Wider Horizons For Information Audit

HorizonIt’s a paradox of our time that the more information that organisations create or consume, the less they understand it. Specifically, most organisations don’t know what information they’ve got, where it came from, where it is stored, who owns it, how good it is (in terms of accuracy and relevance), and perhaps most importantly, what value it may have, if any. More often than not it’s only when there has been an unauthorised leakage of information, or when wrong information has been published that “management” sit up and take notice. In today’s litigious society, such mistakes can be expensive (just ask the BBC, in relation to the Jimmy Savile saga, or Rotherham Borough Council as a result of the child grooming scandal).

It is perhaps timely, therefore, to revisit some well established information management practices that address this particular facet of information governance, namely the Information Audit.

Pause here for a definition of which there are a number:

From a business point of view, an Information Audit might be the…..

“Analysis and evaluation of an organization’s information system (manual and/or computerised) to detect and rectify blockages, duplication, and leakage of information. The objectives of the audit are to improve accuracy, relevance, security and timeliness of the recorded information.”

(Source: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/information-audit.html#ixzz3GVqKkkAu)

Another definition for Information Audit, established by the Aslib IRM Network in London, has won acceptance by information professionals, information scientists and the academic community, and states that:

“The Information Audit is a systematic examination of information use, resources and flows, with a verification by reference to both people and existing documents, in order to establish the extent to which they are contributing to an organisation’s objectives”.

As part of its mission to encourage learning and sharing of good/best practice amongst knowledge and information professionals, NetIKX is running a seminar on 4th November on the topic “Wider Horizons For Information Audit”.

Sue Henczel, an internationally renowned expert on Information Audit, with support from Graham Robertson (Bracken Associates), will present and lead discussions on the evolution of the information audit process, the various ways that it is now being used within organisations and how this evolution of information audit aligns with the changes that are occurring within both the information profession and the broader business information management environment. A number of case studies will describe how the IA process has recently been used in Australia.

The intended learning outcomes of this NetIKX seminar are:

  • Recognising the current evolution of the information audit;
  • Accepting information audit as an enterprise information management tool; and
  • Understanding the alignment between the evolution of the information audit process and the information management profession.

More details and a booking form are available from the NetIKX website. The event is free to NetIKX members.

Posted in Information Management | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Making The Case For Enterprise Social Networks

Why is it that so many organisations still struggle to (a) understand what an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) is and (b) how it might benefit their business. Despite the fact that social networking technology has been around for over 10 years, there is still a general lack of social business maturity on the part of many organizations, who appear to lack the culture to be able to understand, appreciate, and leverage ESN’s.

Gartner have reported that over 80% of Social Business efforts will not achieve intended benefits by 2015. At least part of the problem is that where ESN’s have been implemented, they have been treated as technology deployments with a focus on adoption and usage. A different way to think about this is that ESNs represent a new way to communicate and form relationships — and because of that, can bridge gaps that exist in terms of information sharing and decision-making processes.

For anyone yet to be convinced of the benefits of social collaboration within the workplace, here are a few points to add to your business case:

Enterprise Social Networks:-

  1. let employees become happier at work: by allowing all facets of their personalities to be expressed.
  2. connect employees with each other: thus forming deep, long lasting and more meaningful relationships.
  3. encourage every employee to believe they can make a difference.
  4. promote innovation, creativity and change within an organisation. This is achieved through the network culture of communication and collaboration that is created and encouraged by use of Social Media tools. This is opposed to the traditional top down way of management and communication, which is acceptable for some forms of official control and communication in the enterprise. This however is not good for fostering creativity at work and deters innovation from flourishing within the organisation.
  5. avoid the problem of duplication of work in the enterprise by giving much more visibility to what other people are doing. This can be achieved through the use of wikis and open collaborative platforms that encourage sharing and dissemination of ideas and thought processes.
  6. put people with similar interests and skills together and make it easier to search for someone with the skills you are looking for. This allows cross-departmental efforts to be exchanged more seamlessly and organically because the relationships are based on skills and interests rather than the traditional departmental or project base relationship.

Point 4 is perhaps better illustrated below, showing the relationship between traditional command and control structures vs. social networks.

Hierarchies & Networks

It’s also about time organisations got over the mental barrier of making sure that the content on their ESN is strictly about work. They fear that personal discussion will result in less productivity or inappropriate private content. If anything, the organization should encourage “personal” postings because social networks are a representation of who you already are. If you are an unproductive, time-wasting team member, your activities (or lack of) will be plainly visible to everyone. I can think of many other less productive activities,  such as sitting in meetings that have no purpose!

