Archive for Conferences

Open Data Hong Kong ~ Catalyst Night ~

Open Data Hong Kong is a group that was formed out of some talks at the Hong Kong Barcamp held at HK Polytechnic University this past February. A community of over a 100 people has formed quickly based first on a Google+ group and a couple of meetups with presentations and chatter on the 2nd floor of Delaney’s in Wan Chai and other gatherings around town. A Facebook page and the OpenDataHK website were setup recently. Establishing a dialogue between the users of open data in Hong Kong and the HK government is one of the goals for the group.

It’s impressive that there is so much interest in Open Data. What is it? The best resource I’ve found is the Open Data Handbook. You can listen to me go on about it here on a local public radio show recently here. The Open Data Hong Kong website has useful information on events and links to other sources on open data in and around Hong Kong that will keep growing. The Hong Kong government has had an open data initiative since 2011 called Data.One. The Hong Kong University Journalism & Media Study Centre ~ Data Journalism Lab ~ is a hotbed of activity on the data journalism side of open data in Hong Kong.

The Catalyst Night on 14 May is the kickoff for HKOpenDataMake.01, a hackathon event that will bring together developers, programmers, designers, thinkers and just the plain hangers-on to do and think about open data in Hong Kong. More than 50 people have signed up. The HK Government Office of the Chief Information Officer, Public Sector Information team will be attending the catalyst and talking about their plans for the Date.One initiative. At the Catalyst night the goal is to figure what to do over the next weekend. Teams will form and project goals will be set. Potential projects can be seen here. The teams will work, think and play around with datasets, tools and ideas and come up with results by Sunday afternoon. Presentations will be made on Sunday afternoon and Raspberry Pi prizes for the best results will be given out by Charles Mok, IT sector Legislative Council member.

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Digital Storytelling + Knowledge Conference + JAL kimono-class

Telling a story is at the centre of my life. I start more than half of my conversations with ‘let me tell you this good story’. I’m always thinking,
“How does this story relate to my story?” I feel like I’m filling up my personal story bank. In the past few days I attended a workshop
‘Digital Storytelling on the Web’, a conference, ‘Beyond KM: Delivery Value’ and a lecture, ‘Flying with Madame Butterfly: Early Japan Airlines Advertising in the US and Hong Kong’.

The workshop was a pre-conference event. Alan Levine is a web educationalist; which sounds clumsy but it gives a sense of his work and interests. Alan took a small group through many websites and a few tools that could help us facilitate a digital story. All of them can be found on 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story. A story is the most effective communication device humans have developed. ‘When you go outside this circle of fire something is likely to eat you’, remains one of the best reasons to remain close to the tribe. A digital story is not fundamentally different from a traditional spoken or visual story. Getting the audience’s attention and holding it is still the key challenge for the storyteller. The classic Freytag story arc still applies. However, a digital story may be more mixed up, more spontaneous or more complex with connecting images, sound, text and the possibility of the audience to dynamically manipulate the story.

These tools from the workshop will be useful:
• The closed wi-fi internet-like environment using ‘The StoryBox’ could be used to share text, images, audio and video without having to have it all up on the web.
Pechaflickr and Five Card Flickr could help to get people talking, and exploring how a story unfolds. They are good for storytelling practice in a second language.

The Hong Kong Knowledge Management Society’s conference, ‘Beyond KM: Delivering Value’, brought together about 40 people to listen and share some stories on the slippery topic of ‘knowledge value’. Knowledge without value seems like a contradiction. One of the more valuable lessons coming out of knowledge management and into organizational practice is the importance of storytelling as a communication tool. Many knowledge managers like to emphasize that conversation is the key enabler for knowledge transfer. With that thought, we had lunch first and sat at around tables talking. This was much more useful than sitting through a morning of presentations full of coffee and sugary buns wondering what was for lunch.

