Archive for Knowledge management

Reaction: Alex Woo ~ Story is King

Alex Woo is a story artist at Pixar Animation Studios. He is originally from Hong Kong and studied film at NYU. He gave a talk on ‘Story is King’ on 4 January at 633 King’s Road, sponsored by the the HKPolyU M-Lab and HKCommons, an incubator company running a few share office sites in Hong Kong. The event was originally to be held at HKPolyU but massive over-subscription had it moved to the Island Evangelical Church at 633 King Street in Quarry Bay. Holding it at a ‘church’ seems to have gotten up the nose of some of the black-clad budding film writers in the audience. The room and set-up were good, lots of food and beer (even in church it seems here in Hong Kong this is fine) and Alex launched into his talk.

I twitted throughout the talk with my new iPhone 4S and tagged them all as #HKcommons. I’ll reproduce those tweets here as I tweeted them and add some explanation:

Asians & pseudo-asians is a bit racists since 1/3 of the audience is pink 😏
Hmmm, Jong Lee was making a joke about Asians and Jews but really I don’t think these sorts of jokes work very well. The audience was 2/3 Asian and 1/3 Other. There were a lot of people who I classify as once upon a time from Hong Kong.

Jong Lee wants to work the story angle as part of his incubation
This is a good point that if you want to be an entrepreneur you need to create your own story. Jong Lee is talking about the HK story of entrepreneurial spirit. There isn’t enough done in HK to make people remember that once upon a time we didn’t all want to be investment bankers, IT geeks or accountants.

Alex Woo now starts with a simple animation about Back to the Future & Howard the Duck, The little mermaid … Power of fantasy
Alex is talking about puppy love as a boy and showing some simple drawings. He is making the point that when the story was good he feel in love but when the story was bad he quickly wasn’t so interested.

story as sexual fantasy for 13 year old boy
He would pray every night that one day he would meet his true love from one of these films. He didn’t quite understand what these feelings were but they were real for him and his brother.

good story is what makes a great film – character goal conflict journey
The classic story line and one that is repeated all the time.

what is king? Of the elements of film STORY is first always
The STORY must come first. There are other important elements but if the STORY isn’t always first then most likely the film will be a dud. He had examples of films with great art direction but no story that were very painful to sit through.

Art direction special fx acting … All are secondary to STORY
Making this point more emphatically. There were a lot of other elements but I didn’t catch all of them. He was saying that these elements were very important but they always needed to support the STORY development. This makes sense but in the real world it can be very easy to focus on special fx (effects) or beautiful scenes and costumes (I think this is art direction) or great directing and the STORY is left behind in the cold. Alex didn’t talk about this but there are famous stories about writers going to Hollywood to write scripts and being completely ignored, see Raymond Chandler’s 1945 article in the Atlantic about working in Hollywood as a writer here.

Story Process – Director + Story Supervisor + Story Artists (those who do it)
He is talking about the 3 levels involved in the story process at Pixar. It is a traditional hierarchy with a lot of the normal tensions in a smallish group working situation.

Story Artist has to sell what he has done to the Director who may or may not like it many iterations
Alex is a Story Artist and he has to sell his ideas to the Director (and the Director’s team). There is a lot of back and forth and more frequently than Alex would like he is re-working and changing his ideas. This is OK and all of these iterations make the final STORY much better. The Pixar story process is a group process.

Like building a house where someone throws a grenade into every 6 weeks – making a STORY
Someone said this to Alex, maybe it was a director he was working with, and it describes perfectly the STORY building process. You can see that this process is not for someone who doesn’t want to change or doesn’t like critical comments. Keeping an open mind and being receptive to suggestions is a real asset in this sort of work situation.

gag sessions – brainstorming snippets for animation in Ratatoiille
These are brainstorming sessions between Story Artists on ideas for what may be used to move the story along. For example, how a rat will use a cheese grater, use tongs, wash-themselves up in the dishwasher. I’m wondering if Pixar uses any formal facilitation methodologies and tools for these sorts of sessions. Alex didn’t mention anything beyond ‘brainstorming’.

Story Problem Solving – bringing in real life experience – Do not return to earth – WallE
This was interesting and insightful. Alex is talking about when there are problems with what to do in a story it is almost always best to use real-life experience to solve the problem. His example is from when he was growing up in HK and playing basketball on McDonnell Road in the mid-levels he talked to his best-friend about what would he do it he could choose to life forever. He didn’t want to live forever if it meant all his friends and family died because then he would be on his own. Alex brought this into the discussion at a problem solving session for WallE about how to deal with the ‘return to earth’ problem. I’ve heard this adice about story-telling in the KM world all the time. The STORY must be real and not a manufactured made-up story. This is why so many uses of story-telling in a business sense seem forced and insincere.

Why is Story King? Abstract values need to be present to impart wisdom. Sharing gives us the framework to understand.
Alex is wrapping it up here. If the STORY doesn’t have values it won’t have any larger meaning or what he is calling wisdom. At least this is what I think he was saying. The STORY is the way we share our wisdom which is a classic knowledge management concept. This seems true to me; a completely concrete and real STORY is very boring but when a STORY has something less real if becomes more real for the reader or watcher. We relate better to the abstract because we can apply it to our own lives and the situations in our lives.

You can become the storyteller, have empathy for others, give people some concrete meaning
The STORY for Alex is why people come to see the Pixar films. It isn’t the great animation; it is the meaning they get from the film. I have to agree that every time I watch ‘Finding Nemo’ with a group of children it is the meaning of the story they want to talk about and not the pictures.

finished now questions Alex Woo film school – awards – Lucas Films 1 year – joined Pixar – he wants parameters – lots of practice
His personal story. He made a well received animated film in 2004, Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher, that won Director’s Guild of America Student Filmmaker Award and top gold prize in the Student Academy Awards animation category. He likes the structure of working at the studio on a film. Someone mentioned Gladwell’s 10k hours and he agreed that it was critical to just do it until you got good at it.

What pulls the story apart? Keep focusing on the story reels and the story process
Alex is saying that it can be easy to lose focus on the STORY. Going back to the making of story reels, smaller sets of action from the STORY, and keep talking to the Director will maintain the focus. A Pixar film takes typically 4 years to make so this is a long time to remain focused on a single STORY.

Why r Hollywood films all the same? The structure is from The Golden Bough (he doesn’t say this)
Are they really all the same? All narrative is basically the same, going back to the the beginning of the “character goal conflict journey”. Alex didn’t mention The Golden Bough. He is describing the Hero, the Obstacle, the Road, the Prize which may be better described in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Why are the values so simplistic? Because this is as much as people can process …
This is why myths, fables and stories from across cultures are always so familiar. Alex is saying that people need simplicity so they can make the STORY their own story.

His favorite film Back to the Future
Alex is describing why he thinks this film is so good. It has abstract values that transcend time. There are dilemmas that people will always have to face about free-will and choice.

Pixar wants the film to come from the directors heart – so story/directors are popular at Pixar
Genuine stories are important at Pixar so the combination of a story-teller and director is popular. Maybe it is easier to do this with animated films. However, even life-action film makers must be good story-tellers but they don’t have the luxury of working and re-working the story with story boards and story writers as they do at Pixar with an animated film. Some of the best story-telling in a life-action film happens on-set and is done by the actors.

about 80% of the time they don’t know if the film will be a sucess
Nothing is sure thing and there are failures at Pixar. Rushing the process is not a good idea.

There can be a lot conflict and a lot of hurt feelings when working on these films
Like any workplace it isn’t always fun and games.

Where do people at Pixar get their values? Are people there religious? Are we being brainwashed? Yes you r and u don’t notice
Someone was asking about if people are religious at Pixar. Alex thought some people were but he didn’t think it was too polite to ask. See The Wisdom of Pixar here

Can a good story teller fix a crappy story – maybe but it won’t stick with you like a Story is King
A journalist from India was asking within the context of terrible Bollywood story lines if a crappy story could be saved. Alex is saying that sometimes a crappy story is still a success but you won’t remember is for very long. Good marketing can save a film but it won’t make a great STORY.

There is so much talk about creating a story in business, advertising, personal growth that is was refreshing to listen to Alex talk about creating STORY for a creative purpose. The problems are much the same wether it is for a Pixar film or creating a story to market a product, sell an idea or sell yourself. Take a look at this recent interview with Alex to listen to him yourself.

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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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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 ISO
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.

Conclusion
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
      Fiscal
      General
      Historic
      ISO
      Legal
      Reference

    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
      Benefits

      Benefit Plans
      Dental
      Educational Allowances
      Housing
      Incentive Plans / Stock Options
      Insurance
      Leaves
      Medical
      Pension Plans
      Relocation Files
      Retirement Plans
      Schooling
      Passage Allowance
      Home Leave


      General

      Human Resources


      Personnel Administration

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


      Salary Administration

      Compensation
      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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    Reaction: Birds of a Feather

    On 18 April I went to the Birds of a Feather, BOF, sharing event sponsored by CLP, China Light & Power, and Bright Idea. CLP has been using Bright Idea’s idea innovation suite Webstorm, Switchboard and Pipeline for about 18 months. These BOF events are a way for current users, just the plain interested like myself, and Bright Idea to get together to share their experiences and thoughts on innovation. It isn’t a sales event except for about 20 minutes at the end when Matthew Greeley gives a low-key introduction to innovation and how Bright Idea’s products can support it. It was well-organized and shows a lot of generosity on both Bright Idea’s and CLP’s part.

    Everyone (note the big ‘E’ as my Aunt Sue would say) is talking about ‘Innovation’. ‘Managing innovation’ raises the same issues for many people as ‘managing knowledge’; can it be done successfully, how can you manage something so ethereal, how do you measure the outcome and so on? First, I should say I don’t ever truly believe we ‘manage knowledge’ but we can enable the processes around it; how it is created, how to share it, how to avoid losing it, how to recognize it when it becomes a bit hidden and shy. Second, ‘enabling innovation’ is possible if what we mean is letting ideas be proposed by a wide audience, reviewing them for value, supporting them by prototyping and piloting and sharing the results with a wide audience so there is learning taking place that can be applied to the next round of enabled innovation.

    Some of the participants had been using Bright Idea’s products for several years and some for only a few months. Everyone agreed the product suite is useful but what I heard over and over again was that the processes around using the product suite were critical. There needed to be focused innovation campaigns within a short period of time, 2 to 6 weeks seemed to be a good, when ideas were collected. There needs to be a hands on ‘campaign management team’ to promote and review the ideas submitted. A lot of ideas would be submitted and people needed to know what happened to ‘their idea’ or they got discouraged and didn’t participate in the next campaign. Even good ideas are not necessarily going to lead to implemented pilots and prototypes and people need to know why. It all takes times so don’t become impatient or anxious. There are different types of innovation and some take much longer than others to implement inside an organization. Realistically, you may not see real innovation impact for 2 or 3 years.

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