Issue 87 (Summer 2010)

APLIC Communicator
Summer 2010, Issue #87
Conference Edition

The APLIC Communicator is generally published two times yearly, in January and June, by APLIC.
Laurie Calhoun, International Center for Research on Women, 1120 20th St., NW, Ste. 500 North, Washington, DC 20036. Phone: 202-742-1226; Fax: 202-797-0020;
William Fennie, University of Maryland, Maryland Population Research Center, 0124 Cole Student Activities Bldg., College Park MD 20742. Phone: 301-405-1312;

Thanks to your trusted correspondents, this issue we have reports from SLA, APLIC,  and another conference, as well as a profile of new member and new co-editor of the Communicator, William Fennie. With Tara Murray’s departure we need new members of the Communications Committee, so please consider volunteering to serve or just writing for the Communicator or blog.

Table of Contents

The Evolution of KM: Where Has it Been and Where is it Going?

By Julia Cleaver, IPAS

Speaker: Nancy Dixon, Common Knowledge Associates and author of Common Knowledge, Company Command & Conversations Matter blog

SLA, New Orleans, Tuesday, June 15, 2010

To download Nancy’s complete Power Point presentation (PPT), click here.

Nancy Dixon’s presentation was one of the highlights of the conference for me. She presented a timeline of the evolution of Knowledge Management and her understanding of where the field is moving. Her talk provided an interesting contrast to Patrick Lambe’s earlier Spotlight Session where he discussed the mystery of why KM is a fad that hasn’t died like most fads do. Her contention is that KM is now moving into the creation of new ideas, or Leveraging Collective Knowledge.

Before the 1990’s organizational effectiveness was related to training. The idea was that “if each member of an organization was fully trained – their combined effort will lead to an effective organization.”

Leveraging Explicit Knowledge

In the early 1990’s Peter Drucker began to talk about knowledge as an asset (equal to land or capital) that needed to be managed. And so, Knowledge Management was born. This is when the use of knowledge systems arose, with the idea that knowledge could be moved out of employees’ heads and into databases that could be mined as needed by other staff. The emphasis was on technology and implementing content management systems. Strategies for KM at this time included: building repository systems; getting experts to create ‘Best Practice’ documents; and incentivizing staff to search the repositories for information to do their jobs effectively.

With the goal of standardizing practices and not ‘re-inventing the wheel’ organizations made huge investments in these systems and processes. With some exceptions, most organizations were not getting the return that they had expected. The feeling was that KM had not lived up to its promise. As Patrick Lambe discussed earlier, there was a sentiment that KM is Dead.

Leveraging Experiential Knowledge

In the 2000’s there was a move to value tacit know how that is in the minds of individuals rather than in documents. And it is not just experts that have knowledge, but the people who are doing the work are constantly learning.

This was a significant shift from the Scientific Management model, characterized by “Managers know, workers do” that held sway from the early 1900’s. Dixon mentions four important books that lead to this change in thinking:

  1. The Social Life of Information (2002) by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid
  2. Cultivating communities of practice: a guide to managing knowledge.(1999) by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William Snyder
  3. The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation (1995) by Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi
  4. The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action (2000) by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton

One reason that there was a new respect for frontline knowledge was that change was occurring so fast. The new way of thinking about knowledge is that it is dynamic and constantly changing. Those on the frontline have critical organizational knowledge. Knowledge repositories rely on static information being captured and some just changes too fast.

The new assumption was that knowledge is embedded in networks of people; knowledge is social. Ideas such as Communities of Practice, Expertise Locators and ‘Learning Before, During and After’ were developed during this time. Organizational implications were: greater ability for the front line to react and initiate action; increased diversity of opinions; greater awareness of what other parts of the organization were doing. This is where most organizations are now with KM implementation.

Leveraging Collective Knowledge

Final slide from Nancy Dixon's presentation

Final slide from Nancy Dixon's presentation

At this point in the presentation Nancy moved to discuss her vision of where KM is going now. She stated that up until now the focus has only been on existing knowledge. Her contention is that we need to pay attention to creating new knowledge. Reliance only on exchanging existing information can only attain an organization’s current best. In most organizations KM efforts have been successful in solving technical problems using the processes developed for Leveraging Explicit Knowledge and Leveraging Experiential Knowledge. However KM professionals are becoming aware that there are critical organizational issues that these processes are not effective in addressing.

