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Adopt a humble position – a lesson for facilitators

Manavodaya is an organisation that has been working with the poorest communities in Uttar Pradesh in India for 20 years.  Its work takes place in villages, many of them remote, where it is not uncommon for villagers to be living on the equivalent of 20p per day – well below the poverty line.  These people are the most marginalised and disenfranchised in their communities.

The Manavodaya approach is simple.  A facilitator goes to the village and opens up a ‘human-level dialogue’ with villagers.  There may be several meetings with villagers before any discussions about ‘change’ even begin.  The key is that the facilitator’s role is a ‘quiet and humble one’.  The villagers are the experts in the life that they are living – not the facilitator.  There are no pre-conceived agendas, targets or solutions.  The philosophy is as far away from the co-dependency of ‘solutions delivery’ as it is possible to be.

At first, villagers are, at least, agreed in the need for change.  Through collective visioning, ways to deliver real change can emerge – very often from the smallest of beginnings.

The Manavodaya philosophy was explained in a lunchtime lecture at the RSA.  Many members of the audience were there to explore whether lessons could be integrated into social programmes in the UK.  Certainly the focus on user- or community-centric development struck a chord with many.

Yet elements of the philosophy have wider implications.  The approach calls for quiet self and group reflection.  It focuses on enabling others, not encouraging them to depend on us.  It acknowledges the expertise of others.  It urges us not to have pre-conceived ideas.  Most of all, it recognises the importance of delivering change through our own behaviour and attitudes.

All in all, a humbling lesson.

What ‘good’ looks like

Some years ago, when he was working at BP, Chris Collison and his colleagues developed a deceptively simple methodology that helped transform the way that knowledge and expertise was identified and shared.  This ‘river’ diagram remains an astonishingly powerful tool that is used by organisations of all types, size and sectors, from global telecommunications businesses to third sector organisations.

At the latest NetIKX event, Chris guided members through a river exercise that sought to identify the supply and demand for knowledge expertise within the room.

The process involves:

  • Bringing stakeholders together to agree ‘what good looks like’
  • Enabling teams to self-assess their performance levels
  • Encouraging teams to set targets for improvement
  • ‘Matchmaking’ those with a supply of expertise and experience with those who want to improve

As with any great consulting methodology there is as much to be gained from participating in the process itself as there is from the actual outputs.  The conversations that take place to discuss what constitutes ‘basic’, ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ can help stakeholders to develop a shared organisational language.   The process helps organisations identify, capture and share good practice. The longevity of the river diagram approach also shows the power of effective visualisation – and of a great metaphor.

In our session, two café conversations took place, bringing together those who self-assessed high on knowledge strategy and organisational learning and those seeking to learn from them.

The amount and level of animated knowledge sharing at our workshop demonstrates just how healthy the NetIKX knowledge marketplace is.  It also shows how committed the members are, not only to their own learning, but also to the ongoing development of peers and the future success of knowledge and information management.

Information professionals – unsung ‘good fairies’?

This week’s Sue Hill breakfast meeting provided a compelling snapshot of what is exercising information professionals across a wide range of sectors (health, law, property and more were represented).

Several delegates reported that their organisations are working to develop new strategies and models to reflect the changing business landscape.  Collaboration, both internally, but increasingly externally, is seen as a strategy for success – or at least survival.  Organisational websites are no longer static ‘repositories’ but are being opened up to collaborative content creation – with all the challenges that this might generate.  Colleagues must learn to work more openly and in new matrix structures.  There are opportunities for knowledge and information people to act as role models when it comes to collaborative working.  It may not come as easily to others as it does to our profession.

But it’s not just our customers with whom we need to collaborate.  There is also work to be done educating, informing, and exerting influence on those who seek to regulate and measure our business.  We can assist in raising the profile, not just of our profession, but of our organisations and the sectors in which we work.  We can help share success stories, internally and externally and have a role to play in helping our colleagues interpret, and maximise, internally generated knowledge.  We can help our organisations mitigate information risk and maximise information value.

Even against the backdrop of a challenging business landscape, the conversation was positive and energised.  In hard times, we are the ‘good fairies’ of our organisations – our good deeds bring business benefits!

Suzanne from Sue Hill Recruitment has also blogged about this event.  Click here for her review.