I know it’s been said before, but I’ll repeat it here, because I still see the same old approaches to ESN deployments – focus on behaviours and relationships, and less on the technology.  That way you are more likely to think about value creation rather than tools and features. It’s only through investment in behaviours and relationships that value can be created through:

  • Knowledge sharing
  • Knowledge capture
  • Improved decision-making
  • Employee empowerment

Otherwise Gartner’s predicted 80% failure rate will become reality!

 

Posted in Knowledge Management, Social Business, Social Enterprise, Social Media, Social Networking Tools | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Change to Primary URL

Just a brief note to inform any readers/followers that I have changed the primary URL for this blog from steve-dale.net to stephendale.com. This is part of a rationalisation of domain names that I own, and to distinguish this (mainly) business-related blog content from my personal (non-business) blog content at stephendale.net. Access to this blog is still available from steve-dale.net, and the RSS subscription should not be affected. However, all permalinks have changed to “stephendale.com/xxxx” and as such anyone who has bookmarked content may find that the links may no longer work. This can be fixed by replacing the “steve-dale.net” root of the link to “stephendale.com”.

I have noticed that all of my shared button counts have been zero’d out as a result of this change. Since I’m not a PHP expert I don’t think there is anything I can do about this, and in any case, I don’t have a big enough ego to let it worry me too much!

However, I do apologise for many inconvenience to regular readers or subscribers to this blog.

Steve.

Posted in Social Bookmarks | Tagged , | 1 Comment

We’re all Digital Content Curators (but some of you don’t know it).

drowning

I don’t think I need to convince anyone who regularly uses the Internet or World Wide Web that finding useful and relevant information amongst the volumes of dross we get from advertisers, marketers, brand mangers and those-that-want-to-be-heard-but-have-nothing-of-value-to-say which, unfortunately, accounts for the largest proportion of content that swills around our in-boxes and search results, is becoming increasingly difficult. Information is being pumped at us almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This was bad enough when we were shackled to an office desk and a “lobotomised” corporate desktop PC – you know, the ones where IT security bods and corporate policy makers have surgically removed all the useful productivity applications – but now that most of us are connected 24 x 7 via our smartphones, tablets and laptops, information can get to us wherever we are and whatever we’re doing.

So, it’s probably meaningless to conduct a survey that asks people if they suffer from information overload, because I can guarantee that the vast majority would say “yes”. The paradox is that many people don’t realise that they are in control of the situation, and not – as they perceive – helpless victims of this information deluge.

It helps if you’re not a victim of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out, where you need to sleep with your smartphone under your pillow in case someone sends you an email or SMS text in the middle of the night (which you must of course read and respond to straight away). If so, you may need professional psychological help – which I’m not qualified to give!

But what about all of those unsolicited emails you get, or the inane Tweets you read, or the random messages from people you don’t know (or would rather not know) on various social networks. When was the last time you cleared out the clutter in your various in-boxes and put in place some intelligent filters that prevented the “mad and the bad” information from ever reaching you? When did you last trawl through your newsletters and unsolicited email sources to unsubscribe from anything you don’t need or don’t read? Just deleting them will not make them go away – they’ll be back next week or next month.

The worst of it is that with all of this useless information reaching you, you’re liable to miss the good stuff. Finding useful and trusted sources of information is becoming an art. This is the stuff you want, because it’s relevant to your job, profession or personal life. This is where you need to be a “Digital Content Curator”.

The role of the curator has been around for centuries, but specifically associated with people who practice their profession in the hallowed halls of the world’s museums and galleries. To suggest that digital content curators all bring the same depth and breadth of knowledge as a professional curator might be somewhat missing the point.

Curation, when it comes down to it, is all about creating value from building collections. Curators know that the sum of an experience can be greater than the parts alone. And you don’t always have to be an expert to tell a decent story.

Curators perform four basic actions; they find quality sources of content; they evaluate, organize and store the key elements of the content; they add insight and personal knowledge to what they’ve found; they publish and share through their preferred channels.

I’ll go out on a limb here, and go against the combined wisdom of many expert digital content curators and say that you don’t have to do that final step, publishing and sharing, if the audience is yourself. Perhaps that seems strange, but personal bookmarking is a type of content curation. You’ve found, evaluated, organised and stored something that you have found personally valuable, and you want to be sure you can find it again and use it.

In his Future Show episode 3: The Future Of Work and Jobs, Futurist Gerd Leonhard talks about the growing trend for machine-automation (e.g. robots) taking over repetitive and routine jobs, and identified digital content curation as one of the new and emergent jobs for 21st century knowledge workers, where creativity and human intelligence  – things that can’t readily be ‘roboticised’ – will become more prevalent.

