Event Review: Practical knowledge and information management – 29th May, National Library of Scotland

Thanks to Freddie Alexander of the National Library of Scotland for this review

On the 29th May Katharine Schopflin spoke at the National Library of Scotland on her new book, Practical Knowledge and Information Management. In this talk Schopflin gave an overview of her findings on how organisations practically use Knowledge and Information Management (KIM).

Katharine detailed how knowledge is a business asset that does not lose value over time. Good KIM is information that can be stored and retrieved in such a way that it improves the overall operations of an organisation. Business trends suggest that fewer resources are being put into HR or line management, and as such systems should be put in place to support shrinking staff numbers. Importantly, KIM should not be drawn solely from senior management positions, but from a diverse range of voices. This ensures that knowledge that is generated at the service/user level is disseminated throughout the organisation.

Common techniques for KIM have included Electronic Document and Records Management Systems (EDRMS) or other forms of shared repositories. One of the historic issues with EDRMS was that they required a significant amount of metadata input, and were labour-intensive and unpopular with staff. Google Drive was a potential alternative, and had good UI that encouraged users to customise the service to their needs. However, as Google retains its control over the functionality of its Drive platform, the potential for system or functionality change poses a risk to long term KIM strategies.

‘Communities of Practice’ or Knowledge Bases are alternative techniques for the dissemination of knowledge throughout an organisation. In Schopflin’s studies, the more prescriptive the narrative for information management, the less likely communities of practice will utilise feedback systems such as message boards. Additionally, the challenge with implementing knowledge bases is that users need an initial push to use and populate them, and they can frequently become ‘FAQ’ places instead.

Good KIM can benefit a range of sectors. In particular, a variety of project management systems can benefit from legacy capture of information. The manufacturing sector can benefit hugely from capturing project information, especially if a project goes wrong. The BBC is a good example of capturing legacy information through their oral history project, which is conducted with an awareness that sensitive data protection materials will be subject to appropriate retention schedules.

Schopflin’s learning points were that good KIM should be stealthy, and learn how to exert soft influences on an organisation. Importantly, it is not the job of information professionals to enact culture change in an organisation. Effective KIM can be roughly split 80/20, with 80% of implicit KIM being collected via processes and 20% being intentionally captured by professionals.

This was a very informative presentation, and gave good insight into how effective KIM strategies can be translated into ‘real-life’ organisations. Schopflin drew attention to the benefits of good KIM, and how legacy information can be captured to further improve the operations of an organisation.

Freddie Alexander

National Library of Scotland