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.
Ethnic Group / Race
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
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 ….

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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Results from my Case Sharing on Creating & Running a Records Management Programme at KM Singapore 2011

I went to the KM Singapore 2011 pre-conference master class on 31 August and then the 2-day conference on 1st and 2nd September. Take a look here for a run down of the conference and video interviews with the main speakers from the social media reporter Pier Andrea Pirani. Here are presentations and other materials from the conference.

The master class and conference were excellent; better than any thing I’ve seen done in Hong Kong in the knowledge management area. There were about 70 people at the master class and 180 people at the conference. The conference theme was ‘Riding the Wave of Experience’ and it built around having practical advice from people who had done things before like build intranets, how to facilitate a social media campaigns both inside and outside a big global organization, how to avoid the common traps of a knowledge management approach which has the best of intentions but so frequently fail so miserably, how to deal with organizational blindness and ignorance with even the smartest people and how to run a knowledge capture and transfer initiative. IKMS, Information & Knowledge Management Society, did a great job finding diverse speakers both from Singapore and from aboard. Throughout the conference there was good use of social media, such as an active twitter wall and video interviewing during the conference. This was the 1st time I’ve seen these kinds of social media done truly successfully at a conference.

On the second day, I ran two 45-minute case clinic sessions on Creating and Running a Records Management Programme. I had done a blog posting on 25 August in preparation for this case clinic. Following is a description of what I tried to explain and some of the questions and responses. At the first session there were about 20+ people and at the second session about 10+ people. These break-out sessions were run concurrently on both the 1st and 2nd days of the conference. It was a good idea and got us away from the ‘dreaded talking heads’. I like listening to good presentations but not for a whole day.

I put-up some A3 size sheets of paper on the wall and a flip charts. I learned blue-tack will hold a piece of A3 size paper to a velvet-covered wall.
1. Definition of Records
2. My Riff on the Knowledge Wheel

Inspired by Dave Snowden and Patrick Lambe

Knowledge Wheel – Updated

3. My Riff on the Cynefin framework

Updated 2013 ~ An Interpretation of the Cynefin Framework

Updated 2013 ~ An Interpretation of the Cynefin Framework

4. Template Letter to Law Office on Record Keeping Brief
5. Template Records Retention Schedule TOC
6. Template Records Retention Schedule Definitions
7. Template Records Retention Schedule Master List
8. Template Master Records Retention Schedule
9. Template Records Retention Schedule based on legal requirements only

Here is a run-down on my ‘case clinic’.
– A brief introduction about myself – 30+ years in records management, mostly in Asia with some time in Europe and the US – have 10,000 hours of experience so I guess I’ve reached Malcolm Gladwell’s expert level

– I believe what records management (RM) adds to the mix of knowledge management, content management, information management and library science is a way of separating the ‘useful’ from the ‘useless’. Not all knowledge is of equal value although it seems that many times this is the perspective of knowledge management; if it is offered up as ‘knowledge’ it must have long term value. The idea that some tangible piece of knowledge expires and can then be disposed is unique to RM.

– Pointed out that many times over the past 2 days we had heard people talk about ‘repositories’ full of junk, ‘repositories’ which no one used. If they used RM concepts of scheduling and expiration then these ‘repositories’ would be more useful and not full of junky and useless knowledge artifacts.

– Gave them 5 minutes to read the materials on wall and flip charts

– Explained the definitions of ‘records’ 1. Definition of Records

o Emphasized that having a policy with a clear ‘record’ definition was required. They would have many questions such as:
? ‘what is a record’
? ‘what do you mean by record’
? ‘does it include email’
? ‘does it include drafts’
? ‘does it include copies’

o Pointed out that the organizational definition included ‘promotional items’ – tangible objects, posters, video tv commercials, radio broadcasts, uniforms used during promotional campaigns ~

o ISO definition has always seemed a bit narrow to me but it is adequate

o ARMA definition longest and with an emphasis on the potentiality for a lawsuit. This is because ARMA is an U.S. dominated RM organization. Risk from lawsuits are not unique to the US.

– Used the Knowledge Wheel to explain where RM sits in KM. 2. My Riff on the Knowledge Wheel. Clearly it’s a part of Explicit Knowledge ‘Paper or Electronic, Documents, Books, Manuals, Vidoes, Audio, Databases, Systems, How to use them’ in the centre top sector. These are what I choose to call ‘knowledge artifacts’, which is taken directly from Snowden’s original ASHEN framework.

