoom!): how would you use TRIZ within knowledge management? and which bits of the session really inspired you? This led to a discussion ranging across the design of tin-openers, Altshuller’s science fiction stories and the challenges of applying inventive solutions in the public sector. It is safe to say that we were all intrigued by what we had learned and keen to explore further.

TRIZ is open source and is not copyrighted – so you can try out the toolkit for yourself. The contradictions matrix, the 40 principles and other tools are free to download from the Oxford Creativity site, where you can also sign up for free webinars on TRIZ. Give it a go and unleash your genius!

By Carlin Parry

Carlin’s LinkedIn web address is :


Blog for July 2020 Seminar: A Library during lockdown

Antony Groves has been working at the University of Sussex for 15 years starting in a ‘front line’ role and continuing on into his current job where he is always talking to and supporting a lot of students at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. He is a member of CILIP and blogs for the Multi Media and Information Technology Group. Antony is a reflective practitioner and believes in making things happen. As of now there are two major priorities – proactively working towards making the UoS website accessible by the government deadline of September 23rd 2020 and reactively working to make the UoS website and services as useful as possible following the Covid19# lockdown in March.

Two key ideas – accessibility and usability. Accessibility can be straightforward things such as font size, change in colour and ensuring that the keyboard is operable. For more on accessibility

‘Strategic approaches to implementing accessibility’, more colloquially – ‘The Kent strategy slides’. 2019 saw over a million visits to the library website, 6,170 on the busiest day – Tuesday May 14th. There has been a shift (a pivot) from physical visits to digital space. The main focus is on the user.
At this time there is a rush to open things up after lockdown without necessarily thinking about who is coming through the door and what they want now. Doing updating and coding makes you ‘removed’ from the user. Government Design Principles are a good place to start –

Now this is for everyone. You start with ‘user needs’ and you design with data. You build ‘digital services’ not websites. Remember that ‘A service is something that helps people to do something’. Iterate, then iterate again. We began by speaking to the academic community and gathering feedback. Over 100 pieces of feedback were collected and grouped into four main themes: architecture, behaviour, content and labelling. Top tasks were identified (e.g. searching for and finding books, booking rooms, accessing an account) –
People mainly make use of a handful of tasks so develop these first.

Architecture – “Confusing having two types of navigation”.

Behaviour – “Have never used library search tabs”.

Content – “More photos of the library and more infographics”.

Labelling – “Skills hub should have a description mentioning academic skills”.

Design with data – We benchmarked with other institutions.

We looked at Google analytics – most/least viewed pages, along with bounce and exit rates. We ran ‘card sorts’ to determine site structure. We created user stories to help edit pages. This resulted in (two examples) – the new ‘Making your research available’ section has very low bounce and exit rates, and these have also dropped across the whole site indicating that people are finding what they expect to. The ‘Find a book in the library page’ had 6,785 views compared with 1,182 in the 2018 Autumn term when it was located in the ‘Using the Library’ section.

Iteration goes on and on. There is still much to ‘unpack’ and ‘improve’. User testing is currently being organised. Usage is being analysed to see which parts of the website are seeing fewer views and less engagement. Working with teams inside and outside the UoS Library to make the digital services as useful as they can be to our community.

When Covid19# hit the UK we considered carefully how to respond. We devised a three pronged approach : Pivot / Add / Hide. ‘The Pivot’ involved moving the library from a physical presence into a digital space. For example, study rooms were no longer available and room bookings were changed into zoom bookings. ‘The Add’ meant introducing new services. There is a ‘click and study service’ starting this week whereby individuals can book a study place. There is a ’click and collect service’ and ‘Library FAQ’s’ appropriate for the period of lockdown. ‘The Hide’ concerned removing information on the website that was no longer appropriate such as ‘Information for visitors’ Instead, we created a guide to ‘Open Access Items’ and a ‘Schools Guide’.

All this work has been recognised by a ‘Customer Service Excellence’ award.

