Monday, 7 January 2013

NBN and the Digital Divide

While doing subjects on the Digital Economy and the Information Environment for Uni last semester, it was interesting to delve deeper into the debate around the NBN roll out in Australia.

I have just come across this article which explains the broader issue of broadband availability and the importance of Internet access in our evolving digital society. The reduction of the digital divide* in Australia should be a priority for the Government (National Digital Economy Strategy) and needs to focus on education and equal access. Public libraries and schools should be key players in this debate along with the community groups who are currently on the wrong side of the divide; remote, elderly, low income etc. Unfortunately the debate appears to be around dollars spent and helping the economy and business. This is also important but will happen anyway - it is a benefit or bi-product of having an inclusive policy for a digital society. We should all have access to services and information provided online, whether at home or from a public library (or similar institution). We will also all need to know how to use the technologies, find the right information and use that information to be a part of this society and the digital economy.

Then there is the question around "what if I don't want to have a computer, broadband connection and online access?" Will there be an online or digital backlash? It is clear that those without access to the Internet and a computer are increasingly going to miss out on key services such as banking (as banks move online and close branches), cheaper books and magazines via eBooks and Government services and information. Health services are a focus for the government going forward with GP consultations online for house bound and elderly patients. Is this fair? Should we be forcing users to access essential services and information online? Will this further alienate or isolate individuals, communities and groups?

I wonder if the slow food movement, home-grown veges, more sustainable and less consumer focused trends will spill over to the online community. Not everyone wants to go home after being on a PC all day and then log on at home. Some can't afford it or don't want to learn about new technologies, some of us just can't keep up; MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest, Twitter, Blogger, Google+.......... Maybe some sections of society will disengage from the online community in protest or for the need of a simpler, slower paced and more personal lifestyle?

*See Allens Consulting Group Report to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy report "Quantifying the possible economic gains of getting more Australian households online" November 2010 The study also found evidence of a ‘Digital Divide’ among certain social groups. P. 5

Without internet skills, older Australians will miss out on so much by The Hon. Susan Ryan. AO

UK Scholarly Reading and the Value of Library Resources JISC Collections

Friday, 4 January 2013

Knowledge from an app?

The Britannica and Merriam-Webster Apps for Windows 8. Knowledge at your fingertips?

Is it really?

Does the fact that it provides a multi-format, contextual experience make it a knowledge product or service or is it still just information that the reader is getting? Can you consume knowledge? I don't know - interested in others thoughts........

"With features like the Britannica Link Map, our goal was to provide an environment for users not just to consume knowledge, but to experience it, enjoy it, and make connections between related topics by gliding freely and easily from one to the next. For example, if you’re reading the article on Albert Einstein, you can click on Link Map and bring up a web of connections to phenomena such as relativity, space-time, the photoelectric effect, and the field of physics itself."

All sounds very cool but it reminds me of the question I ask myself every day - am I talking about information or knowledge? Through my uni study and in reading blogs, articles and books on knowledge management I have gained a greater understanding of the differences between data, information and knowledge (DIKW - data, information, knowledge, wisdom). However I also know that it is still debated and argued among the KM and IM professions among others, especially the information to knowledge part.

As I fulfil the role of an information manager (my predecessor's title) but my title is knowledge manager (first one in this org) this subject is dear to my heart. Is it just a fancy title they have given me to tick a box? Is the agency and (more importantly) it's leadership, really ready for Knowledge Management? How do I explain and demonstrate the difference and the benefits of good knowledge practise?

Do I actually do any knowledge management here or is it all really information management? My duty statement listed Gov2.0, web accessibility, FOI and records management compliance. These are all effectively IM duties and certainly it is sound information practises that are needed to get the systems and processes set up in order to move to the next level - KM. I can definitely see that KM is needed here. There is a distinct lack of responsibility in the overseeing of people, process, content and systems. Different teams or individuals introduce new systems or processes without consulting or informing others, bandaid solutions, lack of communication internally, lack of direction and clear procedures. We have silos, we have an upstairs and downstairs divide and we have people who are too busy! Many of these problems arise out of the size of the agency, it has worked this way for a long time, fairly successfully (or at least they have gotten away with it so far). Now it is growing, technology is changing, transparency and reporting requirements are increasing and we are becoming more accountable. Things need to change. There it is - change (is that what KM is going to be all about for me?)

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Office spaces

My employer is looking at re-fitting our office. We have signed a new lease and may have to accommodate more staff in the future. This got me thinking about how best to make use of office space from a knowledge sharing perspective.

Picture from Well Appointed Desk blog 
I have worked in open plan offices for most of my office-based working life. It is good for informal, ad hoc collaboration and team building (to a point) and saves floor space. I think you get to know your co-workers better, discuss work and get input more (share) when you can look over a barrier or swivel your seat around to talk to someone, face to face. Does it encourage chatting? Probably, but that is good in my world, informal conversations over the coffee machine provide me with a glimpse of what is going on in the office.

Open plan poses problems such as lack of privacy, can be noisy and disruptive and provides little personalisable and collaborative space (walls, whiteboards etc). Some of these issues can be solved if good meeting rooms, shared spaces and quiet areas are provided, but often they are not. Open plan often discourages quiet reading and thinking, people judge if they see you gazing out the window or reading printed material. We have a perception that to be effective you have to be looking at your computer, typing madly, on the phone or in meetings non-stop. I think it also discourages creativity. In my last workspace we moved into a new architecturally designed open plan building. Gone were the white boards, cork boards, wall art and other wall space. Hanging pictures and decorations wasn't permitted within our small cubicles or on the walls around us.

I currently have an office, as do many of my colleagues here and this is rare. While we are reluctant to give them up, I don't believe they are ideal either. Great for those times when you need to close the door and concentrate on reading or writing. I love having book shelves, walls, posters, pin boards and white boards too. However with staff beavering away quietly in individual rooms in a rabbit warren building, it is easy to have no idea of what anyone else does or is working on. This encourages silos, isolation and knowledge hoarding. Again shared physical spaces and good online knowledge sharing tools can combat this to some degree but means we still lack the unscheduled, face to face social element. I find I can go days without talking to anyone else and have to make a concerted effort to go for a wander and say hi, get a cup of tea and catch up with people in the tea room. Some people do come into my office, with work queries or just to say hi, but there is a good percentage of staff that I just don't come across at all and this is a SMALL building.

The Australian Government is encouraging telework in a big way. How will this impact on knowledge sharing, teams and the social aspect of work? I don't think we are at the point where this is a viable option at my agency and many other government departments. Trust, infrastructure and security all jump to mind...... I also don't think remote work will suit all employees, some would miss the social interaction, others won't have an effective set up at home, many aren't able to stay motivated or engaged at home or in a coffee shop with distractions. It depends on the job and the individual. The government has a goal of at least 12% of employees working from home by 2020. There is more work to be done around the impact of telework on employee engagement, workplace culture and knowledge sharing.

An increase in the use of laptops, tablets and smart phones in work places, however provide lots of opportunities for a great office environment. It should be possible to have an office that provides personal space and shared areas with collaborative tools such a whiteboard walls, smart boards, blackboards (old school), cafe style spaces and alternative seating styles. Apparently sitting all day is killing us, so encouraging staff to get up, move around, discuss things over a coffee or standing at a white board makes sense. It also means you get to say hi to colleagues you pass as you move around and drop in for chats you may not usually have. Win for HR, win for KM!

NASA, Google and many others provide inspirational, creative, flexible work spaces for their employees. I saw a presentation by Nick Skytland of NASA about a year ago, his presentation doesn't include the photos of the NASA offices which he showed, they were designed with collaboration in mind. There are many examples of photos of the Google offices on the web.