– However, to have a RM programme requires paying careful attention to the ‘Methods, Way we do it here, Routines, Processes, Standards, Teams & Crews’ in the left-hand sector. RM is always very closely connected to “how we do it at this place” so I recommend strongly you don’t try to change how they do it without having a very good idea of what is happening on the ground.

– Also, a RM programme must foster ‘Skills both physical and mental from learning, training and practicing’, from the right-hand sector. Tagging an electronic document or printing a label for a file folder, reading and using a records retention schedule, participating in an annual records day are all skills that the RM programme needs to teach and people need to learn. You will need to teach these things over and over again before people learn them: they need to become part of the mental model that people have about managing records in their organization.

– The RM programme gets supports from the Tacit Knowledge sectors in the bottom part of the Knowledge Wheel but it is very important to remember that records management has, at best, only an indirect role in tacit knowledge creation, sharing and use.

– I place RM in the ‘Simple’ and ‘Complicated’ domains of the Cynefin Framework, see 3. My Riff on the Cynefin Framework. RM is most useful for groups with >150 members and it may be helpful for groups of experts <150. I cannot see RM being very useful in the Complex domain because the groups are small and the time frame of the decision making is likely quite short for each iteration of ‘probe, sense, respond’. In the Chaotic domain there is no time to be searching thru the knowledge artifacts, although this seems to be a favourite Hollywood film or TV script scenario; ‘get me the file, the answer is found, the disaster is averted’. Does it every really happen this way?

– Explained the letter requesting a record-keeping brief to Outside Counsel, see 4. Template Letter to Law Office on Record Keeping Brief. In-house counsel seldom does this type of legal research work. It may not be that useful to even let in-house counsel try because they are unlikely to have the skills and necessary knowledge. It is vital to specify the type, scope and purpose of the record-keeping brief. Be sure to get a quotation first and specify there will be at least 3 drafts. The final record-keeping brief must be clearly written because it would be made transparent to all employees as a supporting document for the records retention schedule. Here is an example of a records retention schedule mapped back into record-keeping briefs, see 9. Template Records Retention Schedule based on legal requirements only.

– Explained how to collect business/organizational requirements needed using facilitation techniques
o focus groups
o anecdote circles
o card-sorting exercises
o ask questions like which records do you think are important, which are not important, what format are the records in, where are they kept
o very important to talk to all levels of staff, not just senior manager, not just line staff

– Conduct records inventory and compile statistics on type, format, volume, and ownership and then compare these results to what people have said during the facilitation exercises. It is quite likely what they have told you is different from what you think the records inventory and statistics are telling you.

– Take the results from the record-keeping brief and the business/organizational requirements and create a Records Retention Schedule. This is an iterative process that will take several rounds. It’s important to get to the ‘first usable draft’ and then keep revising it on at least an annual basis.

– Explained the RRS TOC ~ the first 2 levels are only for navigation, see 5. Template Records Retention Schedule TOC.

– Explained the RRS Definitions – Primary Records, Temporary Records and Disposal Suspension,see 6. Template Records Retention Schedule Definitions.

– Explained they needed some high level tags/categories for the Master Records Retention Schedule, see 8. Template Master Records Retention Schedule.
o Historic
o Fiscal
o Date Compliance
o Legal
o Reference
o General

– These are only useful when they can be applied consistently to a group of records that are described by use, function or purpose. This is where the more descriptive tags/categories are useful. Explained the RRS tags/classifications ~ how a classification was chosen, how it linked to the RRS 7 categories, Office of Record and the Notes which linked back to the Legal-keeping brief, see 7. Template Records Retention Schedule Master List.

– Emphasized that records are both paper and electronic and that frequently the paper records are more valuable/useful because of their organization. The ability to put different documents from disparate sources together, make notes on them, physically organize them with tabs and dividers is the real advantage of a paper file.

– Emphasized that senior management would not simply continue to buy more storage space, both hard-copy storage space in the office and off-site box storage or electronic storage archives, even if it is very cheap. Very cheap is never going to be ‘ZERO’ so it is likely that at some point you will no longer be allowed to keep adding various types of storage.