Antony is pleased that the work of the UoS Library Staff has been recognised but he takes it with a ‘pinch of salt’ as he is intent on doing more ‘user testing’ and receiving much more feedback as well as talking to his community.

In conclusion, notification of the inspirer behind this approach to digital services – “Revisiting Ranganathan : Applying the Five Laws of Library Science to Inclusive Web Design”. Ten changes we’ve made to the library website since lockdown –

Rob Rosset 25/07/2020




Blog for May 2020: Gurteen knowledge cafe

How do we thrive in a hyper-connected, complex world?

An afternoon of conversation with David Gurteen

There was a great start to this Zoom meeting. David Gurteen gave some simple guidance to participants so we could all Zoom smoothly.  It was great best practice demo. We are all becoming good at Zoom but simple guidance on how to set the visuals, and mute the sound is a wise precaution to make sure we are all competent with the medium. He also set out how the seminar would be scheduled, with breakout groups and plenaries. It was to be just like a NetIKX seminar in the BDA meeting room, even though it was totally different! I felt we were in very safe hands, as David was an eary adopter of Zoom, but still recognizes that new people will benefit by clarity of what works best. Well done David.

The introduction set the scene for the content of our café.  We were looking at how we live in a hyper-connected complex rapidly evolving world. David outlined many dimensions to this connectedness, including transport changes, internet, social media, global finances…

In his view; over the last 75 years this increased connectivity has led to massive complexity, and today we can conceive of two worlds – an old world before the Second World War and a new world that has emerged since 1945.  Not only are our technological systems complex, but we human beings are immensely complex, non-rational, emotional creatures full of cognitive biases. This socio-technical complexity together with our human complexity has resulted in a world that is highly volatile, unpredictable, confusing, and ambiguous. Compare the world now, with the locally focused world that dominated the pre-war years.

Furthermore, this complexity is accelerating as we enter the fourth industrial revolution in which disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things, robotics, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence are rapidly changing the way we live and work. Our 20th-century ways of thinking about the world and our old command and control, hierarchical ways of working no longer serve us well in this complex environment.

Is it true that if we wish to thrive, we need to learn to see the world in a new light, think about it differently, and discover better ways in which to interact and work together?

Break out groups

With practiced expertise, David set us up into small break-out groups that discussed the talk so far.  Did we agree, or feel continuity was a stronger thread than change. Then we swapped groups to take the conversation on further.


After the break-out groups, David looked at the two linked ideas behind Conversational Leadership.  He had some wonderful quotes about leadership.  Was the old control and lead model gone?  Do leaders have to hold a specific role, or can we all give leadership when the opportunity is there?  Of course, David provided examples of this, but perhaps after the seminar a very powerful example stands out – the 22 year old footballer changing the mind of a government with an 80 seat majority! You don’t need to have the expected ‘correct’ label to be a powerful leader.


We also looked at the other element: talking underpins how we work together. Using old TV clips and quotes, David urged us to consider how we communicate with each other, and if there is scope to change the world through talking?  Again, there was plenty of food for thought as we consider new ideas such as ‘unconscious bias’, ‘media bubbles’, ‘fake news’ and the global reach of social media.

We then broke into small groups again, to take the conversation further, using David’s talk as a stimulus.


At the end of the break-out groups, we re-joined as a mass of faces smiling out of the screen, ready to share our thoughts.   It is a wonderful thing, when you make a point to see heads nodding across the Zoom squares.  I recommend this to anyone who has not tried it!!!

Some themes emerged from the many small group chats.  One was the question of the fundamental nature of change.  Was our world so different when the humans within it remain very much the same?  We looked very briefly at what we think human nature is and whether it remains a constant despite the massively different technology we use on a daily basis.   Even if humans are the same fallible clay, the many practical ways we can now communicate gives us much more potential to hear and be heard.

We also considered the role of trust. In our workplaces, trust often seems to be in short supply, but it is a key to leaders taking on authority without becoming authoritarian. The emphasis on blame culture and short-term advangabe has to be countered with building genuine trust.