Perhaps this partly explGoogle Trendsains why Google Trends for “content curation” keyword searches have risen 112% in the past week. More and more people are tuning into the topic and wondering if it’s something they should know more about. (The answer to that is “Yes!).

But to go back to the title of this post – “We’re all content curators”. The only way we can ever make sense of the world we now live in, where information permeates every aspect of our on-line presence, is to use and develop our cognitive skills to effectively apply filters that separate the signal from the noise; to know how and where to find trusted sources of content; to sort, organise and categorise information, and to ultimately create value and useful/actionable knowledge – for ourselves and for our audience (if we have one).

This, then, is “digital content curation”. A skill as important as learning how to swim, and just as relevant if you don’t want to drown in a sea of (useless) information!

If you’re still confused, check out this previous post on the topic and/or this Slideshare presentation.

I will be running a Workshop on Digital Content Curation on 20th June in London – there are still a few places left if you want to sign-up, but act soon!

In the mean-time, hone those curation skills and avoid the robots!

Posted in Curation, Knowledge Management | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Barriers To Knowledge Sharing

Knowledge ManagementKnowledge sharing is the corner-stone of many organisations’ knowledge-management (KM) strategy. Despite the growing significance of knowledge sharing’s practices for organisations’ competitiveness and market performance, several barriers make it difficult for KM to achieve the goals and deliver a positive return on investment.

This list of knowledge sharing barriers provides a helpful starting point and guideline for senior managers auditing their existing practices with a view to identifying any bottle-necks and improving on the overall effectiveness of knowledge-sharing activities.

The list will also give some indication of the complexity of knowledge sharing as a value-creating organisational activity.

The list is based on an academic paper by Andreas Riege  [ “Three-dozen knowledge-sharing barriers managers must consider”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 9 Iss: 3, pp.18 – 35] and is divided into three categories: personal, organisational and technological.

Personal knowledge sharing barriers

  • general lack of time to share knowledge, and time to identify colleagues in need of specific knowledge;
  • apprehension of fear that sharing may reduce or jeopardise people’s job security;
  • low awareness and realisation of the value and benefit of possessed knowledge to others;
  • dominance in sharing explicit over tacit knowledge such as know-how and experience that requires hands-on learning, observation, dialogue and interactive problem solving;
  • use of strong hierarchy, position-based status, and formal power (“pull rank”);
  • insufficient capture, evaluation, feedback, communication, and tolerance of past mistakes that would enhance individual and organisational learning effects;
  • differences in experience levels;
  • lack of contact time and interaction between knowledge sources and recipients;
  • poor verbal/written communication and interpersonal skills;
  • age differences;
  • gender differences;
  • lack of social network;
  • differences in education levels;
  • taking ownership of intellectual property due to fear of not receiving just recognition and accreditation from managers and colleagues;
  • lack of trust in people because they misuse knowledge or take unjust credit for it;
  • lack of trust in the accuracy and credibility of knowledge due to the source; and
  • differences in national culture or ethnic background; and values and beliefs associated with it (language is part of this).

Organisational knowledge sharing barriers

  • integration of KM strategy and sharing initiatives into the company’s goals and strategic approach is missing or unclear;
  • lack of leadership and managerial direction in terms of clearly communicating the benefits and values of knowledge sharing practices;
  • shortage of formal and informal spaces to share, reflect and generate (new) knowledge;
  • lack of transparent rewards and recognition systems that would motivate people to share more of their knowledge;
  • existing corporate culture does not provide sufficient support for sharing practices;
  • deficiency of company resources that would provide adequate sharing opportunities;
  • external competitiveness within business units or functional areas and between subsidiaries can be high (e.g. not invented here syndrome);
  • communication and knowledge flows are restricted into certain directions (e.g. top-down);
  • physical work environment and layout of work areas restrict effect sharing practices;
  • internal competitiveness within business units, functional areas, and subsidiaries can be high;
  • hierarchical organisation structure inhibits or slows down most sharing practices; and
  • size of business units often is not small enough and unmanageable to enhance contact and facilitate ease of sharing.

Technological knowledge sharing barriers

  • lack of integration of IT systems and processes impedes on the way people do things;
  • lack of technical support (internal and external) and immediate maintenance of integrated IT systems obstructs work routines and communication flows;
  • unrealistic expectations of employees as to what technology can do and cannot do;
  • lack of compatibility between diverse IT systems and processes;
  • mismatch between individuals’ need requirements and integrated IT systems and processes restrict sharing practices;
  • reluctance to use IT systems due to lack of familiarity and experience with them;
  • lack of training regarding employee familiarisation of new IT systems and processes;
  • lack of communication and demonstration of all advantages of any new system over existing ones.

