Friday, October 09, 2009

Twitter and the Library School: an anecdote about knowledge management

I've blogged before about how I think it is very positive that the chairman of my university - Theo Bovens - uses Twitter to inform the world about his daily activities. Yesterday, I experienced just how relevant such small pieces of information can be. Allow me to expand a bit.

Part 1 - Our chairman is a very active person, who not only chairs the board of the Open University of The Netherlands, but is member of the socio-economic council of The Netherlands, politically active in our region, and member of a number of other boards. In his quest for political backup for Lifelong Learning in The Netherlands, he participates in symposia and conferences, often presenting his arguments in keynotes and contributions. On his Twitter account, he often mentions his schedule for the coming day, and gives short impressions of the new things he has learned during a working day.

Part 2 - One of the projects that I am currently working on is the foundation of a Dutch Library School, a project in which the Open University and the Association of Public Libraries are co-creating a school that intends to offer library professionals an intensive learning programme on the crossroads of Tradition, Innovation and Culture, with the aim of building the innovation capacity of the whole library sector. Last week, the first group of students and their coaches - including Rob Bruijnzeels, Marlies Bitter and myself - spent an intensive working/walking week in Italy, where we drafted the first design of the Library School. During this week, we discovered that the public library sector and the public educational sector are currently experiencing similar transformations in the knowledge society, and we acquired some new insights.

Part 3 - Yesterday, Theo twittered about attending a symposium in Maastricht about the future of the public libraries in The Netherlands. This triggered my attention, so I checked out the website of the symposium and found out that Theo would contribute with a presentation about the role of education in the future of the public libraries. After checking with my colleagues, we felt that it was necessary to update Theo on the latest insights from our working week in Italy, so we got in touch with his secretary, wrote a short information update for Theo, and had a very short briefing meeting.

Now, you may ask: Where is the knowledge management in this?
  • Firstly, although Theo was aware of our Library School project at a management level and had included the project in his presentation, he was not - and could not have been - aware of the new insights that we had picked up in our recent activities. With the multitude of projects that are ongoing within an organisation, the chairperson can not - and should not - be updated on all the current issues and insights. - By the way, I think it is therefore that Theo stopped following me on Twitter: just too much information. You must know the phenomenon.
  • Secondly, our organisation is not so large that it can afford a giant support staff that can do the knowledge work for the chairperson. The weekly board meetings are mainly about making decisions, and not so much about gathering updates on relevant projects.
  • Thirdly, our Intranet is used actively at the Open University, but usually only mentions important milestones, such as new projects starting up, or the intermediary or final results of a project, but never the ongoing issues - again, that would be just too much information. From the information that we distribute, Theo's support staff could not have guessed that there were fresh insights that could have an impact on the Open University's message at this symposium.
The novelty about Twitter and knowledge management lies in the fact that the responsibility for knowledge management can now be reversed. It is not only the top manager or his support staff that is responsible for gathering information. Every employee needs to actively scan the internal and external environment for information that may have tactical or strategic impact on the organisation, and then take the responsibility to inform the organisation. Because Theo uses Twitter to announce his plans for the day, I was triggered to provide him with up-to-date information, and maybe contribute to the tactical or strategic goals of the university.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Future of the Open University

(Image borrowed from Simon Buckingham Shum)

By pure coincidence, I stumbled across the recording of Martin Bean's keynote speech at this year's Alt-C conference - which I definitely plan to attend next year. Martin is the new vice-chancellor of the UK Open University.
Apart from his being a very enthousiastic speaker, his message touched on some of the issues that our own university is trying to deal with. For me, the main focus of his speech was on trying to remove the barrier between formal and informal education, but also that universities need to guard their role of providers of affordable education in the knowledge economy.
I wish I had seen his speech before I did this afternoon's interview with the Flemish newspaper "De Morgen" about the use of new technologies in (higher) education, then I could have referred the journalist to his speech, where he says: First you have to get the people in place, then the processes and only at the last stage get the technology in. This is more or less the message I gave the journalist, but Martin Bean's way of putting it was so much more forceful.
In a sense, Martin Bean's speech also struck me as being very parallel to the discussion we're having with the Dutch public libraries, in our efforts to design, develop and implement a Library School which offers both formal, informal and non-formal education, trying to balance between Innovation, Tradition and Context. Public libraries face a similar challenge as educational institutions, since their role in a fast-changing knowledge society is changing drastically, and they have to establish their position in that society on the crossroads between Society, Culture and Technology. Quite an interesting theme, I think.