Is there potential for self-governing teams? The idea sounds inviting but would not ensure good leadership or sharing of ideas.  The loudest voice might still monopolise attention. And with some justification, as not everyone wants to be pro-active. Some prefer to follow as their choice, and others like to take part but balk at the tedium of talking through every minute decision!  This idea may have potential, but we agreed it would not be a panacea.

We did agree that roles and rules could be positive to help give shape to our working lives, but that they need not constrict our options to lead when the time comes.  And we can see the leadership role that our professional calling suggests.   With so many new information channels, so many closed groups and so many conflicting pressures, as information or knowledge professionals, we can take a leadership role in helping and supporting our chosen groups of very human work colleagues to understand and thrive in this complex and evolving world. Conversational Leadership should be one of the tools we take away to enable our work with colleagues.

Final Notes:

The NetIKX team.

NetIKX is a community of interest based around Knowledge and Information Professionals. We run 6 seminars each year and the focus is always on top quality speakers and the opportunity to network with peers. We are delighted that the Lockdown has not stopped our seminars taking place and expect to take Zoom with us when we leave lockdown! You can find details of how to join the lively NetIKX community on our Members page.

Our Facilitator

David Gurteen is a writer, speaker, and conversational facilitator. The focus of his work is Conversational Leadership – a style of working where we appreciate the power of conversation and take a conversational approach to the way that we connect, relate, learn and work with each other.  He is the creator of the Knowledge Café – a conversational process to bring a group of people together to learn from each other, build relationships and make a better sense of a rapidly changing, complex, less predictable world. He has facilitated hundreds of Knowledge Cafés and workshops in over 30 countries around the world over the past 20 years. He is also the founder of the Gurteen Knowledge Community – a global network of over 20,000 people in 160 countries.  Currently, he is writing an online book on Conversational Leadership. You can join a Knowledge Café if you consult his website.

Blog for January 2020: Keeping the show on the road in a virtual world

Topical News!

Virtual meetings are pretty much the only meetings in town!  With Corvid19 rampaging through the UK, we all need to get skilled at the art of virtual meetings as a top priority. Now is the time to show your value as a KM professional by providing skills and knowledge in the virtual meeting space.  Read on for help with this now!

Introduction – the age of disruption

This is a time when we all learn to live with digital disruption.   Processes and procedures that had lasted year upon year are suddenly subject to brand new ways of doing things.  One of these changes has been to meetings.  We no longer need to travel to go to meet someone.  We have the potential to have a virtual meeting, where wonderful technology means that geography does not stop us sharing live documents and possibly even admiring each other’s outfits!

It is interesting to see this become widespread as the health risks of face to face meetings grow all around us.  Using remote meetings are going to be a regular event for many of us.  Let’s put in the effort to do them well.

We can go to meetings with all the information we need in the palm of our hands, via laptops or smart phones, leaving all those cumbersome files and bundles of paper behind.  This opens a new world of opportunity for knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer.  These changes have many advantages but, as always, it pays to think carefully about the disadvantages too, so that we can take steps to reduce them.  We still need to build confidence that we all understand digital opportunities fully and are certain to get the best from them.

This article reports back from a NetIKX, (Network for Information and Knowledge Exchange), seminar where we spent a full afternoon grappling with the issues linked to Virtual Meetings.

Speaker: Paul Corney

Anyone who has sat through a meeting where many people are intently studying their mobiles, will know the frustrations that can cause.   And virtual meetings are notorious for the problems that technology can introduce.  Paul Corney, the President elect of CILIP, and an author and speaker of repute, took us to the heart of the issues for Knowledge Managers.  If meetings are one way that we share knowledge, it is essential that we, working as we do to ensure the best possible sharing takes place, will be in the forefront of establishing good practice.   As a lively and engaging speaker, Paul at once convinced his audience that he would be able to take us through the minefield of virtual meetings and help us take power over the essentials of good practice.