And a  final point – worth bearing in mind for those people (or organisations) who think that a KM strategy is something that you implement as a document or a slideshow (I know, I’ve worked for a few!):

Why is it that some organisations still focus on the document, and being able to hold ‘the strategy’ in their hands? We need to be able to hold the strategy in our heads, not our hands and this happens when its implementation is embedded in what the organisation does, day in and day out.

Amen to that!

Posted in Knowledge Management, PKM | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Content Curation Primer

The Internet is a wonderful invention. We can find out almost anything we need to know, from cures for rashes to what’s on at the local cinema to the recipe for chocolate cake. We’ve come to expect that whatever we need to know, someone somewhere will have made it available on the Internet. Better still, with the revolution in mobile technology, we have access to this information more or less at any time, any place and on any device. We are truly an information-driven society, where news reaches us within an instant of it happening, anywhere in the world. We know what our friends are doing, where they are, and quite often – what they’ve just had to eat!

We’re also pretty adept at buying stuff online. Need a new TV? A quick search will give us many thousands of options. We can drill down to specific stores, do price comparisons and be swamped with options and technical specifications. No shortage of information there.

It should probably come as no surprise that information volume is now doubling every 11 hours [Source IBM], or that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003 [Source: Eric Schmidt], and I’m guessing that most people will have seen the (in)famous infographic showing what happens in an ‘Internet Minute’ – reproduced below.

What happens in an internet minute

An Internet Minute - click to enlarge

An Internet Minute – click to enlarge

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Source: Intel]

So where is all of this leading?

To quote from IBM’s “The Toxic Terabyte”:

Knowledge is power – but only if it can be extracted quickly and effciently from an ever-growing mass of data. Businesses and other organisations now see their information stocks snowballing beyond their ability to manage them and beginning to work against the health of the enterprise by damaging effciency and bottom lines.

The stock answer to the data pile-up is more cheap storage and lots of it. But reflexively pumping everything and anything into an apparently limitless reservoir hurts the organisation in three ways:

  1. It becomes harder and harder to retrieve information promptly

  2. More people are needed to manage increasingly chaotic data dumps

  3. Networks and application performance are slowed by excess traffic as users search and search again for the material they need.

As we struggle to manage the Internet fire-hose, it has probably already occurred to many people that more information is not the same as ‘better’ information; that the volume of information is working on some sort of inverse relationship to ‘relevant’ information, and that having millions of choices and options hinders rather than helps us make the right decisions.

It seems obvious that with this proliferation of data and information we are in increasing need of systems to sort, maintain and re-purpose digital content in a systematic manner. For a while now we’ve been making do with search as a primary means of sifting through the pile. But search is only really good for “fast-food” information; getting you the answers quick and dirty, without much thought for context or quality. If you want quality information, then you need to go via a content curator.

The role of the curator has been valued for centuries, but it has been traditionally associated with the professionals who practice their art in the confines of the world’s museums and galleries. To suggest that digital curators all bring the same depth and breadth of knowledge as a professional curator might be stretching a point. But there are more similarities than differences. Curation is all about creating value from collections – which can be physical things such as art exhibitions or museum artifacts; or digital content, such disc jockey music mixes, website reviews of best TV buys, or a collection of the best educational videos. Curators know that the sum of an experience can be greater than the individual parts. And you don’t always have to be an expert to tell a decent story.

Digital content curation is becoming an increasingly valuable skill. Applying expert knowledge to a broad information domain in order to filter out the noise and identify useful and relevant information, possibly adding knowledgeable insight to the information to create added value, is all part of the role of the accomplished content curator. These emergent skills are increasingly in demand by information consumers (and especially managers and executives) who are drowning in a sea of information and want up-to-date, relevant, decision-ready information, delivered quickly enough for them to make use of it.

The knowledge and skills that underpin the content curation role would – it seems to me – be consistent with those of traditional “Information Professionals”, e.g. Knowledge and Information Managers, Community Managers, Data Analysts, Librarians etc., though they may not recognise this themselves. The problem of information overload can be addressed by good information management practice. For example: use of filters, advanced search techniques, categorisation, tagging, use of taxonomies and ontologies – bread and butter to most information professionals. The added dimension for effective curation is the interpretation of the information, adding meaning and insight to curated content, summarising key points, or providing a narrative or story to connect the pieces.

This, then is the essence of a series of courses on Content Curation that I’m running this year, specifically aimed at and for “Information Professionals”. The first course is scheduled for 20th June and has the following key objectives:

  • Be able to use powerful search techniques and aggregation tools to find and filter relevant information.
  • Know how to use taxonomies, folksonomies and tagging to manage and organise information and develop techniques to identify and validate trusted information sources.
  • Understand how to personalise appropriate content curation tools and services.
  • Publish curated content relevant to your chosen domains of expertise.
  • Be able to deliver decision-ready information to users, customers and stakeholders in order to demonstrate your value to your organisation.