Organizations have to deal with increasing complex issues. Dixon refers to these messy problems as “Adaptive Challenges,” from the book Leadership Without Easy Answers by Ronald Heifetz. Characteristics of adaptive challenges are 1) their unpredictability, 2) the lack of agreement on exactly what the problem is, and 3) differing views about what constitutes an acceptable solution.

Dixon used her experience with Ecopetrol as a case study of an organization working to create new knowledge from their staff to address the emerging issues they faced. She described a process of first presenting participants with short, widely divergent ideas about their situation. Then participants used the ‘World Café’ method of idea exchange to search for useable ideas, common ground and focus on the best of the ideas they had been exposed to by the earlier presenters. Next ‘Open Space Technology’ methodology was used to process the ideas generated and create actions for improvement that could be implemented. You can read more about this in the speaker’s notes in Dixon’s slides.

Integration of Ideas

The way creating new knowledge happens is by not just connecting people but connecting the ideas people have.  Dixon talks about using conversations to leverage collective knowledge. She gives three conditions that are needed to make this happen:

  1. Joint sensemaking or meaning making capacity – unlike the hierarchical process of passing everyone’s ideas and data up the chain of command to someone at the top who would then made sense of them, with collective knowledge the sensemaking is done jointly by those who hold those many perspectives and who own the data,
  2. Cognitive diversity among those involved in the sensemaking – New knowledge   is derived from the confluence of diverse perspectives and data from across an organization and that is brought to bear on important organizational issues,
  3. Organizational transparency – leadership willing to admit that they don’t have all the answers and they will look to all levels of the organization for ideas.

In addition to conversations to exchange and make sense of information, new Social Networking and Web 2.0 technologies are making collective knowledge available. Crowdsourcing is one of these new ideas that may have application in certain situations. Some companies are allowing end users to directly participate in product development like the Threadless teeshirt company who allows customers to design and select designs. Other companies invite employees to co-create knowledge. IBM has been doing this well for a long time.

Books that discuss these ideas are:

  1. The Tipping Point (2000) by Malcom Gladwell
  2. Wisdom of crowds (2005) Surowiecki, James
  3. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The audience shared ideas and examples of how these new approaches are being implemented in their organizations. Dixon summed things up by saying that no matter how we get there, by conversation or social media, leveraging of collective knowledge is where KM is going.

Personally, I was energized by Dixon’s vision of the future of KM. I have long been interested in the synergy of diverse ideas and the notion that ‘two heads are better than one.’ Formally recognizing this and creating processes to harness idea generation seems exciting. I have to say that it probably is not such a new idea. People have been coming together to brainstorm and problem solve in groups for a long time.

Mary Ellen Bates – Inherent Knowledge Sharing

By Mary Panke, Population Action International

To download a complete copy of Mary Ellen’s Power Point presentation (PDF), click here.

Mary Ellen Bates

Mary Ellen Bates

Mary Ellen Bates, guru of search tools and business information, has broadened her expertise to include knowledge sharing tools, especially wikis.  During SLA’s 2010 Annual Conference I attended her session on “Inherent Knowledge Sharing”, in which she detailed the need for a mindshift away from Knowledge Management to Knowledge Sharing, from static web pages to user-built content, from “need-to-know” to “default-to-share” using wikis, RSS, blogs, etc.

Beginning with familiar examples from a mix of sectors, Bates built the case for wider adoption of knowledge sharing tools and techniques, for example:

  • Blogging gets the C-suite’s attention and involves you in the marketplace of ideas
  • Profiles, blogs, wikis, tags, RSS, all counteract the looming Baby Boomers brain drain
  • Wikis (like State Dept’s Diplopedia) speed learning curves for staff turnover

Admitting to initial reluctance when recently assigned to create a wiki, Bates is now an eager “Wiki-vangelist”.  In her view, wikis offer a powerful means to enabling inherent knowledge sharing.  But success requires working outside the bubble.  To “wikify the workplace” you need to be in the mix – to infiltrate groups and make suggestions on how you can contribute.  To anticipate: What’s their timeline? What are they going to need?

If you’ve never created a wiki, Bates suggests practicing in the SLA wiki sandbox –  She emphasizes that the burden for success rests with you .  It’s your job to sell it, not the users’ job to buy – get them excited, think creatively – how can you show them “what’s in it for me?” Even if it takes a whole lot of work, you have to make it easy for users.  Aim to “Think like an Apple – make it as intuitive as a Mac.” Make it compelling enough for them to spend their time and pay attention. Bates points out wryly that there’s a reason we say we “pay” attention – there’s a precious limited amount of it.

Bates wrapped up with a quick sprint through her “Tips for Success”

  • Gain visible support from the top (have them do a testimonial – write it for them if necessary)
  • A Knowledge Sharing system  is not authoritative, but informative. Consider  including different perspectives, contexts for understanding – no right or wrong
  • Let people play, don’t prescribe uses (no rules – must do this / can’t do that – they’ll figure out how to use it, and come up with new and clever ways to use and share it.)
  • Make it fun to learn. Microsoft got people trained to use a mouse by loading games for users – like solitaire.  No one complained about shifting over from using keyboards to using a mouse.
  • Identify key groups for best return on participation

o   Competitive intelligence, strategic planning, business development, fundraising
o   Ensure a really low barrier to entry (no password, easy navigation to the page)
o   Allow both closed AND open groups
o   Build LOTS of portal pages – multiple ways to get into the same information
o   Make it appealing, welcoming
o   Build idea banks – one creative idea may stimulate another person to use it differently
o   Make browsing EASY – by dept, by subject, top articles, most-active discussions, key resources.
o   USE FILTERS to make a corpus of knowledge accessible to a spectrum of ways people can approach it
o   Make cross-fertilization easy. Make it simple to find and use insights from other groups
o   Integrate the content into the internal enterprise search system
o   Expect the 99:9:1 rule of active lurking (90% absorb but don’t create; 9% contribute something; 1% does all the work – that’s OK, it’s getting USED / it has VALUE – and that’s just how successful things work!)
o   Have some collective rules (assume the good intentions of others, but articulate a few of the basic “don’t be a jerk” rules to clue in users who may not know)
o   No anonymous posting – it ensures civility
o   Show benefits, repeatedly – every month, “here’s the latest thing someone found this useful for” (Bates spends 30% of her time marketing – same thing again and again)

  • And Finally, know your WikiFauna (people who do good things on wikis and such tools)

o   Wiki elves – make sure links work; disambiguate between pages; they build templates; do deletion duties
o   Wiki fairies – make things beautiful, visually compelling; add images (too many of us are text-intensive – filling white space that drives people away); they organize content; edit articles for readability
o   Wiki gnomes – they’re gardeners; do maintenance; minor edits – typos and grammar;  they fix 404s, redirects, crosslinks; they fill in details (for “someone once said”… they find out WHO)
o   Make it so easy, even a garden gnome could do it.

Mary Ellen Bates – Negotiating Up

By Laurie Calhoun, International Center for Research on Women

To download a complete copy of Mary Ellen’s Power Point presentation (PDF), click here.

It was tough to choose which SLA session to profile, but Mary Ellen Bates always has relevant tips for all types of librarians. Mary Panke and I both independently chose her sessions to write up for the Communicator. I thought that this session on negotiating contained guidance pertinent to any negotiations we conduct. Bates began by warning that we should be prepared to listen carefully and focus on joint interests. She stressed that we must prepare carefully by examining our “wants” and our “musts” and their possible concerns. Try to answer the question, “What problem would this cause you?” We should identify the best “outs” for us and for the boss. Try to question your own assumptions and identify hers. If you can, you should solve their problems too. Reassure them and be “Zen” about it. Be clear about what will and will not change. Aim for what is possible, not what you will settle for. Focus on the current situation and not what led to it.

Additional points were:

  • Tackle the problem and not the person
  • Operate from an assumption of abundance
  • Assume it will be non-contentious
  • Take responsibility only for you, not for the other party
  • Say half of what you’re thinking
  • The more you talk, the more you give away
  • Allow pauses
  • Reflect back
  • Ask for time
  • Be flexible

360 Degree Marketing:  Selling Libraries to Both Users and Decision-Makers

By Laurie Calhoun, International Center for Research on Women

Every spring the DC chapter of SLA and other area library associations put on a joint day-long workshop. This year’s topic is particularly timely given library closures, downsizings, and other signs of a persistent lack of understanding of the value librarians and libraries provide. The workshop consisted of a keynote and several panels of executive level representatives and librarians with marked success at marketing.