The potential range

We considered all the possibilities for a wide range of meetings.  Paul has a wealth of experience – he had been line managed by someone on the other side of the globe, 9,000 miles away – clearly virtual meetings would be required and when it is your boss on the line, you don’t want to have any distractions messing up communication. He also highlighted examples from the recently published KM Cookbook, including the International Olympic Committee whose Knowledge Management programme began in Sidney in 2000 and where significant amounts of knowledge is now organised and transferred.  This can allow learning to be disseminated to wider groups than ever possible before. It also highlights a variety of issues such as organising subgroups and breakouts.

An example

We did not just talk about virtual meetings – we invited one of our members, who could not attend because they were sick, to join us online.  True to form, in one way it was wonderful.  Conrad was able to talk to the crowd in the room from his sickbed.  (Please don’t worry, he has recovered now).  He spoke about his experience of virtual meetings, including bemoaning, in his memorable phrase: ‘survival of the loudest’.  But the technology only delivered half its promise! We could only hear Conrad, as the visuals refused to work.  That made the experience less rich, although as a demonstration that technology can let you down, it was very apposite.   If Conrad had been invited for a long speech, this could have been a disaster, as it is much harder for an audience to concentrate when there are no visual clues to keep their attention.  As it was, we only suffered from not learning what colour pyjamas Conrad wears!

Video mishaps

Paul took us through a short masterclass, aided by a stunning slide set, looking at the benefits and pitfalls; the good, the bad and the just plain awkward.  One of the resources he introduced to us was a short video clip (A Conference Call in Real Life) which portrayed a virtual meeting as if it was a traditional face to face meeting.  This had the impact of presenting what we know can go wrong but made hilarious when acted out.  For example: the times when people were talking but the sound had gone or the strange situation of ‘Pete has joined the meeting’ intoned several times as Pete’s link drops and he has to keep getting back up and running.  And of course, the ‘lurker’ who was in the meeting all the time but did not let anyone know he was there!  Believe me, that is very funny when you see it!  It certainly did highlight all the possible jinxes we can meet when we try virtual meetings.


As Knowledge Management advocates, we understand the importance of the media when messages are to be transmitted and it is vital that we don’t reduce our effectiveness in our ability to share when we embrace the most forward-looking technology.  The video clip was just one of the valuable resources we looked at during the meeting.  Since the seminar, NetIKX has collected a small set of resources that can be used to help understanding the issues, and they are available through our website.

Audience input

One great resource of a NexIKX meeting is that the attendees are all participants who contribute their own learning from experience.  As a result, we could pool our ideas about the different technologies we had used and stories and anecdotes from actual meetings we had survived.  One example that I loved was the dry comment about an internal team meeting with a home worker: ‘the meeting didn’t go well, but at least we all saw her sitting room!’  It brings back memories of the famous incident of the newsreader whose children toddled and crawled into view while he was broadcasting! It is a useful reminder for all video link meetings that you need to consider ensuring you have an appropriate background setting…


Paul provided us with a table outlining the pros and cons of different meeting software.   It was particularly helpful to get the facts, augmented by the experience of people in the room.  Of course, there are different ‘best choice’ options depending on the type of meetings you intend to support and the available resources. One well-resourced organisation uses Microsoft Teams, which will control social media use through that device, while others use Zoom, a simpler choice, or Webex, the more traditional option.  (This very useful table is available on the NetIKX website).  Once your software is chosen, you need to ensure that there are no problems with users having different software versions, or incompatible systems and remembering that simply because they have the software, this does not mean they know how to use it effectively!


 Of course, the best meetings have help and support from technology expertise; a strong reason for keeping good relations with our counterparts in the IT department!  Firewalls may have to be negotiated without leading to security risks.  It may be that in your eagerness to facilitate knowledge sharing you forget to consider the dangers of ‘leaking’.  There are many technical issues to negotiate to get the best possible solution to your virtual meeting needs.


