If you build it, will they log in ?

This is the first of a series of posts reporting on talks given at the APLIC Annual Meeting.

Presenters : Allison Burns, Family Health International; Tara Murray, Population Research Institute, Penn State University; Kay Willson, Futures Group

Put two information professionals in a room and you know that eventually they will begin trading stories about what may be the biggest headache we face every day : getting our beloved researchers to help us help them.

Allison Burns, Tara Murray, and Kay Willson gave three perspectives on this vexing issue, looking at some useful tools, how the tools fit the need, and getting participation.

Family Health International was using email and an intranet for collaboration among 2,500 staff in 55 countries worldwide. Problems arose from “email fatigue” and some email policies that restricted what could be shared, as well as accessibility to the intranet on the part of staff in infrastructure-challenged environments. Allison Burns finally settled on a Wiki installation (Confluence) that provided some impressive functionality that could be accessed anywhere an internet connection was available. It was inexpensive, flexible, and included an alert feature and interactivity.

Specifically, it allowed library staff to easily edit and upload documents and to create documents using a rich-text editor. For the users, anyone within the organization who wished to track new documents being uploaded could simply put a watch on the pages that interested them and, of course, it supplemented other forms of communication.

At the Population Research Institute, Tara Murray was working with data archives and a range of users who needed varying degrees of access. Some users would need access simply to the data archive; another group would need access to confidential datasets or other restricted information; finally, a dedicated area for staff collaboration was desired. Her audience comprised students, faculty, peer researchers not at PRI, and staff – all with varying degrees of computer literacy.

Tara implemented an open source web server (Plone) to manage roles and access to the data. It provided simplified search, granular definition of user permissions and workflow, and a way to wrangle the numerous gatekeepers and their priorities. Plone is a content management system, and the interface for creating new documents is easy to learn and not too different from what most MS Office savvy individuals are used to. One benefit of having a staff-dedicated area ended up being greater ease collating staff meeting notes, which are often taken by a different person at each meeting.

Kay Willson has been working for one or another version of Futures Group for many years. Her recent task has been to roll out a Sharepoint collaboration tool. During a previous Futures Group incarnation, a Knowledge Management initiative resulted in an implementation of Sharepoint, mostly to support communities and repositories. Because most users did not enter metadata the result was a multiplicity of sites with no common template – a kind of “Sharepoint for silos,” as it were. On top of that, there was a preconceived idea that Sharepoint was hard to use. “You can’t just tell them it’s easy; you have to stand there and make them do the process (like uploading a file) – that’s the only way it sinks in,” Kay noted.

Kay drew on the book Influencer : The power to change anything* for tactics to create real change. There is a matrix of six strategies for creating influence. The key is to “overwhelm” by implementing at least four of the strategies: 1) on the personal level, make the undesirable desirable and push your limits; 2) on the social level, harness peer pressure and find safety in numbers (of others supporting the cause); 3) on a structural level, design rewards and demand accountability and make whatever alterations to the environment that might encourage the new behavior.

So: Did they log in ? Results are mixed. Kay reported decent results, especially because of strong support from a key stakeholder; Tara reported improvements but no revolution; and Allison is still waiting to find out.

* Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler (McGraw-Hill 2007, 288pp).

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.