Four presenters, all highly experienced in the practical application of knowledge management talked about how or what to do to reveal the value in knowledge:
• The emic/etic distinction of what people think vs. what they say must always be forefront when collecting information from the customer.
• Innovation comes out of conflict so finding that point of conflict leads to innovation.
• Perfection is not that important. Good-enough works most of the time.
• Combining machines with humans is likely going to be more effective than only one or the other approach.
• Tagging started with Assyrian clay tablets 3,000 years ago and not much has changed.
• Access, security, governance, mitigation and standardization make it highly problematic to replicate Facebook-like social media inside an organization.
• Worry about knowledge creation before worrying about knowledge management. This will solve a whole host of potential issues.
• Nothing will ever replace experience.
• Managing for the few big, important or calamitous events will always be prohibitively difficult and will likely fail.
• People are pattern recognizers not information processors.
• People blend the patterns they recognize to make a conceptual whole that has immediately useful meaning.
• 5 is the number of words we will remember, 15 is the number of people we trust and 150 is the number of people we can recognize.
• Big data must have people at the centre to make it useful.

I dashed back across the Hong Kong harbour to the Museum of History for the Anthropological Society monthly gathering. Yoshiko Nakano’s told the story on how two ex-GI ad-men out of San Francisco developed the geisha service for JAL (Japan Airlines) in the 1950’s that continued up to 1970. The story of ‘Flying with Madame Butterfly: Early Japan Airlines Advertising in the US and Hong Kong’, was more than just American GI’s fascination with exotic Japanese woman but also a real need to accept the Japanese as useful allies in the looming cold war. It was easier to accept a beautiful, gracious, charming and compliant geisha-clad woman over that man in the army cap and buckteeth America had been fighting only a few years previously. With advertising budget many time less than Pan Am or Northwest, these American ad-men hit on a sure winner; geisha’s in the air serving exhausted western businessmen. It worked perfectly and the concept of aircrew in national costumes has become a mainstay of the airline industry to this day. That Japanese woman working as flight attendants didn’t enjoy the experience of wearing kimono and weren’t much use in an emergency situation was ignored. The stereotypic compliant Asian woman is still with us today and owes quite a lot to these images promoted by JAL’s kimono service.

Stories help us understand the world we experience and give us a view into a world that is not our own. The digital world requires we actively manage our digital personality. Knowing how to tell a digital story will help keep control of our digital personality. The digital line between inside and outside the organization remains a dilemma for anyone using social media. Linking our digital personality to its context may help delineate the line for how to use social media in our digital lives. Images are a useful marketing tool but some images promote stereotypes that are difficult to stop once entrenched. Should we control how images are used in the digital world? Telling and listening to stories, blending and reflecting on them may change what we believe is valuable and worthwhile.

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Barcamp Hong Kong 2013

I went to the first day of Barcamp Hong Kong 2013 at HK Polytechnic University on Saturday, 23 February. This was my second Barcamp event. Last year was held all on one-day at City University of Hong Kong. Barcamp is a open-space inspired event where someone with an idea and the desire to talk about it makes a pitch to people who want to listen. The ‘law of two feet’ applies; if it isn’t interesting people can get up and leave for someone else presenting their idea. In practice, people write up very short descriptions of their idea and they are assigned a place to present. People can wander in and out as they like.

I got there on time at 9:45am for a 10:00 am start. This is the first time I’ve seen the 3D barcode registration work with iPhones. There weren’t too many people in the big open plaza at HKPolyU Design School with rows of chairs, a very large digital display screen and sound system. People were rather reluctant to sit in the chairs; I think because it had the ominous ‘lecture-look’ that might be difficult to get out away from easily. Perhaps it might have been better to arrange them in circles. By 11:00am people had filled out some half-size sheets of paper with topics and stuck them up on a brick wall. There was some consolidation as people with similar topics joined forces. Last year I seem to remember that each topic was given 30 minutes and it seemed too short. This year 1 hour seemed better but maybe too long for just one speaker.

The plaza at HKPolyU Design School

The plaza at HKPolyU Design School

My first topic was ‘Fashion & Technology’. I like clothes I suppose about as much as anyone. I’m interested in why I choose the clothes I wear. HK is somewhat of a fashion centre but it suffers from creative anxiety. HK used to be a centre for making clothes and now is a place for organizing the making of clothes in China and then shipping them around the world. I wondered what these people would talk about it. The speaker was trying to get some sense of what people thought ‘fashion & technology’ should be about. People introduced themselves and why they choose to come to this topic. Most people were not working in the fashion field but were interested in wearable technology. I was somewhat amused when someone presented the new idea of using technology to make ‘custom-made’ clothes. I’m old fashioned and I still use a couple of HK tailors for suits, shirts and casual trousers from time to time. These tailors seem to keep track with big bound volumes where they write down my measurements and what I’ve ordered over the past 24 years. It’s nice when they ask me if I still wear the grey plaid jacket I had made in 1996. I think maybe technology and fashion could be used for custom made clothes but I’m not sure it will ever be as personal and good as an in-person tailor.

