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).


  • 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

Online Information Conference & Show Closes


As reported in a brief statement posted to the Online Information Conference website, there will not be an exhibition or conference this year, 2014, with no certainty that it will re-appear in the future. Another victim of these austere times no doubt, with exhibitors, delegates and organisations paying closer scrutiny to the value of every penny spent.

Rightly so, but nevertheless, it is a sad reflection of our times, where the opportunities for establishing new connections and developing new relationships is increasingly devolved to a virtual world. Not that I’m against the digitisation of social and professional networks (I belong to enough of them!), but can they ever really replace face-to-face time, or the buzz generated by listening to – and possibly meeting – an internationally respected keynote speaker? It’s a bit like thinking you can get the same value from listing to Elbow’s latest album vs. seeing them in concert (yes, I like Elbow). As Kevin Bacon tells us in his latest EE broadband ad – it’s a ‘no-brainer”!

I’ve been privileged to have chaired the conference these past 4 years, and have worked with some highly respected and knowledgeable colleagues on the Executive Conference Committee in developing the ideas and themes for the conference programme during that time.  But before that I had been a regular delegate for several years, and always considered ‘Online’ to be the premier “must attend” conference if you wanted to learn more about your profession and get some insight into emerging industry trends. The highlight was being invited to speak/present – on two occasions, my first steps onto the conference circuit.

I believe (though I’m sure someone will correct me if my data is incorrect), that this year’s conference and exhibition would have been the 38th since it first started, so missing out on its ruby anniversary by just 2 years. It was the world’s largest information industry conference, regularly attracting over 700 delegates from more than 40 countries. It will be remembered as a showcase for the latest developments in digital information; for promoting strategies for effective information management and deployment of information resources, and for stimulating thinking on the future of the information landscape.

Which leads me to wonder where the many loyal delegates to this event will now go to get insights into the emerging trends affecting their industry. Not everything is in the virtual space and face-to-face networking can never really be replaced by online networks. Quite coincidentally, I picked up this quote today which appears to echo my own sentiments: “Traditional face to face networks where relationships have been established and built up over time provided added validation and expertise that is not easily achieved through electronic networks.”

I will certainly miss the event, but remain hopeful that it might reappear in some format in future years – guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

To conclude, here is a roll call of keynote speakers that I’ve had the privilege to meet and to hear at the conference. With apologies for any omissions, but my memory and archives only go back a far as 2007. I’m happy for any readers of this blog to fill in the gaps.

And finally, a word of thanks to my colleagues on the Executive Conference Committee, to the sponsors, speakers and delegates – past and present – and special thanks to Lorna Candy and her team at Incisive Media, who have ensured the success of this event over many years.

It’s been a great experience!

See also:


Posted in conference, Online Conference | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

5 New Year resolutions that might make you more interesting (or less annoying).

Having trouble deciding what your New Year resolution should be? Looking for something challenging, or maybe even life changing? Here’s a few behaviour changes to ponder, any one of which would potentially improve my own social media/social networking experience and probably that of many others!

Social Media 'Expert"1. Review and update your personal profile. Are you one of the growing number of self-proclaimed experts, gurus, ninjas and black-belts in your chosen trade or subject area? Yes, you might have a doctorate, or have 30+ years of experience, but does that mean you know everything there is to know, ad infinitum? I think “expert” is an attribute that other people award, and not something that you award yourself. It looks pretentious and overlooks the fact that learning, skills and expertise are continually evolving – or maybe you hadn’t noticed?

Image credit:

Big Ego

2. Manage that giant ego. You might have several thousand followers on Twitter, but do they all really want to know all about the jet lag from your recent trip,  or where you’re going on your next trip? Do you think we are all impressed by the fact you’ve travelled long distance or that  the world is your stage?  Far better to tell us something useful and interesting about the work you’re doing.


Robot - automation

3. Switch off or scale back on those automated tweets. Ok, so you’ve discovered IFTTT and found that you can automate just about everything in your social media environment. (Confession, I use IFTTT for one update per month). But how do you control relevance if you’re just re-broadcasting stuff from the Internet firehose? And think twice about having an automated direct Twitter message that goes to all of your new followers, promoting your Facebook page or latest book. Don’t you think we get enough targeted ads from big business without you adding to the spam? Similarly for those automated tweets that provide statistics on how many new followers you’ve had this week. Who cares?