– Explained how standardized regular processes needed to become part of the ‘Way we do it here’; to apply the RRS tags/classifications to documents and file folders, move to archives as a regular process, dispose of them according to the schedule. Running records management days is a very good idea. When you run records management days it helps to recognize the amount disposed, moved to hard-copy and electronic archives by people, teams and departments.

– Telling people how many emails they have, how many electronic files in both personal storage and in departmental and team repositories, how many paper files in active office filing space and how many boxes in off-site storage would help people understand the scale and scope of the records management tasks.

Questions and comments from the groups:
1. Do we have to follow the schedule?
My answer: Well, if you go thru the process of making a RRS it isn’t very practical to not follow it. There is a tendency in RM to make a policy, make a schedule and then not follow them. Therefore, the RM programme never ‘gets legs’. Also, it can be quite dangerous to the organization to have a RM programme that isn’t actively followed.

2. Most people just want to save everything.
My answer: If they save everything then it becomes very difficult to find anything. If the haystack is smaller it is easier to find the needle. Remember what Patrick Lambe said in his presentation about the ‘tyranny of the collective’ and ‘mutual ignorance’. Don’t presume to know what ‘everybody’ wants to do. In my experience, if you give people a set of practices, processes, a records retention schedules then they will willingly dispose of expired records.

The response was: Yes, but it is just your opinion.

3. We just want to get better search engines and save everything.
My answer: Even the best search engines are not very effective with out tagging and structure around the records.

4. There are not many legal risks in Singapore involving records.
My answer: I don’t think this is true. As a common law jurisdiction the ability to request records as evidence is enshrined in Singaporean law. If you sell any product then you have legal risk from records. If you work in any sort of financial services business you have legal risk from records.

The response was: Yes, that’s probably true. We do sell things.

5. What do you do with email?
My Answer: Get across the concept that the email does not belong to the individual. They don’t get to take it with them when they leave the organization. Be prepared to hear many reasons why ‘I can’t do this’ with my email. Restrict mailbox size. Stop the use of personal archiving ‘pst’ files, they just cause many problems in the long run. Buy and implement email archives so your MS Exchange servers are more efficient but be sure to require tagging against the RRS categories. Remember that IT people typically do not have long-term perspective; they are only looking for the quick fix to the problem right in front of them; the IT solution, buy an archive, install and fill it up. They are thinking they won’t be here when the archive is full.

6. Should we have a central group that receives all records and manages the records?
My answer: It can work in a specialized situation like a law firm, court, hospital but in most organizations and businesses with a distributed work model it is not feasible or practical.

7. We cannot make people dispose of records.
My answer: You can certainly encourage them. You just have to be consistent, practical, offer real solutions and help them thru the process. I use to regularly facilitate the disposal of around 40% of paper and electronic records every year. Once again, remember what Patrick Lambe said in his presentation about the ‘tyranny of the collective’ and ‘mutual ignorance’. Don’t presume to know what ‘everybody’ wants to do. In my experience, if you give people a set of practices, processes, a records retention schedules then they will willingly dispose of expired records.

8. Can we use bar-codes and RFID (radio frequency identification) on documents?
My answer: Bar-coding is used for off-site hard-copy box storage in most cases. Bar-coding individual documents is only practical in those cases where the documents are very important and there needs to be a lot of control around them. I’ve done it for legal contracts. RFID could be used for boxes but I’ve never done it. Using is on individual documents is likely going to be too expensive.

9. Instead of disposing of the paper records can we scan them and keep them ‘just-in-case’ we need them?
My answer: You could but the cost is huge. How are people going to find the scanned images? Creating an index, tagging structure, taxonomy is not a simple task and they need to be maintained. In the end you will have put in a lot of effort and money for something that is not very useful.

People at the case clinic asked the same sort of questions about records management I’ve heard for years. This is not surprising. Records management is one part of ‘doing knowledge management’. Organizations mistakenly believe they are doing records management when they build a repository, create tagging terms and train people how to use this repository. Without the records retention schedule summarizing both legal and business/organizational requirements it is not a records management programme. Good RM processes help people find useful tangible knowledge artifacts and ensure that only those, which are truly useful, are being retained in various kinds of electronic and hard-copy repositories.