More networking in 2011

Reading the papers over the new year, the general impression seemed to be that new year’s resolutions are not to be taken too seriously.  I have already cast most of the papers into the recycling, but I have kept hold of the Guardian’s Weekend Magazine for Oliver Burkeman’s article (Abandon your resolutions)!

Burkeman recommends some ‘unplugged’ time as a way to regain the upper hand over our information sources.  He is speaking of maybe one or two hours a day when we don’t feel compelled to check our feeds/blogs/facebook accounts etc.  This concept was taken further by Susan Maushart in her gloriously titled Winter of our disconnect (currently book of the week on BBC Radio 4), who imposed six months of ‘techno silence’ on three teenagers.  Ouch!

Meanwhile, Burkeman describes the increased interest in ‘self tracking’, using apps to measure anything from your daily water intake to the quality of your sleep.   If nothing else, tracking enables us to benefit from the ‘Hawthorne Effect’ – the very act of monitoring something can influence a positive change in your behaviour.   

My professional resolution this year is perfectly simple.  I am resolved that in 2011 I will create more unplugged time to make better use of the networking opportunities available to me.  After being taken to a great event by a friend in December, I have remembered once again the value of face-to-face conversations and interactions.  I am already filling my diary with events and am really looking forward to meeting up with old colleagues and making new acquaintances.  My first event, already booked, is the NetIKX meeting on 19th January at which Nicky Whitsted and Hazel Hall will discuss social media in the context of IM/KM policies and strategies.  I’m really looking forward to it!

Online 2010 – reviews

A week on, the more reflective reviews of the Online Information Conference are starting to appear.  These are fascinating of course, because everyone’s journey through a professional development or networking event will be subjective (not to mention their ‘real’ journeys and struggles to get to the physical event in the snow!).  The differences in experience are even more obvious in a streamed conference.   It’s impossible to attend all the sessions and the best you can do at the time is follow on Twitter and speak to attendees in coffee breaks and promise yourself to find a speaker’s presentation on SlideShare after the event.

Karen Blakeman has linked to her Online presentations on this blogpost.  The LIS Research Coalition (the conference’s top tweeter) website reviews the conference and points out the inevitable.  Online 2010 will forever be known as ‘The one when it snowed’.  A review of the exhibition and some of the free seminars (written from a small business perspective) is available here.  Tim Buckley Owen for Freepint focuses on social media.   The conference exhibition is also mentioned in the gloriously named Go to Hellman blog, from a publishing/ebook perspective.  Martin Belam blogged several articles about the conference, writing about linked data and putting it in a broader perspective here.

Our own review of the conference appears here (well I can’t NOT mention it can I?!).

Online Information in the snow

London in the snow with tube trainThe Information Today Europe team made it in to Olympia despite snow in London, lots of people have done the same. Makes for a good atmosphere!

Win an iPad!

If you are planning to visit the Exhibition hall at Online Information, don’t forget to visit Information Today on Stand 714.   We will be delighted to meet you for a conversation and invite you to enter our prize draw to win an iPad.

Good luck!

Is it that time already?

There is just one week to go before the start of Online Information 2010.  Over on our main site, Sara Batts has written about the best way to prepare to ensure you get the most out of this type of professional networking events.  Her article is full of practical hints and tips.

Information Today will be exhibiting in the main Exhibitor Hall.  Do stop by at Stand 714 and catch up with us if you are visiting the exhibition.  We look forward to seeing you there.

Mobile marketing

Nancy Dowd, presenting at Internet Librarian International on behalf of New Jersey Public Libraries, explained how mobile technology was used simply and effectively to  engage with hard to reach audiences.   

Working initially with an external partner, the service used SMS to segment and target audiences, including Spanish speaking parents and teens.  Nancy is the Director of Marketing and Communications for New Jersey Public Libraries and publishes a blog that covers marketing trends for librarians and others.

Keeping up to date

Phil Bradley’s presentation at Internet Librarian International had audience members in a tweeting and note taking frenzy.  He explained how he uses a range of tools to help him keep up with new technologies and how he uses social networking tools to share his knowledge and insight with his networks.

He then went on to share his latest discoveries, highlighting tools that can help us perform a range of tasks from file conversion; checking website availability; password security checking; wordcloud generation and much more.  Phil has been sharing his presentations via Slideshare since 2006.  This presentation (‘What Phil has found’) is, of course, available there too.