Comparing apples with oranges

4. Don’t keep propagating the myth that Facebook is competing with Google+, unless you are specifically talking about ad revenue. They are entirely different networks, with different objectives, different facilities and different types of users (thank goodness). Showing me statistics on user demographics, how many minutes users spend on each network, or comparing total number of users is pretty meaningless (ad revenue apart, as previously noted). Tell me something useful, such the type, quality and relevance of the conversations.

Death by Powerpoint5. Think about ways you can bring your next PowerPoint presentation alive. Camp fires have bee replaced by projector bulbs, and in the process we seem to have lost the art of storytelling. I’ve lost count of the number of tedious, text-heavy presentations I’ve attended that require a great deal of effort from the audience to (a) stay awake and (b) understand what the presenter is trying to put across. If you are a presenter, remember it’s not all about you. Think about the precious and finite time you’ve got in front of your audience and make it interesting. Don’t waste their time as well as your own!

Hoping that these suggested resolutions might lead to a better experience for those who use social media and social networks to learn from and share knowledge with like-minded people.

Happy New Year!


Posted in Knowledge Management, Social Computing, Social Media, social web, storytelling | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Semantic, linked and smart data – predictions for 2014

See the full article on Scoop.itData & Informatics

Quite a lot to digest here, though the overall sentiment is positive for development and innovation around open and linked data. Actual products as opposed to proofs, pilots and concepts.

There is also renewed optimism that the Semantic Web can deliver on its original vision, Semantic Web 2.0 (my term) utilising ‘cognition-as-as-service’ (CaaS), and building bridges between ‘Big Data’ and the Semantic Web in order to rurn unstructured chaos into higher level insights.

The following abstract caught my eye:

One less obvious problem is one of information retrieval. Keyword search is now fundamentally broken. The more information is out there, the worse keyword search performs. Advanced query systems like Facebook’s Graph Search or Wolfram Alpha are only marginally better than keyword search. Even conversation engines like Siri have a fundamental problem. No one knows what questions to ask. We need a web in which information (both questions and answers) finds you based on how your attention, emotions and thinking interconnects with the rest of the world.

Sounds good if a little utopian.

Overall, some useful insights in this piece.

Original source:

Posted in Data, Linked Data, Linked Open Data, Semantic Web, Standards | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

13 Social Media Statistics For 2013

Useful to see where we are with Social Media as we approach the end of the year (2013). Nothing too surprising here, i.e. the numbers just get bigger. Key statistics and trends from the Infographic:

  • 30 percent of traffic from social media is from SlideShare.
  • Snapchat declined two multi-billion acquisition offers from Google and Facebook.
  • Over 35 million images with the hashtag #Selfie were posted to Instagram.
  • L.L. Bean’s Woodland Creatures Pinterest board is the most followed with 4,689,706 followers.
  • Pinterest accounted for 41 percent of traffic referred to e-commerce sites.
  • Pinterest outscores Facebook for shopping, where the average shopper spends $140 to $160 with Pinterest, compared to $60 to $80 through Facebook.
  • Infographics receive 4x more attention than presentations, and 23x more than documents on SlideShare.
  • Twitter has 231.7 million monthly active users who spend an average of 170 minutes per month.
  • A branded video on Vine is 4x more likely to be seen than a branded video posted elsewhere.
  • 95 percent of Facebook users log in every day.
  • Facebook accounts for 15.8 percent of all time spent on the Internet.
  • LinkedIn has 259 million users, and nearly 40 percent pay for a premium account.
  • Google+ adds 25,000 new users per day or an average of eight new users per second.

Infographic courtesy of

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

Corporate Memory and Personal Knowledge Management – A Dichotomy?

PKM and Corporate Memory

I was recently asked to give a talk to a breakfast meeting of the Managing Partners’ Forum (MPF). The focus of the talk was around the possible dichotomy (or misalignment) of the development needs of the individual and the demands of the organisation they work for. At times these needs align, sometimes they need to be reconciled and at other times they diverge. Nothing radical in that statement, but does the organisation believe there is an asset value in the personal networks that the employee develops, maintains, cultivates and nurtures whilst on the payroll, and if so, does it exploit it at the expense or detriment to the employee?  These networks are increasingly likely to traverse the boundaries of the organisations’ directly employed staff, and embrace customers, stakeholders, partners and even competitors. This is what the much-hyped term “Social Business” is really all about.

