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the good life in a digital age

the knowledge management bit

I haven’t really mentioned the knowledge management aspect of my team and my role much. And as we’re putting that area of work to one side for a while it now seems a bit remiss.

So first some organisational context:

The RNIB is a charity for blind and partially sighted people. By partially sighted we mean sight problems that cannot be corrected with glasses or other solutions. This covers more people than you think.

The charity also employs a number of blind and partially sighted people and this changes the organisational environment. There are a lot of guide dogs for a start. There are guide dog toilets and there are water bowls in the meeting rooms. There are guide dogs in the lifts rolling their eyes at you, guide dogs lying under the meeting room tables and yawning loudly when you make a boring point, and guide dogs under people’s desk vomiting in the floor boxes and causing power cuts. Seriously.

It is inevitably a very verbal culture. You won’t see whiteboards in all the meeting rooms and powerpoint presentations are unusual. There are quite a lot of conference calls, this is something that comes easier to this organisation. But we also employ deaf staff so you have to think very careful about how you are planning to communicate.

It is a large organisation with a multi million pound budget and a few thousand employees. This is pretty big in charity terms, but not colossal.

The RNIB is involved a vast array of activities. It campaigns and fundraises but it also provides lots of services to blind and partially sighted individuals; library services; physical and online shops selling all sorts of gadgets and aids; emotional support; employment services; schools; colleges; care homes. We work with all sorts of industries to make them more accessible; from audio description of Bollywood films, accessible JK Rowling websites; to more user friendly shower design. Sadly we are not responsible for guide dogs.

The management team became aware that like many organisations of their size and diversity that they could probably share information and knowledge a bit differently. They probably didn’t think much about formal distinctions between those two terms (it is a very special kind of person who does and they’ll probably be thinking about  a pyramid). They also decided to build a knowledge management team within the IT department, which may or may not tell you something about what they thought the solution might be. It might have just been a convenient spot on the org chart.

Our team was not exclusively about knowledge management. There was myself (the IA), a knowledge facilitator and a knowledge support officer. Then there is a team of IT project managers and a team of business analysts. The team sat quite happily together; we’re all examining the way of the organisation currently works, helping to prioritise and improve processes going forward and generally bringing more conscious process to the way the RNIB operates.

From a knowledge management perspective, we ran a knowledge sharing consultation where we interviewed individuals from around organisation and asked them about the information they needed, who they needed to share with and what problems they encountered. From this the knowledge sharing strategy was developed to address four key issues; organisational culture; intranet findability; finding people; problems with storing and sharing documents.

Some of the proposed solutions were IT based but others were merely changes in the ways of working. Embedding information sharing into job descriptions and appraisals, faciliating workshops and lessons learnt sessions.

A big piece of work was around setting up communities of practice; groups to share ways of working and advice. The cultural resistance in some areas was surprising to me. Some employees couldn’t see the value of meeting their peers without a concrete piece of work to deliver. Others were concerned that the groups were not reporting to a director. Some managers were uncomfortable with this being a bottom-up initiatives. And many teams simply didn’t have the travel funding to send their members to meetings.

The IT based solutions revolved around a new SharePoint intranet. This incorporated a new people finder and also private collaboration spaces. But IT solutions were not limited to the intranet and many investigations showed that problems could be resolved with a shared drive and better network speeds. IT solutions can be very expensive, not least because the RNIB has to ensure all systems are accessible to staff and beneficiaries which can be a challenge, particularly with enterprise software.

Investigations also showed that some requests for IT systems were attempts to solve problems that couldn’t be solved with technology. Where staff were resistant to a current system, it was clear that a simple replacement wouldn’t remove any of the issues.

The key lesson for us has been not to take requests at face value. Often we’ve had to keep digging  and then choose the appropriate solution even if it isn’t the sexiest option. Often the cheaper human approaches can bring greater benefits than massive IT projects.

Written by Karen

December 6th, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Posted in rnib