Book now if this something that appeals to your personal development plan, or if it’s something that your organisation could benefit from.

If you’re still not sure what “Content Curation” actually means, check out the brief presentation below.

To conclude with one quote: “It’s not information overload; it’s filter failure” Clay Shirky.

And a recommended read about use of personal filters: Filtering – from Information Deluge to Context with JP Rangaswami

Posted in Curation, Information Management, Knowledge Management, Training | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Influence: What Are Tools Like Klout Really Measuring?

See on Scoop.itThe Social Web

A very interesting comparison of several measurement tools and what they really measure. [note mg]

For marketers, PR professionals and customer service teams, personal influence measurement tools can save time and help facilitate business decisions. Tools such as Klout, PeerIndex, Kred and TweetLevel are being used by brands to rank the relative importance of customers and prospects, prioritize customer service responses, and identify groups of influencers to target with perks and product sampling promotions.

But what are these personal influence measurement tools really measuring? Are they really an effective way to understand which of your customers are more influential

It is easy to understand influence as a concept; if you can get other people to do something, you have influence. But it’s not at all easy to define how you would measure influence. As Nathan Gilliatt has pointed out, there is no such thing as a “unit of influence” – an observable, measurable event that reflects influence.

Read more: http://therealtimereport.com/2012/04/03/influence-what-are-tools-like-klout-really-measuring/

Stephen Dale‘s insight:

Social reputation and social influence are becoming as important (if not more important) than your paper-based CV and your real-world network. But can they be empirically measured, and if so, what does your score actually mean? This article gives an overview of some of the products/services that purport to give you an influence score. Whether you take it seriously is entirely up to you!

See on therealtimereport.com

Posted in Social Media | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The ART of Collaboration (reprise)

I will be giving a talk to delegates from the Knowledge and Innovation Network (KIN) next week on the topic of “Gamification” (the integration of game principles and dynamics into non-game contexts in order to encourage participation).  This reminded me of a post I published in 2012, which touched on the issue of motivation (e.g. incentives and rewards) to drive more effective collaboration and knowledge sharing.  I believe the key points in the earlier post are still relevant today, and hence this reprise.

“Knowledge can only be volunteered, it can’t be conscripted”. A quote from the redoubtable Dave Snowden. But is the same true for collaboration? If people are given the right tools and the right environment, will they spontaneously collaborate and share knowledge? Why do some people find it difficult to share and collaborate? Would incentives and rewards make a difference?

What is “collaboration”?

According to dictionary definitions, collaboration means:

  1. The act of working with another or others on a joint project
  2. Something created by working jointly with another or others
  3. The act of cooperating as a traitor, especially with an enemy occupying one’s own country.

I think we can discount point 3 from this discussion, but it is worth testing all three of these definitions with the behaviours described later in this blog post to determine whether there are consistent characteristics that can be applied to all three.

For the purpose of having one single, all-embracing definition, I prefer to use the following:

Collaboration is when individuals or groups work together, combining their strengths and negating weaknesses to accomplish a set of goals.

I think the important point about this definition is that the outcomes are more likely to be amplified when working together as opposed to individually.

Types of Collaboration

It might help our comprehension about what we mean by “collaboration” by looking at various collaborative models.

Peer to Peer Production

Not to be confused with P2P file sharing, such as BitTorrent. P2P production is defined as “any coordinated, (chiefly) internet-based effort whereby volunteers contribute project components, and there exists some process to combine them to produce a unified intellectual work”. Source: Wikipedia.

The process is one-step, meaning the user accesses some or part of an original file from a P2P community website, modifies or enhances the file in some way, and then submits the modified file back into the community.

Probably the best-known examples of peer-to-peer production networks are the Apache Foundation Network and the Linux network (8000 developers from 800 countries). Other collaborative networks include ccMixter, a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music and Remix The Video, and Scratch, for creating interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art for sharing on the web.

As part of my research for this presentation I attended a lecture at City University London, given by Dr Stephen Clulow, who described the motivators for peer-to-peer collaboration as:

  • Competence
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness (knowing what you are doing is appreciated by others).

I’ll come back to motivators later in this post.

The Digital Workplace

Collaboration in the workplace is now high on the priority list of many organisations seeking to leverage social technologies to free-up knowledge and provide opportunities for co-creation, co-production and innovation.