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Creating and Running a Records Management Programme: Case Sharing at KM Singapore 2 September 2011

I will be running a ‘Case Sharing’ called ‘Creating and Running a Records Management Programme’ as part of the KM Singapore 2011: “Riding the Wave of Experience” conference running between 31 August to 2 September. This case sharing will be on September 2nd. I created and managed records management programmes for many years. Take a look at my public LinkedIN profile for my work experience and education.

I’ve prepared some background material about ‘Creating and Running a Records Management Programme’ in this posting and other postings on this blog. If you are interested in attending the case sharing I recommend you read this post before the event. Think about the questions, concerns, problems, issues on the topic of ‘Creating and Running a Records Management Programme’. At the case sharing, I will facilitate a group discussion to share our knowledge on the questions, concerns and problems that people bring along. Just to be clear, I’m not going to give a ‘presentation’ on the topic.

Define Record
To start I want to define ‘record’. You will always come back to your definition of ‘record’ when you are rolling out and managing a records management programme. People will frequently ask ‘what is a record’? Here are three definitions of “record”. All of them are good.

The first is a short definition that could be found in a policy statement. It is short and says what a record is and what a record is not at this particular organization.

The second definition is from the ISO 15489 Standard ‘Information and documentation – Records management Part 1’. It is short and says what a record is with an emphasis on legality and transactional value.

The third definition is from the Association of Records Managers and Administrators. It is the longest and specifies both the physical format and that copies of records are included and it emphasizes the importance of records as evidence of activities and the risk of possible lawsuits.

An organizational definition of a record:
A “record” is information in any form or medium that is within the organization’s control and relates to the organization’s activity or business. This includes both electronic and hardcopy information and other tangible items such as promotional materials. Recorded information that is personal and not related to the organization’s business is not a record under this Policy.

ISO 15489 Information and documentation — Records management – Part 1
Section 3.15 
RECORDS – information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business

ARMA’s definition of record
Records are the evidence of what the organization does. They capture its business activities and transactions, such as contract negotiations, business correspondence, personnel files, and financial statements, just to name a few.

Records come in many formats:

    Physical paper in our files, such as memos, contracts, marketing materials, and reports

    Electronic messages, such as e-mail content and their attachments and instant messages

    Content on the website, as well as the documents that reside on PDAs, flash drives, desktops, servers, and document management systems

    Information captured in the organization’s various databases

When there’s a lawsuit, all of these – including the copies that individuals have retained and any items prematurely deleted or destroyed – may be identified as discoverable. This means they could be used against the organization in a lawsuit.

Records Management as a part of Knowledge Management
I want to place records management within a knowledge management framework. To start with, you should read these two posts I did in October and December 2009.

October 2009 on ‘CM, IM, KM, LS, RM – Is there any difference?’
I was almost finished with a MSc in Knowledge Management and I had been thinking and pondering how Content Management – CM, Information Management – IM, Knowledge Management – KM, Library Science – LS, Records Management – RM fit together. My perspective is they are all inter-related that is it difficult to do one without doing the other.

December 2009, ‘The Knowledge Wheel’
Records management is about managing explicit knowledge artifacts found in the centre top of the wheel, “Paper or Electronic, Documents, Books, Manuals, Videos, Audo, Databases, Systems to Use Them”. To make a records management programme work all of the other parts of the knowledge wheel come into play. You must have a clear idea of ‘how it is done here’ and you must support the skills, learning, training and practicing required when managing records. It needs to be acknowledged and made clear that the records management programme can only indirectly change how knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer is done between people and the programme will not reduce the importance of experience. In other words, records management programmes cannot ‘make’ people share knowledge although they may make it easier to share explicit knowledge artifacts if there is a willingness to do so; nor will records management programmes make it possible to share and transfer ‘experience’ unless there is a willingness on the part of the people to do so. What I’ve noticed is that knowledge managers, information managers and technology vendors will blithely make these claims whereas an experienced records manager doesn’t even consider them to be in the realm of possibility.

What is so special about Records Management?
The concept that records are ‘useful’ and eventually become ‘useless’ and can be disposed is what is so special about records management. For me, this concept of ‘expiration’ and subsequent ‘disposal’ is what separates records management from knowledge management and information management. This is basically of assigning some measure of importance to the records. Those that are more important need to be retained longer. Importance is a combination of organizational/business value and legal requirements. Both are rather difficult to collect and summarize easily on records retention schedules.

