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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:

http://www.communitylifecompetence.org/en/29-aids-competence

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ai7LcCzOJo8&feature=fvst

*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:
http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/All information currently on the OGC website will be available on the National archives website:

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20100503135839/http://www.ogc.gov.uk/index.asp

Please update any bookmarks you may have, and if you have any queries or questions please contact 
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Defragmentation – the latest meeting

The third meeting of what began with the fragmentation /death on the CILIP LinkedIn Group last August was held on Tuesday 31 May.  The first two meetings, the second of which I wrote about on 24 February, were invitation only, but this one was open to all, and attracted over 70 people.  It was hosted by the British Computer Society and opened with a welcome from BCS’s President, Jim Norton.  Then Conrad Taylor, one of the organisers, set the tone by quoting from Sue Myburgh’s PhD thesis on the future of the information professional.  (Sue is happy for people to email her for copies – .) Mark Field, who started the whole thing off, sketched in the background and Nicola Franklin, the third of the organisers, explained her involvement which came from seeing the narrow view of what the profession was about that so many of the new professionals she interviewed as a recruiter, a siloed approach which often continued through their careers.

Conrad stressed that one of the key elements of the meeting was the opportunity to talk to people from other organisations, and asked representatives from some of the many represented to briefly describe them.  There were contributions from BCS, CILIP, IRM, BIALL, KIDMM, ISKO UK, SLA Europe – and NetIKX, of course.  In my two minutes I explained that NetIKX covers a very wide spread of information professionals – and others who wouldn’t describe themselves that way but are still interested in many of the topics we discuss.  We then spent time in our small groups to discuss the six questions that had been posed.  (You can find these and much else in the wiki that has been set up to support all this.) Throughout there was a constant stream of Tweets on the topic, both from those at the meeting and from others who were following the #infodefrag hash tag.  One striking one was from someone who pointed out that they belonged to no organisations but used social media to keep in touch – which was how they had found out about the meeting and come along!

I’m not sure than we really managed to answer any of the questions but it did produce some very interesting and lively discussions – and more questions.  There was also an intriguing argument that diversity is fragmentation turned upside down and we should celebrate diversity.  We then went on to consider how those present and the organisations they represent can do to move things on to ensure the information professions can survive as a community.  There is considerable support for the idea of an information charter and manifesto.  We need to articulate the value of what we do, and for this we need stories – and there was a great one about the IMF.  We also need to describe a core of competencies, and to link together the common and transferable standards that organisations like BCS and CILIP have already defined.  Mark Field suggested the production of an annual report, “The state of the information profession this year” to set out our achievements and raise our profile.

So what next?  The liaison group will continue, developing the wiki as a resource – so do check it out, and hope to involve other people to work on the action points that Nicola identified in a series of tweets

  • create a repository of stories that show value of information professionals
  • work on a core competency statement, and look at common professional  standards in the associations
  • get information groups to agree to work more together, eg joint meetings, joint training
  • produce annual report on ‘ the state of information profession this year’ with logos of all info groups in the back

NetITX is committed to working with this project, because we feel it is so much in keeping with what NetIKX is about, bringing everyone who works in information together whatever their job title or starting point whenever there are topics of general interest to learn about and skills and experience to share.  We would love to hear from you – your comments of the six questions, your thoughts about what we should be doing – email me at .

For more on this, see the wiki, James Mullan’s detailed report on his blog,  Nicola Franklin’s discussion of key points and Val Skelton’s summary

From fragmentation / death to cohesion / life

In August last year Mark Field started a discussion on the CILIP LinkedIn Group which he called The Fragmentation Death of the Information Professions.  It attracted some 200 comments, and runs to around 29,000 words.   (You can find the whole thing at http://tinyurl.com/35bglbs, but you have to be a member of the group to access it – it’s very easy to join.)

One of the reasons the discussion was so lively was that it was clear that it was not simply a talking shop.  Mark and others were planning to do something about it, to try to bring about “a comprehensive, hospitable and rigorous over-arching professional framework for information scientists, librarians, records managers, archivists, and their emerging new sibling professions in information architecture”. NetIKX encouraged its LinkedIn Group members to participate in the discussion – and quite a few did.  The first meeting was on 14 December and CILIP, BIALL, IRMS, SLA and BCS were among those represented.  It was agreed that the group should seek to involve other organisations and the NetIKX Management Committee made it clear we would be interested in taking part.  Our membership, though not large, covers a wide range of disciplines and organisational types so the discussions are very relevant to us.

The second meeting was held on Tuesday 22 February and I went along.  We had some very constructive discussions, clarifying just who we were seeking to bring together, and who we wanted to influence – a long list including government, senior management, businesses of every size, professional bodies, politicians, the media (and through them the public), employers, and all those who manage information as part of their role (to encourage best practice).

We agreed that we need to produce a manifesto and an information charter, and that in the mean time the group will need to establish a web presence and distribution channels. I will continue to take part, but if anyone else is particularly interested, please contact me. Watch this space.

Suzanne Burge
NetIKX Chair