I particularly liked this diagram and explanation from Jane McConnell at Net Strategy (reproduced below):

Digital Workplace

Source: http://netjmc.com/digital-workplace/digital-workplace-in-brief-5-fundamentals

  • The managed dimension includes business applications and validated, authoritative, reference content. It is primarily internal but extends partially into the client-partner sphere for inter-enterprise projects and processes.
  • The structured collaborative dimension involves teamwork on projects with specific goals, deliverables and timelines. It overlaps with both social collaboration and the managed dimension.
  • The social collaborative dimension is self-organizing. It includes social networking, micro blogging, community building and other social features such as user-generated content. This dimension stretches the furthest into the public world and is deliberately drawn off the chart because it is the biggest unknown today and triggers the most apprehension in management.

David Gauntlet has defined the motivators for collaboration in the digital workplace in his book “Making Is Connecting” as:

  • Pleasure
  • To feel an active participation
  • A wish to be recognised.

I’ll come back to motivators later in this post, but first, let’s look at what prevents people from collaborating and sharing knowledge.

Barriers to collaboration

Understanding the barriers and obstacles is the first step to identifying potential solutions. Individuals acting alone may not be empowered to make the desired changes, but if there is a real desire to collaborate and share knowledge, most if not all of these obstacles can be overcome or circumvented.

In no particular order:

Knowledge is power

Knowledge and information hoarders exist in every organisation. However, their knowledge is likely to be one-dimensional and limited to their own small network. This can’t compare to the wealth of knowledge in social networks. A case of “none of us is smarter than all of us”.

Fear of change

There is no doubting that we live in far more uncertain times, where change and complexity is all around us. Holding back change is a bit like King Canute – with same outcome!

Can’t teach an old dog new tricks

Some people will never change. Accept it and move on.

Command and control

We don’t collaborate because there’s a real or perceived hierarchy in the workplace. Over the years, the leadership has developed a culture that appears to value one person or group over another.

WIIFM

What’s in it for me? It’s reasonable to seek value in what you do; otherwise you’ll consider your actions as being a waste of time.

Lack of time

The research report “Why Businesses Don’t Collaborate” cites the management of email and attending meetings as the biggest consumers of staff time. These points probably deserve more time and space than I’m giving them here, but the underlying issues here are (a) deciding what is important and (b) having some control of, or input to, meeting agendas.

Lack of support from the top

Bottom-up initiatives will fail to take hold unless there is some support from senior managers and directors. Collaboration initiatives need to be aligned with business or service goals.

Sceptical middle management

What I call the “marzipan layer”. You may have support from the top (the icing), and bottom-up encouragement (the cake). But middle management is more likely to understand the detailed processes that provide the foundations for how the organisation operates. They will be potentially risk-averse, since any change may have unpredictable consequences, and for which they may be accountable.

No tools/poor tools/too many tools

To be effective, collaboration has to be made simple. Intuitive tools accelerate user acceptance and can maximise the outcomes. However, tools need to be relevant and optimised to the task(s) to be completed. Too many choices result in cognitive dissonance (confusion on what to use for each task). No tools – no comment!

Inadequate education/support strategies

Collaboration needs to be recognised as a key workplace skill, and included in personal learning & development plans.  It’s not something that can be taught in a pedagogical sense, but can be encouraged through coaching and mentoring.

Information overload

Usually associated with management of email. Not the best environment for collaboration, or finding what is relevant from the torrent that hits your email inbox each day. Requires discipline on what is shared – does everyone need to know this snippet of information?

Micromanagement

Once assigned a task or objective by a manager, most knowledge workers will just want to get on with it, with a degree of autonomy on how they go about it.  Some managers or supervisors feel the need to oversee every small detail, which discourages initiative and dis-incentivises the worker.

Dissonance

It happens when bosses tell people they want everyone to collaborate. But at the same time, they assign tasks, targets and goals to various individuals and teams. Agendas that vary greatly and can range from complementary to conflicting.

Too-Rigid job descriptions

Tightly written and prescriptive job descriptions will that create real or perceived boundaries that inhibit initiatives and taking on new responsibilities.

Language

Collaboration is always going to be difficult if the parties cannot make themselves understood.

Culture

Not every culture is open and transparent. Need to be aware of rules and protocols that define collaboration with other cultures.

Geography

The layout of your workplace can help or hurt collaboration. The greater the distance between colleagues, the greater the chance of flawed communication.

Not just over-reliance on e-mail when face-to-face conversation is needed, but genuine “out of sight, out of mind” lapses that keep smart people out of the brainstorming, decision making or socialising that leads to positive outcomes.

Fear of rejection

You have something to contribute, but previous experience leads you to believe that your opinion is not valued. Typically seen in hierarchical networks.

Legal, Compliance, Security

It’s not always possible, or even desirable to have open and transparent discussion. Closed groups or communities can be used in some circumstances, but we have to accept that sometimes wider collaboration is not possible.