And so, we come to the non-tech questions.  What differences do we have to manage with a virtual meeting compared to traditional meetings?  Do you need different rules? Will there be alternative ways to enforce them? Are there timing issues, or cultural issues and how do you get feedback to learn how well things worked and where you can improve?  One issue that we considered carefully was whether a good meeting chair would automatically be a good virtual meeting chair or if some different skills were needed.   A solution could be to have two chairs:  One to manage the meeting content and another to monitor and confirm Protocol.  This could solve all your problems – or possibly lead to utter confusion and conflict!

Paul suggested an interesting resource could be a book by Erin Mayer, which includes a chapter called ‘The most productive ways to disagree across cultures’, in ‘The Culture Map’.  He suggested the words: ‘that is really interesting’ which from an English person with a dry turn of phrase can have an idiomatic meaning contrary to its general meaning.


The meeting highlighted lots of useful ideas.  We then considered these in table discussions so the participants, (not including the virtual entrant – we let him retire early,) were able to pull together the ideas they had found useful.  NetIKX meetings always include a time for table discussions, so that people have a chance to embed the ideas in their own context and pick up ideas from networking with people from other workspaces.  In this case, we all considered what was the most useful tip from the meeting in our small groups.  We then amalgamated the ideas from all the groups into a main list and the voted for the best of all!  This was fun, and perhaps a little frustrating as the results were left for me to reveal in this article.  I will give our full list as they were all deemed useful.  Here are the TOP TEN in reverse order of popularity.

10.Consider security – don’t overlook this when tackling the technology issues.

9. Consider if the meeting needs to have small groups, or specific break-out groups.

8, Ensure the participants understand the established etiquette.

7. Ensure participants are confident and competent with the technology before the meeting starts.

6. Consider how the role of Chair will need to adapt to the virtual format.

5. Consider if you can build on face to face meetings to supplement the virtual ones.

4. Decide if you need to have two people taking lead roles: Chair of Content and Chair of Protocol?

Are you ready?  Drumroll please! Now for the top three:

3.Consider cultural issues as these may be emphasized and exacerbated by the virtual format

2. Preparation is vital: IT compatibility and time issues etc. need to be thought through.

Yes, in top place!

The recommendation that reminds us all that virtual meetings will ultimately have the same dynamic as any other meeting:

1. It is most essential to have a clear purpose and outcomes that are understood by all participants.


When the NetiKX meeting ended, the conversations did not.  Refreshments helped the chatter flow and we continued for a very satisfactory networking session with wine and soft drinks, finger food and chat.  All in all, it was a highly successful NetIKX meeting with a dazzling speaker and plenty of learning for all concerned.  I hope this summary of what went on has been useful for you.   If you want more here are three valuable resources:

Buy (or win) Paul Corney’s book:

Paul has a new book available to buy.  It is called: The KM Cookbook : Stories and strategies for organisations exploring Knowledge Management Standard ISO30401  By  Chris J. Collison , Paul J. Corney and  Patricia Lee Eng

NetIKX has two copies and is running competitions on their website for them. The first was won by one of our members who works with Plan International.  The next competition will be later in the Spring.  Watch out for this at The book is published by CILIP

Website resources linked to this meeting

Each seminar has a page on our website where we collect resources relevant to that meeting.  However, this may be for members only. Look at the page for January 2020.  This includes up-to-date information on Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc.

Issues Checklist

For our members, we have compiled a simple checklist, bringing together all the ideas from the meeting.  It could be a useful starting point for thinking through the issues so that you have expertise in identifying how to prepare for the best possible virtual meetings.

To join NetIKX and so gain access to this material, please go to our website and use the joining form – or alternatively come to our next seminar. This will be a virtual meeting using Zoom and led by someone with considerable experience in running virtual meetings, David Gurteen.  Please look at our website for details.   Contact us via the website for an opportunity to attend as our guest to enjoy a chance to talk with our members, as a taster to see what NetIKX could offer you or your organisation.   We look forward to you joining us then.

This article is compiled by Lissi Corfield, based on the presentation by Paul Corney and the contribution of attendees at the NetIKX seminar in January 2020.