These “personal” networks (I’ve used quotes because this is at the heart of the issue – is the network really personal or is it a corporate asset?) are sometimes – but incorrectly – assumed to be visible entities, measured in terms of number of Twitter followers, or Facebook friends, or Klout or Peerindex scores, all of which are pretty much irrelevant if trying to quantify the value of “trust”. In actual fact, these networks are often invisible to company leadership, and are blend of personal, real-world relationships and the virtual world of social networks. They are not recorded on any company handbook, they don’t appear on organisational charts, but are very likely to be embedded in the organisation’s business processes. It might not be until the employee leaves the organisation that the real value of these networks is realised. When the ties are broken, chaos can ensue.

The other side of this coin is where perhaps the organisation does recognise the value of these informal networks and relationships, internal and external, and sets about exploiting them. I think this point is effectively communicated in the quotes I’ve borrowed (with permission) from Helen Blunden:

I felt that my network, my trusted network which I worked hard to maintain, cultivate, nurture, trust and grow was going to be exploited by other individuals who saw me as their ‘free ride’ to some quick answers.

I look at the culture of the organisation.  If there is a genuine, authentic opportunity to share and learn and be respectful of each other’s networks then I have no problem.  If it is mandated, or if my networks are used, misused or discounted, then I’d question why I’m even working there.

For the time being, I will nurture and maintain my networks but I will be cautious in how mine are used within my organisation and for what purpose. But I’m the one who decides that.

So, no matter how we look at this, the growing importance of networks and networking as both a professional competency and as an organisational asset cannot be overlooked, and leaders need to start taking relationship building into account when considering the value an employee brings to the organisation, and therefore how he/she is rewarded. Time and investment in PKM to develop these skills and competencies is a critical part of this reward mechanism.

The slides I used are embedded below, and also available on Slideshare. The presentation looks specifically at the changing nature of organisations and the emergent power of networks and networking. Personal Knowledge Management (PKM), and particularly the networking element, as a set of competencies we must all learn in order to remain relevant to our organisation. I raise the point about who ultimately “owns” the ‘corporate’ knowledge that we gather through the networks we nurture and sustain but have left it to the audience to ponder this point. Whether or not the organisations we work for recognise the importance of these networks as places for continual learning, knowledge sharing and as incubators for innovation is – I believe – fundamental to the success of the business, but employees need to be aware of the possibility of exploitation, and be ready to answer that question of “who owns your network?”.

As a closing point I posed this question to the audience, which readers here may want to think about. I suspect there may be different answers dependent on where you sit within the organisational structure, which in itself might tell you something about the organisations you work for. Looking down may give a very different perspective to looking up!

What is the predominant culture in your organisation, and does it encourage learning and sharing?

  • Autocratic – We’ll do it this way
  • Bureaucratic – We’re supposed to do it this way
  • Technocratic – It’s best to do it this way
  • Democratic – How shall we do it?

Posted in Knowledge Management, PKM | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Knowledge Hub User Consultation: the importance of UI and UX

sad-happy-UXLong time readers of this blog will know that I was intimately involved as lead consultant for the local government Knowledge Hub collaborative platform, and have written much about the concepts and ideas that went into its early development. Some of which are noted here:

This is my response, to the latest Knowledge Hub consultation exercise following the recent announcement about CapacityGRID (a subsidiary of Liberata) taking control of the future development and strategy for KHub. This is posted here as an open letter, but has also been submitted to the KHub forum discussion.

It’s laudable that you are consulting with your users to identify improvements to KHub, but I wonder if this is the best way of shaping and prioritising future developments. The fundamental problem, I believe, is the inherent complexities of the user interface (UI), which creates a less than optimum user experience (UX). Building additional features and functionality on top of these shaky foundations is only going to add to the problems many users experience in finding the information they want or knowing how to engage and contribute.

Taking on board all of these new ideas and suggestions for features and enhancements from what will inevitably be a vocal minority may give you a skewed perspective on what is really important, and future problems in managing expectations where some suggestions are given lower priorities. If you get – say – 50 responses, this represents just 0.0003% of your touted user base of 160,000. Hardly a representative sample.

An alternative would be to use the system statistics to develop a histogram showing the most used features and most popular pages and then set about simplifying access and improving performance for these features and pages. This will more likely uncover the underlying problems that ALL users are likely experiencing, it overcomes the problem with skewed priorities from the more vocal users, and will hopefully address some of the problems with the UI/UX.  If anyone cares to understand a bit more about the importance of UI and UX, and the difference between the two, then read this post that I produced during my time as lead consultant for the KHub, which also contains lots of useful reference links to good UI/UX practice. It’s difficult to relate anything in this post to what was actually delivered – especially the business scenarios.

Key point here is that it’s not about what the technology can do; it’s how you use it.

One last point, as you are probably aware, I collated and curated a fairly substantive response, on behalf of the “Knowledge Hub Advisory Group”, to the original consultation when it was announced that KHub might close down. This group acted as a steering group during the procurement and early development stages of KHub, but was disbanded by the new project team shortly after I left the project. I managed to get many of the original members together for the purpose of the consultation exercise, and have yet to see any response or even acknowledgement to this input – formal or informal.

I’ve pulled out two of the many recommendations from this group, which I think are still relevant to this latest consultation, and once again relate to UI and UX, as follows:

1. There is significant anecdotal evidence that users find the current system difficult to use and lacking many of the features of the legacy CoP platform (e.g. tools for Facilitators). The user experience is further complicated by the lack of integration with other LGA products and services, such as esd-toolkit and LGInform. Currently, if you use LGInform you sign in via the esd-toolkit, but if you want to collaborate or have discussions about it you have to separately sign-in to Knowledge Hub. This is despite esd-toolkit supporting relevant standards, such as OAuth and OpenID. Users would naturally like to see a far more intuitive and seamless experience between esd-toolkit, LGInform and Knowledge Hub. Porism, esd-toolkit’s technical partners, are willing to commit resources to help achieve this vision.

2. There is a need for closed, secure spaces for sharing some knowledge and data, and there is also a need for the online management of these spaces, as currently provided by the KHub support team. However, the online field is moving incredibly fast, and it may be that we need to put more emphasis on mini-Hubs and connecting different Hubs and networks. It doesn’t make sense to have a local government-only space nationally when locally the reality is lots of different partnerships and networks across sectors, and with citizens, on the lines that Lambeth and others are developing.

I hope this helps inform this latest consultation, and it would be useful (and courteous?) to get some feedback on this occasion.

Steve Dale

(Image source:

Posted in Communities of Practice, Knowledge Hub | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

I’m Becoming an Anachronism (according to Google)

Another one bites the dust (to the tune of song by Freddie Mercury, of course). I’m beginning to wonder if the way I use social media is becoming anachronistic, i.e. I seem to be out of step with what I assume must be the majority of users who have found no use for Google Reader, Google Sidewiki, Google Notebook, Google Labs, Google Answers, and now the latest to be consigned to the Google Graveyard – iGoogle.

Yes, I’ve used them all, and in some cases (Reader and iGoogle) have devoted considerable time in personalising the interface, carefully selecting the content sources and widgets that would enable me to quickly tap into the topics and conversations that I’ve chosen to follow.

So I assume the rest of the social-media-verse operate in an entirely different way to myself. Presumably relying on serendipity to find the useful nuggets amongst the cacophony of noise on the InterWeb. How quaint. Seems like I’d better haul myself into the 21st century and hope that the “thirty-things-you-wished-you’d-known-at-school” from Buzzfeed or the “top-10-people-who-have-nothing-interesting-to-say-but-you-ought-to-follow” from Mashable just happen to be the things I should be looking at. Don’t you just love evolution?!

As a reminder – here’s what we (correction “me”) will remember with affection:

Posted in Google | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Making The Most Of Online Information 2013

The countdown to this year’s Online Information Conference has begun, and with an anticipated 400 delegates from over 35 countries, and a line-up of internationally renowned keynote speakers, it promises to maintain the benchmark it has set for itself in becoming the year’s premier event for information professionals.

The event runs for two days on 19th and 20th November at the Victoria Park Plaza, London.  Key learning opportunities from this year’s event include:

  • New strategies for using social media to collaborate and build relationships.
  • Making sense and creating value from Big Data.
  • New methods and business models for e-publishing.
  • How to create and structure content for a multi-device, multi-platform world.
  • New and emerging business models for open data and open access.
  • Keeping up with developments in search technologies.

See the full agenda for Day 1 and Day 2, and a short video of last year’s event.

bizzabo logo

There is also a great opportunity to network before, during and after the event with the fantastic Bizzabo event app. Available to download for iPad/iPhone and Android devices, it will give up-to-date information about the conference proceedings and enable users to share their experience, arrange meetings and discover new friends via its integration with the professional LinkedIn network. Details about the app on the Conference website or read a review of the app on Techcrunch.

I’m looking forward to meeting as many people as I can at this year’s event – either in person or via the app. If you want to make the most of the conference experience, I highly recommend downloading and using the app….now! Happy networking!

(Steve Dale – Chairman Online Information Conference Committee)

Posted in Information Management, Knowledge Management, Online Conference | Tagged , , | 1 Comment