Digital Divide

Hopefully less of an issue than it used to be, but there is no doubt that anyone not able to connect to the Internet is likely to be at a disadvantage for knowledge and information sharing.

Collaboration Motivators (Incentives and Rewards)

Speaking personally, incentives and rewards have never made any difference to me in terms of making me want to collaborate more than I do at present. But there is evidence that incentives do work for some (albeit artificial) scenarios, such as Macon Money.  This “serious game” explored how diverse people within a community could be brought together using real-world incentives (in this case, players holding half of a “play bond” tried to find the local citizen bearing the other half, then turned in their play money for real cash).

It’s clear that gaming concepts can draw people into taking interest and becoming part of something bigger than themselves, e.g. earning badges in FourSquare. But we’re also starting to see game technology being used in enterprise collaboration solutions, such as the Jive Gamification Module.

I was hoping to collect some hard evidence of how incentives and rewards might be influencing collaborative behaviours by posting this question on Quora:

Is there any evidence that rewards and incentives improve team-working and collaboration?

There has been little response, but whether this is because there is little or no evidence, or because the question didn’t really excite the community I’m not sure.

So for me, the jury is still out on this one, at least until I see some better evidence than in the Macon Money example mentioned previously.

The ART of collaboration

Admittedly I haven’t read every book, white paper or blog that purports to reveal the secrets of good collaborative behaviour. However, I have done sufficient research to realise that this is a very complex topic. I must admit that I’ve not been wholly convinced by what I have read, heard or seen and I don’t think anyone has really identified the key characteristics of good collaborator. So I’ve fallen back on my own experience (over many more years than I care to mention), and identified the characteristics that I think are most important for online collaboration.

1. Authenticity

This is not just ‘identity’, in terms of an on-line profile. It means, “are you who you say you are”? Are you truthful, genuine and sincere? Do you provide relevant attributions to your sources? Do you cite the origins of your content? Are you indeed a human being? Not to be confused with a Bot or a clever Artificial Intelligence application (don’t laugh even experts can be fooled. See the Turing Test).

2. Recognition (or Reward)

One thing that academics do appear to agree on is that a key influencer for good collaborative behaviour is recognition or reward. This does not have to be monetary reward, or gaining power and influence though promotion. In many cases it is simply being recognised as someone who has demonstrated knowledge or expertise on a particular topic. For the truly networked individual, to be acknowledged as an “expert” by your peers carries far more weight than some transient, short-term financial reward. I would go so far as to argue that collaborative behaviour that is driven mostly or entirely by financial reward will only be very superficial and is not sustainable in the long term.

3. Trust

To my mind, the most important characteristic, and the most ephemeral, since it’s not something that can be easily measured or evaluated. Trust relies on believing that a person will behave reasonably and will do what he or she says.

We establish trust with the people we engage with by the way we behave and how they reciprocate. Feelings of empathy with another person may also play a part. Establishing trust with people in an online network is more difficult than for face-to-face encounters, where we can tap into emotional signals and evaluate body language. However, trust, once established, can be just as strong for on-line engagement as it is for real-life. In fact, there are many people in my on-line networks that I’ve never met; yet I trust them more than some of the people I meet from day to day.

4. Passion

Enthusiasm, commitment, devotion to a cause or belief – all of these define ‘passion’. These are strong, emotional characteristics that provide the motivation for collaboration.  Having passion for something (or someone?) gives a meaning to our actions and, in the context of collaboration, connects the authenticity, recognition and trust characteristics. Long before there were social networks, hobbyists would gather to share their passion, whether it is photography, model making, knitting or gardening.  Such clubs and organisations are founded on the principles of sharing of ideas and techniques to support learning and improvement.  But the other (and arguably more significant) factor is that members of these gatherings also crave recognition for something they have achieved. This is not dissimilar to the recognition we wish to achieve through online collaboration, where knowledge or expertise can be recognised by our peers.

The diagram below shows how all of these characteristics combine together to form what I believe is the ideal model for collaborative behaviour. My only surprise from the research I undertook for this topic (admittedly not exhaustive) was how few references there were to “Trust”, and no references at all to “Authenticity”. Two of my key characteristics. However, we all seem to agree on ‘Recognition” as one of the fundamental characteristics.

ART of Collaboration

To conclude: I’ve emphasised the acronym ART in this post and in the diagram above because I do feel that effective collaboration is an “art” in the true sense of the word, i.e. a skill that is learnt through practice. I wonder….are you practising this ART enough?

Useful References.