  • The keynote was presented by Katya Andresen, author of Robin Hood Marketing:  Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes, and the CEO of Network for Good. She also worked in Africa and Asia as a journalist and for CARE. Her primary message was to shift your paradigm from selling to giving, something librarians should be good at. We need to focus on what we do for them, what their worldviews and needs are and how they relate to us. This is somewhat similar to SLA’s market research for those who are familiar with it. We need to find the intersection of what we’re good at, what our audience needs, and what no one else provides. Andresen recommended three books on behavioral economics:  Nudge, Switch, and Predictably Irrational. She also urged us to tend to the care and feeding of our fans who may become spontaneous evangelists for us. Another strategic move is to ask someone who changed their attitude about the library to describe their thought process. For me one of the highlights of her presentation was the Carleton College Library superhero business cards.

Key tips that emerged from the other panels included:

  • Try to quantify time saved
  • Talk to the heart
  • Use stories and data in the right ways
  • Use plants to tout your services
  • Target research guides and online tutorials to TPTB and influential users
  • Do quizzes and scavenger hunts that require library services to win a prize
  • Shine a light and showcase someone
  • Great marketing is about them, not you
  • The essential thing is your audience and what they care about
  • Share kudos
  • Showcase utility
  • Be integrated
  • Take credit

The Mexican and Latin American Migration Projects

By Joann Donatiello, Princeton University

For a short while during APLIC’s 43rd Annual Conference, attendees were transported south of the border for a close look at the Mexican Migration Project (MMP) and the Latin American Migration Project (LAMP). Participants listened intently as Karena Velasco, the Fieldwork Coordinator for both projects, detailed the interview process and the experiences of researchers and respondents in small towns throughout Latin America and Mexico in particular.

Velasco described the two-part study design that borrows from sociology and anthropology:  an unstructured ethnosurvey consisting of observations and conversations and a semi-structured, questionnaire with closed-ended questions. Each survey is tailored to match the particular circumstances of the country and both surveys are weighted equally in the study.

Each year the MMP conducts 800-1000 interviews in a particular state in Mexico, in four different localities, each representing a level of urbanization: rural, pueblos (towns), mid-size cities and metropolitan settings. The Mexican interviews are conducting in the winter, around December 28 when migrants are most likely to be home.  The sample is random. The interviews can last many hours and cover a wide range of topics about individuals and households including: basic demographic information, detailed migration behavior and history, labor history, details about the dwelling and property ownership, finances, employment, etc.   Once the interview is completed, information about where the individuals have migrated to in the U.S. is collected and a subsequent parallel interview is conducted in the United States during the summer when migrants are more likely to be in the United States. Generally, migrants from a particular area in Mexico migrate to a particular area in the States where they have friends and family who will help them. Velasco noted that in the past, migration was more circular compared to the present because migrants are now more concerned with deportation.

To date, the study covers 128 communities, 20,553 households in Mexico and 922 in the U.S.  Data is available for free from the MMP and LAMP websites: and, and can be formatted for SPSS, SAS and STATA.

New Member Profile: William Fennie

By Ruth Kozar, Penn State University

William Fennie, near Cézanne's favorite mountain

William Fennie, near Cézanne's favorite mountain

William Fennie has been the Information Core Coordinator at the University of Maryland Population Research Center since 2008. He feels the most important aspect of his position is to provide researchers and students with access to relevant research information easily and securely. He currently uses the Plone open-source content management system, mainly because people can add content without having to know HTML, to achieve that goal.

William Fennie joined APLIC shortly after becoming the Information Core Coordinator. He met Lori Delaney, from the Carolina Population Center, at the PAA conference. She was very helpful about how to upload PMC documents and how to track them. He told her was interested in developing a community of practice for pop center support staff. That was when Lori told him about APLIC.

William began his collegiate career traditionally and decided to take a semester off that led him on a life’s education path taking him to California, Colorado, and Hawaii.  He decided to return to college some years later to complete his bachelor degree in French Language and literature, which allowed him to study in France for a year. He developed an appreciation for the language and culture of the country and continues to use his French language skills by translating, among other things, the Guide Gantié, a restaurant guide to the South of France, each year. William is pursuing graduate studies in Master of Information Management at the University of Maryland.