My second topic was from a grumpy old guy on ‘Lessons from Web 1.0 | That are still true today’. He wasn’t that old but he had been part of that first wave of web-developers in the 1990’s. He now works at one of the large banks in HK on trading algorithms. He made some useful observations that in the Web 1.0 days many plugins and be-spoke browser-sensing approaches were used to improve the web experience. These didn’t work well because most users do not keep their browser up to the latest version with all the appropriate plugins and writing code specific for Netscape, IE and Mosaic very quickly fell-down because it was impossible to test all the possible iterations of OS, hardware and browsers. Guess what? There are now 3 main browsers, IE, Chrome and Firefox and many other smaller ones used widely in specific countries and industries. Many times developers build applications assuming everyone is using the most recent version of Chrome on a high-end personal computer. The application fails and the user walks away. The lesson learned? Do not assume that everyone is a geeky computer person who enjoys hanging out with the PC. Most people do not want to have that much knowledge about the PC. They believe, correctly I will add, the PC should just work without a lot of fuss and bother. He recommended making applications work first with Lynx, a text based browser and then with other browsers. Assume someone in Kenya on a dial-up link is going to use the application. That person in Kenya could be generating 10 cents of revenue and if there are enough of them that could be what makes the application a success. There is an assumption among developers that applications are refreshed and being updated every few years. This is seldom true. Rather than being refreshed applications simply die from lack of use. Useful applications last for a long time and get changed incrementally with the danger that old code is still lurking around and being used as the core for more supposedly advanced applications. In the end, this may cause quite a few problems in the next wave of Web 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 world.

The last topic was Open Data in Hong Kong. The HK government has had the Data.One initiative since 2011 to make datasets available to the public for no cost. First, a developer presented his open source application using the HK Observatory (HKO) data. He hadn’t used the datasets available from Data.One for two reasons. First, he didn’t know the HKO dataset was available and second when he did find out about the dataset it was only a simple RSS text file and was not useful. Instead, he simply captured (scraped) the data from the websites maintained by the HKO. Next, someone talked about the Data.One initiative, the background and what was now happening. The gist of it seems to be that the government wants to make datasets available but not much effort if being made to coordinate what, why, how and who. Departmental Administrative Officers (AO) makes the datasets available based on their personal networks. The AO is an important person in the HK government structure but he/she is frequently very over-worked and normally has limited technical IT skills or knowledge. These AO’s have networks inside the government and they use for all sorts of activities. There is nothing wrong with this approach but the Data.One datasets are rather hit and miss. The last person talked about the context of Open Data initiatives in the EU and elsewhere. She said that the most active Open Data initiatives were in Berlin, London and New York. The big question is how to have more knowledge about the datasets and more use of them for application development. After these talks a Google+ group, Open Data Hong Kong, was setup. Hopefully, this may become a platform to promote these Data.One datasets.

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The answer is to leave history

I was in Macau over the weekend for two reasons. First, to attend the graduation of a former Galaxy Entertainment colleague who had gone back to university as a mature student and second to spend some time at the “International Forum on UNESCO Memory of the World (MoW) International Advisory Committee-Working Group “Education and Research”, sponsored by the Macao Foundation and the Macau Documentation and Information Society. Graduations are always good events; all that work being acknowledged by friends and family and the sense of personal accomplishment. Our education is such a large part of our ‘personal history’. This made me remember that education is the wisest move I’ve every made, even when I didn’t do that well. I caught the opening of the MoW conference and then almost all of the first two presentations; Dr. Roslyn Russell, Chair of the International Advisory Committee of UNESCO Memory of the World Programme and then Professor Lothar Jordan, Chair of UNESCO MoW IAC Working Group Education and Research. I returned in the afternoon for a round-table discussion with Dr. Russell, Prof. Jordan and about a dozen others.

Memory of the World – what a great name for a cause and organization. What is it about? I’m going to say it is about capturing, documenting, interpreting and inspiring the memory of people. This particular part of it was focused on ‘documentary heritage’ – the written artifacts of memory. Macau has the well-deserved reputation in the Perl River Delta of being more historically aware and sensitive than either Hong Kong or Guangdong province. Its 400-year history as the final port-of-call in the Portuguese empire has given Macau a magical quality. Now dotted with gleaming fairy-tale casinos and rebranded as the Las Vegas of the East it has ample public funding for remembering its past. Oddly though, we didn’t talk about the specific documents from Macau very much at this forum. Maybe they did in the bit I missed in the morning but I don’t think so. The afternoon discussion was trying to figure out how the Macao Foundation could implement a feasible memory of Macau programme that could become part of the Memory of the World.

“The answer is to leave history”, which is something I’ve heard or read or seen but can’t place at the moment but kept running through my head as I listened to the group of historians, archivists and librarians talk about MoW and Macau. I’m pretty sure what they mean by memory is ‘personal history’ and not place or organizational history. Those memories, which are more personal and only understood once experienced. There was talk of a workshop which didn’t sound appropriate to me so I proposed a series of facilitated conversations about memory in Macau. Right away, this begged the question of who should/would/could attend these facilitated conversations? Should it only be academics, librarians, archivists and other information professionals? We agreed it should be more than just these professionals although they had skills and knowledge about memory, history, archives and documents that would be useful to know and learn. I would want to include people from the performing arts. My experience in Macau is that dancers, poets, playwrights, musicians are frequently mining their own Macau stories for their creative work. I would want the conversations to target identifiable groups; for example, Macau’s secondary school students, woman, recent immigrants, creative artists, academic and information professionals and so on. Two young men had many insightful comments. Inaciso Pangchi Chan from the Macau Heritage Ambassador Association noted that the Macau Archives were essentially inaccessible to the Macau public because the archival materials were frequently in Portuguese and most of the public only speak, read or write Chinese. The Ambassador Association organizes small group tours of 10 or less people for local Macau residents and these are frequently over subscribed showing a real passion for understanding local history in Macau. He noted that over half of Macau’s residents had only recently arrived in Macau and too frequently knew almost nothing about the history of Macau. Most alarmingly many young people in Macau didn’t know where the famous ‘Ruins of St. Paul’ were located, in the early 17th century the largest Catholic Cathedral in Asia. There is very little if any Macau history being taught in the secondary schools. This is due to a lack of teaching materials and there are no secondary school examinations on Macau history. I suspect failing to teach local or recent history is a common failing in many places. Hong Kong suffers from the same lack of local history in its secondary schools. Dr. Sharif Shams Imon from Macau’s Institute for Tourism Studies proposed that there should be some end-result for these conversations, for example, an exhibition or series of seminars. We agreed that this would be a good approach. As with most around the table discussions, the coffee break was lively and gave us a chance to talk in small groups. Hong Kong’s recent experience with national education and the strong public reaction against it was one of the threads. Focusing on ‘correct history’ by the middle and upper classes in Macau was another thread. Whitewashing history happens without people even imagining that they are doing it.

So if the Macao Foundation does try to run facilitated conversations on memory, personal history and the Memory or the World what should they do? I can imagine a series David Gurteen inspired knowledge cafés, Bohm Dialogues and Open Space Technology facilitated events run over a period of 3 to 6 months leading to an exhibition of the created and collected documents. I’ll be interested to see what happens in Macau with Memory of the World over the next 12 months or so. The answer is to leave history.

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Reaction: IAF Asia 2012 Shenzhen, China

I went to the International Association of Facilitators Asia Conference 29-30 September in Shenzhen, China. Here is the Facebook page. The conference was hosted locally by Leadership, Inc., based in Shenzhen and organized by the IAF Asia Conference committee. It was so useful to spend a few days with 80 facilitators from across Asia and learn from them. There were 4 large group activities and 16 break-out sessions to choose from during the main 2-day conference.

Facilitation is something that I learned about when I was doing my Msc in Knowledge Management at HK Polytechnic. I realized that I had ‘been facilitated’ many times over the years working in organizations. I learned some facilitation techniques in that programme and in some other workshops and gatherings over the past few years. Knowledge management is so much of the time trying to get people to have a meaningful conversation, which are both relevant to the organization and leads to sharing and exchange of knowledge. It is not easy to achieve since most of the time the typical meeting is not about a conversation between equals but rather about direction or control. That deadly PowerPoint presentation which no one listens to because they are busy watching their phones is a real-world phenomenon. All too common are neetings where no one but the lead and her chief lieutenant speak and then the real meeting happens later in small groups of 2 or 3. Frequently the consensus after the meeting is ‘we are not going to do that’.

What can be done to have more meaningful exchange inside an organization? I believe many of the techniques facilitators use should become part of everyone’s toolkit for working inside an organization. What should be in this toolkit? Ways of making people comfortable, ways of breaking down barriers between internal groups and cliques and ways of highlighting to people there preconceived notions and biases. Here are a few simple techniques that I feel may help:

– Let people settle in their seat with the people they know, have a short conversation and then have them count off up to the total number of tables – 1 – 8 if there are 8 tables. Then ask all the number 1’s to go to table 1 and all the number 2’s to go to table 2. This gets people sitting away from their colleagues and friends but gives them a bit of comfort in the beginning. It works best in a bigger group.

– Collect many postcards and spread them out on a table or the floor. Ask people to choose one postcard that best describe themselves. When people go back to their table ask them to explain to their group why they made this choice. This works well to let people reveal themselves to a small group.

– Get colourful hoops of string and make circles on the floor. Ask people to gather in the hoops based on how they define themselves. Once gathered, ask them to explain how they feel. This works well when you want people to become aware of how groups exclude and include others. I learned this from Masako Arakane from Qualia, Inc. at the conference.
Nationality
Ethnic Group / Race
Height
Age
Gender
Eye Colour
How they feel about being a member of this group
How they feel about being at this event

– Pose a question or a topic and have rounds of conversations for 5 or 10 minutes were in each round the groups change. Big paper on tables can let people jot down notes but it isn’t necessary. This is a world café sometimes called a knowledge café.

There are many other facilitation techniques and if you have an experienced facilitator it is of great value to use him or her to help guide the conversation process. However, you may want to try to learn some of these techniques yourself. Knowledge management success hinges on sharing, openness, flatness and transparency. If you want to have more meaningful conversations every time you have a meeting or gathering in your organization I recommend taking a look at these sites for more information.

Cognitive Edge
Gurteen Knowledge
International Association of Facilitators – IAF
Qualia,Inc
Straits Knowledge
The Institute of Cultural Affairs International – ICA
The National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation – NCDD
The Transformation Institute
The World Café
ToP Facilitation

The conference participants were diverse but most interestingly there were over 20 experienced facilitators from Japan. The IAF Japan chapter has over 1,500 members. It will host the IAF Asia 2013 conference in Tokyo. As I’ve frequently noticed, Japan has a wealth of knowledge and expertise in how to work with and with-in organizations. However, sharing this knowledge with the rest of Asia seldom seems to be a priority. As someone said to me at the conference, the Japanese have a culture of listening and reaching out is quite difficult for the Japanese. This may be true but I’m never so sure about cultural pronouncements. I recommend getting to the IAF – Asia conference, 19 – 22 September 2013, in Tokyo and listening carefully. There is some excellent facilitation work going on in Japan.

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Reaction: Embracing community through dialogue and unleashing the synergy of change: A multi-stakeholder dialogic change process workshop” [用對話擁抱群眾. 發揮改變的綜效] ~ Taipei Nov. 4-6 2011

Facilitation for me is the key to getting a group to buy-into any sort of change management process, knowledge sharing approach or system usability design process. It is never easy and the facilitation can be rather messy and on the surface appear disorganized and un-focused. I know from my work inside organizations that enabling the conversation between people involved in a process can be very difficult. The traditional meeting format doesn’t work because one or two leaders will dominate the discussion and often the other people will adapt whatever they say to suit the situation and not offend the leaders. Over the past three years I’ve learned how to use some of these facilitation techniques in classes, conferences and workshops; Bohm Dialogue, Knowledge Café, Open Space Technology, Butterfly Stamping, Appreciative Inquiry, Anecdote Circles, Future/Backwards and a few others. In learning settings these all seem to work quite well. However, when I’ve tried some of these facilitation techniques in the workplace I’ve had various degrees of success. This is certainly due to my lack of skill and experience but I think there is a big difference in a class or workshop using a facilitation technique where most people are very willing to give it a go and in the workplace where there are typically a few people who say ‘why are we doing this’ ‘let me just tell you my problem so I can get back to my desk’ ‘I think this is a waste of time’. It is not that everyone is negative and resistant to using the technique but even some resistance makes the process materially different from a learning experience in a class or workshop.

I went to a 3-day workshop on dialogue sponsored by the CP Yen Foundation in Taipei between November 4 – 6. The foundation’s goal is to ‘foster the art of dialogue’. The workshop had about 40 people almost all from Taiwan, myself from Hong Kong and 3 from mainland China. I had gone to a workshop called “Profound Journey Dialogue” this past May sponsored by ICA, Institute of Cultural Affairs, and was very impressed with the energy and passion of the participants. I knew some of the same people would be attending this workshop so I wanted to join. Taiwan is making a serious effort to build an inclusive and participatory democratic society and there is quite a lot of interest in the process of facilitating communication, dialogue, knowledge exchange and community participation. The CP Yen Foundation translated all of the workshop materials into Chinese so there are now many useful resources on dialogue and facilitation for Chinese speakers.

The workshop facilitator was Philip Thomas. He has a background in Latin American conflict resolution and has co-written a book with Bettye Pruitt, Democratic Dialogues: A Handbook for Practitioners published by United Nations Development Programme. The book can be downloaded for free.

Here is the flyer on the workshop. Philip has been generous to let me post the slides from the workshop here. Also, here are some photographs taken during the workshop. I’m so impressed with all of these people’s passion and commitment to pushing the boundaries of dialogue and participation.

So what do we mean by ‘dialogue’? Except for the Bohm quote all of these are from the Philip Thomas’ presentation materials:

“Because the nature of Dialogue is exploratory, its meaning and its methods continue to unfold. No firm rules can be laid down for conducting a Dialogue because its essence is learning – not as the result of consuming a body of information or doctrine imparted by an authority, nor as a means of examining or criticizing a particular theory or programme, but rather as part of an unfolding process of creative participation between peers.”
David Bohm, Donald Factor and Peter Garrett

“Dialogue asks that we navigate the narrow ridge between holding to our own perspectives while at the same time remaining profoundly open to the Other.”
Martin Buber

“Truth only reveals itself when one gives up all preconceived ideas.”
Kaneko Shoseki

“Each person’s view is a unique perspective on a larger reality. If I can “look out” through your view and you through mine, we will each see something we might not have seen all along.

The origin of the vision is much less important than the process whereby it comes to be shared. It is not truly a “shared vision” until it connects with the personal visions of people throughout the organization.”
Peter Senge

The book by Daniel Yankelovich – The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation has been translated into Chinese and was being sold at the workshop. Here is a PBS video interview with him from 1999.

Some of the facilitation techniques we used in the workshop were familiar to me and some were new to me. A very good resource recommendation Philip gave us was THE NATIONAL COALITION FOR DIALOGUE & DELIBERATION.

A 3-day workshop provides the opportunity to listen and do and ask and re-listen and re-do and ask again. These are some of the snippets with some references to the slides that resonated to me:

3D – Dialogue, Deliberation and Decision – see slide no. 20
Dialogue is a methodology to see the whole problem
Deliberation is deciding between the possible trade-offs
Decision is making the choice

Dialogue is about how to deal with dissent – not about eliminating differences.

Consultation does not equal consensus building.

Pab = Dba
Power of ‘a’ over ‘b’ is equal to the dependency of ‘b’ to ‘a’

Design is a dialogic process – this is the chorography part of a dance.

Facilitation is the execution – this is the performance part of a dance.

Triangle of Satisfaction – see slide no. 34
One side Psychological (People)
One side Substantive (Product)
One side Process (Process)

The people in the middle of the process are key. They communicate with the top and the bottom and provide a web of interaction between the top, middle and bottom levels of people. See slide no. 27.

There is a difference between the process design and the execution. Design the process carefully, thoroughly, participatively and respectively. Interview the participants carefully and document the results. Map the issues. Map the actors. Know the context. See slide no. 42.

Be aware that dialogic processes can be used as window dressing to obscure real issues and problems. People in an organization may try to use dialogic processes to their own ends.

In order to move beyond dialogue there needs to be a wiliness to reach
agreement and follow-thru with implementation. If all you can do is have a dialogue that is acceptable but don’t make promises beyond the dialogue.

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Digital Pen Technology

Back in April 2011 I went to a Birds of the Feather event sponsored by BrightIdea, see here for my posting on that event. At the event one of the examples of an innovation was the use of digital pen technology to collect information on forms by workers in the field. I didn’t know what they meant by digital pens but soon learned that it was a combination of a pen and some special paper. The pen and paper let normal handwriting be captured and transferred to a digital format without any scanning.

I was intrigued because this is a particular pain point in many explicit knowledge management/document management projects I’ve worked on over the years. Trying to convince people to change from handwritten forms to online input forms is fraught with hardship and resistance. The arguments pro and con usually go something like this:

– The handwritten form is easy to use, can be signed for authorization and can then be retained as an authenticated final copy.

– The online form is difficult to use, requires a computer, a printer and a scanner and a whole lot of training.

– The handwritten form is difficult to share. We have to scan it and input the data manually and then verify the input. This slows down the workflow.

– We must have a printed and signed form for compliance purposes. We want a true, unchangeable authenticated copy so we will have to print the form, sign it and then scan it.

The core digital pen technology comes from the Swedish company Anoto. The technology has been licensed to other companies. For example, PaperIQ Digital Pen for Blackberry solution, and LiveScribe that produces digital pens combined with digital audio recorders.

In June 2011, I got in touch with Big Prairie Limited a local Hong Kong company that provide consulting services for Anoto based digital pens technology. Big Prairie has been working in the digital pen area in Asia for about ten years.

In exchange for helping out at the Big Prairie booth at the Greater China eHealth Forum 2011 on 7-8 October I was given a LiveScribe Echo 4GB digital pen. I didn’t agree to blog about the digital pen technology and no one from Big Prairie has reviewed this blog. Just to be clear, I got 1 pen, 3 notebooks and some software with a retail value of about HKD1,700 (about USD220) in exchange for 2 days of work at the forum. Clearly, I’m really a cheap date.

I prepared some demos and for two days I demonstrated the LiveScribe Echo digital pen. Subsequently, I’ve been using the pen almost every day and showing it around to my network. People are very impressed with the technology. The pen is a normal ball-point pen with a small camera and a digital recorder and player. The pen is lightweight and a bit big but still comfortable for writing. The pen can be used as just a normal ball-point pen or used with the Anoto dot paper to record what you are writing. The notebook is made from normal notebook paper which as been printed with thousands of very small blue-colored dots. These dots are locational markers; when combined with the camera your writing is recorded precisely and accurately. The digital recorder can be used stand-alone or it synchronizes with your handwritten notes. The notebook has printed commands at the bottom of the page that let you turn on, pause, turn off the audio recording, jump ahead in 10 second intervals, bookmark, jump to a % position, set the playback speed and adjust the volume of the playback. The small speaker on the pen is good enough for listening or you can buy some headphones that plug into the pen for both better listening quality and recording quality. You can play back an audio recording by simply touching any of the synchronized handwritten text.

I don’t want to go over all of the features of the LiveScribe pen because that information is easily available and better explained on the LiveScribe website.

The handwritten notes and recording can be easily exported to Adobe pdf format. This is called a pencast. I’ve made some pencast examples that illustrate what I think are the important points. Download these pencasts and open with Acrobat Reader version 9.3.2 or higher.