Collaborative behaviours

View more presentations from Collabor8now Ltd

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Communities of Practice – What I’ve Learnt

Ants collaborating

I  was recently asked  by a colleague to share some “words of wisdom” about what I’d learnt from 9 years of consultancy projects that involved setting up Communities of Practice. I could have written an essay on this topic (and maybe one day I will) but I thought I’d distill it down to the key points as follows:

The Basics:

  • We don’t know what we don’t know.
  • People don’t learn from content, they learn from other people.
  • You can’t force people to collaborate.
  • We don’t know the value of knowledge…until it is shared.
  • Find where the conversations are happening….and join in!
  • A successful CoP must be cultivated; it needs feeding, weeding and nurturing (just like a well-tended garden!).

What makes for a successful CoP:

  •  A clear purpose – what will it be used to do?
  • A safe and trusted environment.
  • A core group of active participants.
  • Understanding the needs of its members/users.
  • An action plan to meet those needs.
  • A blend of face to face and online activities (where possible).

And…

  • Command and control will kill a community.
  • Don’t assume everyone knows how to contribute.
  • Let users drive their own experimentation and use of tools.
  • Ensure CoP facilitators/moderators are given sufficient time for their role.
  • Without active facilitation, CoPs will revert to ‘tribal’ working.
  • Don’t worry about the ‘lurkers’ – be happy that they have chosen to be there.
  • Don’t set unrealistic targets.
  • Condition your managers for failure; not every CoP is going to be successful.
  • Know when to let go!

Finally, one of my favourite quotes:

Go to the people, live with them, learn from them. Start with what they know, build with what they have.

But with the best leaders, when the work is done and the task is accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves'”.  Lao Tsu, circa 500BC

If you want to know more, check my various slide packs on this topic on Slideshare. Happy CoP’ing!

 

Posted in Communities of Practice | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

What’s the point of Jelly?

Jelly fish

I have to admit I’m attracted to anything new and shiny, and particularly products and services that aim to create or propagate value through networks and networking. I was therefore intrigued by the recent launch of Jelly, which has the gravitas and experience of Biz Stone (of Twitter fame) behind it. It certainly meets the “new” criterion, but I’m not so sure about the “shiny”.

The principle behind Jelly is summarised in a short blog post by Biz Stone himself:

“Using Jelly is kinda like using a conventional search engine in that you ask it stuff and it returns answers……Jelly changes how we find answers because it uses pictures and people in our social networks….getting answers from  people is very different from retrieving information with algorithms….it has the benefit of being fun”

Mmm, well I’d question whether this is anything like using a conventional search engine. I’d agree that getting answers from people is very different to getting answers (search results) from algorithms, and whilst this might be fun for some, it opens up the system to the mad and the bad, so you can forget about getting consistently serious or factual answers to your questions.

The concept behind the Android/iOS app is simple: take a picture of something and ask a question, and wait for the folks on your social networks (and their connections) to provide answers. This immediately limits the reach of who is likely to respond, since the question will only be seen by your followers and their networks, compared to, say, Quora, which has a global reach.

Answering questions about a picture is not exactly unique, and I believe I’d get a lot more relevant answers by using Google Goggles. But maybe the “fun” bit comes from the unpredictability of the answers you get by using Jelly?

When questions from your network come up, you can either answer them or swipe them away if you don’t have the answer; essentially, you’re being forced to make an instant judgment on whether you can answer the question, and once you’ve swiped it away, you won’t see it again unless you’ve starred it – which is a request to follow the answers.

The questions come up seemingly at random, with no ability to filter by subject matter, to avoid questions by nuisance users, or to go back to previous questions you may have dismissed by mistake.

I think it’s rather hopeful that the network-effect is going to create value from the questions and answers that get submitted, not least because of the problems in filtering out the trivia. I appreciate it’s early days, and maybe once the trolls and idiots have had their fun it might settle down into a more useful visual crowdsourcing environment.  However, I remain sceptical, and find myself swipe, swipe, swiping away those endless trivialities such as “what should I pick from this menu?”, or “what am I drinking?”, or “do you like my iPhone cover?”. I noted that one Jelly user went out of his way to answer every question he could find with “feta cheese”, an endeavour which was either epic trolling, an attempt to make a point about the lack of junk filtering on Jelly, or possibly both.

So, having tried it, albeit for a limited period, I have to admit I can’t see the point of Jelly. If I want a question answered I’ll stick with Google+, Twitter, Facebook or Quora, and if I’m out and about I’ll use Google Goggles. But, don’t take my word for it, try it yourself and see what you think. Maybe I’m the wrong demographic and that there is a latent network of people who thrive on trivia out there. If so, it should do well, but it’s not a network that I want to belong to!

Posted in Apps and Mashups, Search, Social Media, Social Networking Tools, social web | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment