Saturday, 28 December 2013

99% Smiles, 1% Sweat, 100% Cotton

At our last two conferences, we have supplied delegate bags made from pure, eco-friendly cotton. These were manufactured by a social enterprise called Vandanamu, whose factory is located near Pondicherry on the coast of southern India. The bags are of very high quality and good value for money. They can be printed with a logo - or logos - of your choice and are available in a range of sizes.

Vandanamu was set up in response to the devastating Boxing Day tsunami which hit the whole region in 2004, with a view to providing a livelihood for some of those hit hardest by the disaster. Last year, the enterprise started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for solar panels, which would have cut their electricity costs significantly and would have made their business far less vulnerable to rising energy costs. Unfortunately, they raised insufficient donations to qualify for the funding.

Nevertheless, Vandanamu continue to consolidate their enterprise by working towards gaining Fair Trade and environmental certifications, allowing them eventually to be featured in Ethical suppliers' databases world-wide.

For more information on a venture well worth supporting, view their video on YouTube.

Friday, 6 December 2013

In Remembrance of Peter Griffiths

Peter Griffiths. Photo source: CILIP
It is with real sadness that we note the passing, on 13 November, of Peter Griffiths. Peter had a long career in LIS, starting at Harrow Public Library and progressing through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, then the Department of Health. But many of us who knew him probably came across him during his long tenure at the Home Office, where his latest position was Head of Information within the Office of the Chief Information Officer.

Peter was an enthusiastic and unrelenting advocate for the power of information management, not only within the confines of the library, but in industry and commerce too. It was in his capacity as evangelist that he presented at an early ISKO UK event on 5 March 2008: Confronting the Future - Organizing and Managing Knowledge in the Web 2.0 Age.

Peter was Vice-President of CILIP when he presented to ISKO UK in 2008. The following year, he became CILIP President. Further details may be viewed on the CILIP web site.

Peter will be sorely missed by those who knew him.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

K, KM, KO: in Search of Definitions

After 25 years of service on standards committees I suffer from a personal dread of definitions. As chairman of some ISO and BSI working groups, I’ve generally had the job of cajoling all parties into consensus. And the definitions clause has generally proven the most divisive, packed with minutiae to excite the sensibilities of the experts. It usually locks the committee up for weeks of argument. (Sometimes for years – if tough decisions get conveniently postponed while the rest of the work proceeds.)

But the question of definitions seemed not so easy to evade at the NetIKX 21st birthday celebrations last week. Billed as “Knowledge organization past present and future”, the meeting had two speakers, one talking about “The 7 Ages of IKM in Organizations”, and the other describing knowledge management (KM) issues in an important public sector organization. The title of the second presentation was “The Organisation of Organisational Knowledge”. Despite much use of the K word and the O word, neither of the talks was about what I would describe as Knowledge Organization (KO). Would a productive debate be stimulated by querying the use of “KO” in the meeting title, I wondered, or would the fruitless grinding of axes tear us to pieces?
Thankfully my dilemma was resolved as the meeting began with a clear acknowledgement from the chair that KM, rather than KO, would be the main focus. Both speakers provided entertaining and stimulating presentations. The first, David Skyrme, even supplied his own preferred definition of KM, along the lines of “the explicit and systematic management of vital knowledge and its associated procedures of creation, gathering, organizing, diffusion, use and exploitation in pursuit of organizational objectives”.

But the question of definitions was not completely banished. Plainly NetIKX has listened to umpteen variations on the definitions of “knowledge” and “knowledge management” during its 21 years. In the syndicate sessions after the tea break our table was explicitly charged with discussing definitions. One participant proffered a statement concocted for a recent client, deliberately customized to show the relevance of KM to the client’s own business context. The statement emphasized the functional benefits of KM, rather than attempting an academic definition.
My own reaction to the challenge was to applaud the public sector ploy of side-stepping the issue by bringing “Information Management” and “Knowledge Management” under one umbrella labelled “IKM”. While there’s a legitimate place for pursuing a specialism such as records management, web design, knowledge engineering, etc., there is also a lot to be said for blurring the boundaries so that we work together effectively to achieve common objectives. The study of a specialist subject can help each of us become really proficient in a chosen area, but today’s workplace often requires teamwork, with inputs from diverse backgrounds. Furthermore, the content of each specialism is constantly evolving, especially as we need to master emerging technologies. I therefore favour professional definitions that are inclusive rather than divisive, and are hospitable to change.

A definition of “Knowledge Organization” too should be inclusive, in my view. As an applied subject rather than a fundamental science, KO should be open to new developments and approaches. But I was relieved when I left the NetIKX meeting without being challenged to put a definition on the table! In 2008 the ISKO (International Society for Knowledge Organization) journal Knowledge Organization devoted the whole of a special issue (see vol 35, no 2-3) to exploration of a definition of this subject field. Despite much debate and discussion, in 2013 the journal still describes its scope in half a page of text rather than a tight definition. The ISKO website, however, provides a link to a useful Wikipedia article, which outlines half a dozen different approaches to KO and lets the reader choose. Is this the best line to take?  Or should we come off the fence and provide a one-liner?  Should we first set up an event for members to come and debate their favourite definitions?  Why not add your own views immediately by commenting on this blog?
Stella Dextre Clarke

Chair, ISKO UK