Recent research from TAB, a records management services and system vendor, says that 70% to 90% of hard-copy and electronic records kept at organizations over 5 years old are not required for day-to-day operational reasons. My experience with both hard-copy and electronic records confirms this is true. My rule-of-thumb is that people seldom use records that are more than 3 years old. Think about it this way; you are generally working on something that is looking towards the future and it may be useful to know what was done 12 months ago but only seldom is it useful to know what was done 24 or 36 months ago.

When records are created they are ‘useful’ for some purpose. However, the records become ‘useless’ over time and they need to be disposed. Records management uses the ‘records life cycle’ concept of CREATION – USE – DISPOSAL. USE is split into ACTIVE and INACTIVE where many times INACTIVE means moving the records to some cheaper and less assessable location. Even when the records are INACTIVE they are ‘useful’. Rather frequently people think moving records to storage means they are no longer ‘useful’, which is simply wrong. Sometimes during USE the record is transferred from one format to another format; traditionally paper to microfilm, paper to scanned image and becoming more common from one electronic format to another electronic format, e.g. Microsoft WORD to PDF or PDF to TIFF. A key records management goal is to motivate people to the point of DISPOSAL.

The advantages to the organization of creating ‘useful’ records and disposing of the ‘useless’ records can be broken into three groups:

One – it makes ii much easier to find useful records if the useless record are no longer there. It is easier to find a record if you or more likely the computerized index only needs to look through 10,000 records rather than 100,000 records.

Two – it protects the organization because if the ‘useless records’ are disposed they cannot be used to show what the organization was doing at that time in the past. Many times something done in the past is very difficult to explain when the social and cultural context has changed. Also, bit and pieces of records can be taken out of context to make up a story about the organization that may not be completely accurate. The organization does not need explain ‘why’ if the ‘useless records’ are disposed. The organizational/business usefulness may expire and then these ‘useless records’ may be moved to an historical archive. Remember that records in an historical archive still pose potential risk to the organization.

Three – it reduces the need to re-create work already done if ‘useful’ records are created and retained for as long as they are ‘useful’ to the organization. If records are disposed while they are still ‘useful’ it can be very expensive, very difficult and perhaps practically impossible to recreate the information and knowledge contained in these records.

Some records management horror stories
There are real risks of having to explain past actions based on retained ‘useless records’. For example, the U.S. Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement provides for US$ 206 billion to be paid to 46 U.S. states over 25 years arguably over the past actions of the U.S. tobacco companies. Those past actions were documented in thousands of internal tobacco company records, many of which were decades old when they had to be offered up to law firms working for U.S. state attorney offices and used as evidence against the four major U.S. tobacco companies. We do not know if it was only because of these retained ‘useless records’ that the settlement was made but it seems quite likely that it was a significantly contributing factor.

There are real costs if records have to be recreated because ‘useful’ records were disposed. NASA famously failed to retain the useful record of the original tapes that recorded the first moon-landing, see Kim Sbarcea’s blog on ‘The curious case of NASA lost tapes

There are real costs if records are not created and the tacit knowledge is only held in people’s heads. There was a US$69 million cost overrun because information and knowledge was either disposed in records which should have been retained or the tacit knowledge about ‘how we do it’ was never written down about how to build a component of a Trident nuclear warhead called Fogbank, see Patrick Lambe’s blog on ‘Forgetting’ . I am not suggesting that all tacit knowledge should be written down, but I have a strong suspicion that it would not have been impossible to document the production process for the component Fogbank and retain it. The Fogbank processes are from that part of ‘The Knowledge Wheel – Methods, Way it is done here, Routines, Processes, Standards, Teams & Crews’.

Why create a Records Management Programme?
A records management programme comes about for many reasons but generally these are the main ones I have encountered loosely ranked from most to least important:

  • Improve the ability to find records for operational and legal reasons
  • Reduce risk from keeping records too long
  • Reduce risk from not having records that are needed
  • Control costs for storage or for transfer from one format to another
  • Make the work environment more effective and efficient
  • When creating a Records Management Programme you need to do the following:

      Create a policy document and have it approved by the most senior members of the organization.

      Work with the people who create and use the records to collect the organizational/business reasons to retain/dispose of records.

      Work with in-house and outside legal counsel to collect the legal reasons to retain/dispose of records.

      Create a Records Retention Schedule (RRS) template. Typically there are two kinds of RRS templates. One is a global schedule that applies across the functions or the organization. Another schedule is a department specific schedule. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages.

      Create and maintain RRS that summarize who/where the official records are kept, any physical format requirements, trigger dates to move to storage, to transfer to transfer to another format and to dispose of the record.

      Identify and implement ubiquitous tools that can apply the RRS to records and tell you when to transfer, dispose and which will track these records management activities.

      Hold regular records management events – training, records management days, disposal events, compliance reviews, assess and follow-up with vendors, collect what does and does not work. The purpose of the events is to ensure people know who to use the RRS for their records.

      Create a storage and disposal strategy for both hard-copy and electronic records – off-site/on-site – out-source/in-house.

      Assess on a regular basis what does and does not work and amend the programme’s RRS, processes, templates, training, events and so on.

    Finding Aids and Retention Schedules
    The retention schedule is a key output of the records management programme. It tells the organization how long to keep the record. It tells the organization when to dispose of the record. The actual disposal event becomes an important record for the organization to keep since it proves the records were disposed and it means people can stop looking for the disposed record. The schedule may tell the organization when to move the record to another location.

    Collecting the organizational/business reasons is not easy. On the ‘The Knowledge Wheel’, “Methods, Way it is done here, Routines, Processes, Standards, Teams & Crews” is where you will find these reasons. Facilitation tools that get a group of people to talk about how and why they are doing something will help elicit these reasons; knowledge café, open space technology, knowledge audit, positive deviance, future backwards are all worth considering. Remember to include and ask many people at different levels in the organization what are these reasons to retain records. The opinion of the senior manager is most likely very different from a line worker. A senior manager is likely to say ‘we don’t need this’ while a line worker will say ‘we use this every year-end to cross check the annual sales numbers’. Frequently people will say that they need to keep records for ‘legal reasons’ but it turns out their reasons were inaccurate regarding length of time and format.

    Collecting legal reasons for record-keeping is not easy. You can ask lawyers but the off-the-cuff response is likely to be along the lines of ‘ideally keep everything’. This is not what you or your organization wants to hear. You can ask ‘professional service firms’ and they may have some answers but my experience is they only focus on financial records and even then may miss some of the requirements. Almost always the work is going to be out-sourced to outside counsel; it is unlikely that in-house counsel have the time and/or expertise for this type of question. Take a look at this template letter with some guidance on the review process. It is very unlikely that the first and second drafts will answer the questions you need answered. I have several times had to do my own legal research and give it to outside counsel to correct the erroneous information they were giving me on length of retention, format and so on. However, the final document is very valuable when it is shared widely and summarized on a records retention schedule.

    I do wish people would use the general term ‘finding aid’ first and then the more specific terms of classification, metadata, thesaurus and taxonomy. They are all different kinds of ‘finding aids’ and within each one there is a lot of variation. I guess I will have to keep hoping and wishing. The records management programme needs to have tools that help people find the records so they can manage them. Improving ‘findability’ is shared with both library science, knowledge and information management. Therefore, records managers spend a lot of time developing finding aids (see how easy that is to use) linking records to retention schedules. If you are lucky you will be able to work with a well-trained taxonomist and metadata specialist as you develop these finding aids. If not or even if you do have a good person to help you, I recommend you read these two excellent books:

      Patrick Lambe’s Organising Knowledge: Taxonmies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness 2007
      Heather Hedden’s The Accidental Taxonomist 2010

    You may also want to join the Yahoo Groups/LinkedIN Groups ‘Taxonomy Community of Practice’.

    On a records retention schedule there can be categories, which define how long to keep a record. This category is one kind of metadata that can be attached to a record. A descriptive classification is another kind of metadata which may help you find the record but it won’t help you decide how long to retain the record. These two needs to be linked together on a records retention schedule. If you come to the case sharing on 2 September I can share some of my experience with creating, maintaining and applying record retention schedules.

    Here are some examples:
    Retention Categories
    Defines how long to keep the records. There only needs to be few of these retention categories. They must be centrally controlled and only changed if absolutely necessary. There must be a clear definition with examples and a retention period assigned to each retention category.

      Date Compliance

    Descriptive Classifications
    Helps you find the records. The bold and italics terms are only for navigational purposes; the descriptive classification which is assigned to a paper folder, electronic folder or a single document is under them. There can be hundreds or even thousands of these descriptive classifications. A central control authority must exist to ensure they are being used and that they meet the requirements of the people applying them to records.

      Human Resources

      Benefit Plans
      Educational Allowances
      Incentive Plans / Stock Options
      Pension Plans
      Relocation Files
      Retirement Plans
      Passage Allowance
      Home Leave


      Human Resources

      Personnel Administration

      Business Conduct Policy
      Employee Records
      Employee Tax Files
      Job Descriptions
      Organizational Announcements
      Organizational Charts
      Performance Appraisals
      Orientation / Training
      Work Permits/Visa

      Salary Administration

      Salary Administration

      Advancement Planning

      Advancement Planning
      Career Dialogue

    Records Management Organizations
    If you need information and education resources about records management then the place to start is with your country’s professional records management association. Here are a few of the biggest ones in the English-speaking world to get you started.

    Primarily North America with some outposts around the world:
    ARMA – Association for Records Managers and Administrators

    Primarily Australia & New Zealand with some members in the South Pacific and Asia
    RIMPA – Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia

    Primarily the United Kingdom & Ireland
    IRMS – Information and Records Management Society

    More on the technical side and they like to emphasize ‘content management’ but they have a strong records management perspective and it seems to me more of an international presence than those above:
    AIIM – Association of Information & Image Management

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    Teaching old dogs new tricks: a cautionary tale

    I went to an Education & IT Conference on 29 April here in Hong Kong. It was for the full-day and there was cross-section of education researchers from universities around Hong Kong, heads of IT Services for universities, colleges and K-12 international schools and a few others such as the CIO for the International Baccalaureate program. The focus was on how to use technology in schools and what works and what doesn’t work. There was a lot of discussion on the disconnect between what technology skills and equipment students bring with them into the classroom versus what technology a school and/or teacher can reasonably be expected to provide. The word ‘digital native’ popped up many times with various feelings on if they exist and what they may or may not be able to do with technology. Clearly the feeling was that young people are frustrated with ‘how they learn’ and they ‘want to be more engaged’. There were many examples of students using video and audio to create content for assignments collaboratively. There was a need to change the physical setting of the classroom to make it easier for students to interact and collaborate. Many times it was mentioned that teachers needed to learn how to teach using more collaborative processes and not be intimidated by technology. The process of getting teachers to learn more collaboratively among themselves was a theme repeated over and over.

    My perspective on learning and teaching is that in the past 5 years I’ve been in student in 3 different full-time learning programmes. I think this is a bit unusual for someone my age. I got the typical mid-career corporate lay-off in 2007 and at the age of 51 I decided I would re-train and do something new. This is a cautionary tale on teaching old dogs new tricks.

    I was an unqualified English teacher in at the Beijing Second Foreign Language Institute, 1988-1989, and in Hong Kong at the Sear Rogers International School, 1989-1990, and I rather enjoyed it although I had no idea what I was doing in the classroom. So, in 2007 I enrolled in the Hong Kong British Council Certificate in English Language Training for Young Learners offered jointly with Cambridge University. There were 9 students and 2 teachers. We had a few weeks of lectures and then we started actually observing and teaching. During the lectures we sat at 2 round tables in well-appointed rooms with very fancy ‘interactive white-boards’ which integrated with presentation software, video and audio files. The teachers were sort of OK with using it but frequently complained on ‘how hard it was to use’. We did some observations of real classes at the British Council and they all used the ‘interactive white-boards’. Teachers had a wide range of user skills and techniques. Recently I’ve done some research of the British Council and I notice there is a thread these ‘interactive white-boards’ were expensive and not that well taken up in many cases. I finished the programme and got my certificate and in no-way felt qualified to go-out and teach anyone English. I was mostly just shell-shocked and exhausted. Almost 4 years later I can say that I’ve not made any significant use of my English language teacher training as a teacher. I tutored a few Japanese students the next year when living in Japan but nothing since then. However, this experience gave me many insights into the learning process. Sitting and working collaboratively was very useful for the course whereas the fancy ‘interactive white-boards’ were not that critical to the learning process.

    Next I moved to Okazaki, Japan to study Japanese full-time at the Aichi Center for Japanese Studies, more commonly known as ‘Yamasa’. I had been studying Japanese with a private tutor for about a year so I had some back-ground. I was in a class of 12 from 9am – 4pm Monday to Thursday and Friday 9am – 2pm. I also had one-on-one private tuition 3 times a weeks. Ten of my classmates were ‘digital natives’ all under 23 years old. There was one woman in her mid-thirties. It was a very international group; UK, USA, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Sweden, Portugal, France, Korea. Just some observations: there was hardly any technology used in the classroom although we all had laptops in our rooms and used them for some sort of looking up and memorizing exercises. The physical environment was just a big table we all sat around and were usually cold or hot. The Japanese don’t put a lot of belief in making the physical learning environment comfortable. We all got the impression that learning for the Japanese was like ‘going to war’. Many times students said they wished we could just sit by ourselves at desks. We watched videos on a wheeled in TV on a cart occasionally just like I remembered doing in the 1960’s in south Georgia. We used the classic foreign language acquisition methodology of the teacher only using the target language (all Japanese all the time) and the students did role-plays, scenes, drew pictures, made newspapers, wrote letters to friends (real and imaginary), made videos and went on little trips to the post office, the corner shops, and so on. We should have spoken Japanese to each other all the time but really we only did haltingly and just used English because it was the lingua franca for the group. There were tests at least once a day and every 3 weeks a grueling 3 hours examination to test proficiency on what had been ‘learned’. I never did very well on any of these tests or examinations. My classmates were not very interested in collaborative type activities and preferred to simply study and memorize alone in their rooms and then go to the local bar, get drunk and forget they were in Japan. I stayed there 9 months and then left to return to Hong Kong. I will forever be able to read and write a simple note in Japanese and order food in a noodle shop when I’m in Japan. I can’t understand very well at all when spoken to but people seem to understand when I say something. I still wonder why I did this but I do have a feeling it was useful in an odd abstract sort of way. I put this in the category of ‘learning for learning’s sake’.

    Next, I returned to Hong Kong and the winds of the global financial tsunami were in the air. I enrolled into the MSc Knowledge Management Program at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. This is a blended learning programme with some face-to-face activities and some online activities. They were using the WEBCT learning managing system (LMS), which I know now to be rather a dinosaur LMS. I liked the WEBCT and it was interesting to read lessons online and then attend the lectures. The course work was frequently group based. The programme was primarily designed for full-time workers to do over a 2 or 3-year period. I did the whole programme in 15 months full-time just because it was impossible to find a job in Hong Kong at that time. Doing group course work required a lot of time to organize physical and virtual meetings, set deadlines and monitor progress. Some of them were very rewarding and some were very frustrating. Simply put, it all depended on the team. I leaned how to use many collaborative online tools that I would never have used otherwise because of the group course work. I did well in the programme and felt that I had really learned quite a lot about knowledge organization approaches and methodologies. I’m using what I learned in the programme everyday now. Learning technology was well-used even if it wasn’t that most up-to-date and sophisticated learning technology available. The emphasis on group learning was far more important and useful than the technology.

    The caution is that I really could only learn successfully in a context where it was meaningful for me based on my experience. Using technology was not the significant factor and group collaborative learning was much more important all 3 programmes. Being an English teacher may be useful some day but it wasn’t what I really wanted to do in 2007/2008. Leaning Japanese seemed exotic but the reality was memorizing 3 scripts and hundreds of vocabulary items every week and I couldn’t see any definite end-goal for what I would do with it if and when I learned Japanese. Learning about knowledge management fit into the context of what I had been doing in the records and information management field at New York University, Philip Morris and the HK Chep Lap Kok airport construction project. I learned and could put it into a context of past experience and it made sense to me where I could use this newly acquired knowledge. So if you are going to be an old dog learning something new then I recommend you stay in your field and focus on branching out and widening your horizons in your field. I wouldn’t recommend trying to learn something too radically different because it may not fit in with your view of yourself and you might have a difficult time seeing how you will use this new knowledge.

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