1. A pencast with handwritten notes and audio recording by listening to the BBC One-minute news broadcast. Pencast no 1 ….
– The black text has no synchronized recording.
– The green text has synchronized recording.
– Click on the green text to listen to the recording. The remaining green text will go light grey. You can jump around by clicking on the green or light grey text.

2. A pencast with handwritten notes, audio and a quick sketch. Added a few days’ later handwritten notes and audio recording from a BBC One-minute news broadcast. Pencast no 2 ….
– It captures the sketch easily and accurately.
– Notes and recordings can be added at different times.

3. A pencast of “Double Ninth: Missing my Shandong Brothers”, with handwritten Chinese characters, Putonghua pinyin and English translation. There is no audio recording. This is a poem that almost all Chinese children learn in school. Pencast no 3 ….
九月九日憶山東兄弟
獨在異鄉為異客,
每逢佳節倍思親.
遙知兄弟登高處,
遍插茱萸少一人.

As a lonely stranger in a strange land,
At every holiday my homesickness increases.
Far away, I know my brothers have reached the peak;
They are planting flowers, but one is not present.

“Double Ninth, Missing My Shandong Brothers”
— Wang Wei (王維), Tang Dynasty

4. A pencast with handwritten Japanese kana and kanji. Pencast no 4 …
– Kana means katakana and hiragana writing. Kanji mean Chinese characters.

Handwritten notes can be converted to text using the MyScriptforLiveScribe tool from a company named VisionObjects . It costs about USD30.00. It is very easy to use from within the LiveScribe Desktop.

Here are the results.
1. A pencast with handwritten notes and audio recording by listening to the BBC One-minute news broadcast converted to text and then saved as a JPG. Pencast no 5 …
– As a JPG file it retains the layout and format of the handwritten notes.

2. A pencast with handwritten notes and audio recording by listening to the BBC One-minute news broadcast converted to text and then saved as a DOCX. Pencast no 6 ….
– It loses the layout and the format.
– The text can be edited.
– The text has 401 written letters and 10 errors marked in red so the error rate was 2.49%. This is remarkable for conversion of handwritten text to type text. I did a project last year where scanning handwriting and then converting to type text the error rates was between 25% to 50%. See here for information on ICR, intelligent character recognition.

3. A pencast of “Double Ninth: Missing my Shandong Brothers”, Chinese characters, Putonghua pinyin and English translation. I’ve converted the Chinese characters to text, the Putonghua pinyin to text and the English translation to text and saved as a DOCX. Pencast no 7 ….
– There are 37 characters in the original text plus 2 characters of the author’s name. There are 6 errors marked in red. The error rate is 15.38%. Once again, this is remarkable for handwritten Chinese character to type text conversion.
– There are 199 handwritten letters and diacritic marks in the Putonghua pinyin. There are 29 errors marked in red. The error rate is 19.33%. It is high because MyScriptforLiveScribe doesn’t have a dictionary for Putonghua pinyin.
– There are 188 handwritten letters and punctuation marks in the English translation. There are 15 errors marked in red. The error rate is 7.98%.

4. A pencast of Japanese kana and kanji. This text only has hiragana and kanji characters converted to characters and then saved as a DOCX. Pencast no 8 ….
– 65 handwritten hiragana and kanji.
– 3 errors marked in red. The error rate is 4.62%. Once again, this is remarkable. Projects in Japan I’ve worked on with handwritten Japanese to text conversion are lucky to get the error rate down to 25%.

The LiveScribe solution is for personal note-taking. It is most useful for students, business people, professionals such as lawyers, doctors, advisors and anyone who takes notes which is just about anybody. Being able to record the audio along with the notes can significantly increase the value of the notes and can improve your ability to add to the notes later. Being able to create a PDF pencast makes the notes easy to share with others. Being able to convert them into type text makes it much easier to produce formal reports from handwritten notes. I recommend it highly for an effective and inexpensive solution for taking notes and keeping them digitally.

In Hong Kong, information on ordering a LiveScribe digital can be found on the Smartpen Asia website. The LiveScribe website has an international store locator. LiveScribe pens and accessories can also be ordered thru Amazon.

There are enterprise solutions enabling forms to be created and specialized workflows integrated to enterprise backend solutions using the Anoto digital pen technology. You should contact Big Prairie Limited or Anoto for more information.

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