Friday, April 20, 2012

Mobilizing knowledge in the Canadian Forest Service

Through its Policy Framework for Information and Technology, Treasury Board has made it clear that information is an essential component of effective management across the Government of Canada.  The availability of high-quality, authoritative information to decision makers supports the delivery of programs and services, thus enabling departments to be more responsive and accountable to Canadians.

Accordingly, within Natural resources Canada, much effort is put into ensuring that the department’s information services, like the intranet, the wiki, and online databases, provide quick and easy access to information. Still, the uptake of research results by policy and decision makers may be lower than desired, not because of any shortcomings in a set of research results or the dissemination strategy used, but because potential users are unwilling or unable to exploit the opportunities presented to them.

Decision-making and management activities must integrate various types of information in a complex environment comprised of political, economic, and social factors.  The challenge is how to acknowledge and integrate social, economic and political context into knowledge systems. We must go beyond simply aiming to provide a “one-stop shop for information.”  Instead, what decision makers and policy analysts need is not just the facts, but, a set of solution options that are informed by research-based knowledge within the decision context

Much work has been done to look at ways to improve the uptake of research outputs by decision- and policy-makers in the health sciences field. For example, Lavis and colleagues (2003) identified three methods to enhance research utilisation by policy-makers: producer push, user pull and knowledge exchange. A similar framework for knowledge management, described as learn before, learn during and learn after, has been advanced by Collison and Parcell in their 2001 book Learning to Fly.

The paradigm of producer push, user pull and knowledge exchange includes knowledge transfer and knowledge translation, which are usually seen as a unidirectional flow of knowledge. But it also includes iterative knowledge exchange. In contrast to knowledge transfer and knowledge translation, knowledge exchange involves bringing together researchers and decision makers and facilitating their interaction, which starts with collaborating on determining the research question.  The ongoing exchange and knowledge transfer ensure that the knowledge generated is relevant and applicable to stakeholder decision making as well as useful to researchers.

Phipps and Shapson (2009) incorporated these three methods together with the concept of knowledge that is co-produced between researchers and research users to define knowledge mobilization.  They define knowledge mobilization as a suite of services using a diverse array of strategies that connect researchers and research users to enhance research utilization.

While not explicitly working in the area of knowledge mobilization, the Forest Knowledge and Information Management Division (FKIMD) of the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) is attempting to find ways to enhance the impact of CFS scientific research outputs for decision makers, policy analysts and advisors who seek quality scientific information that is relevant to their work and will impact decisions while being accessible and understandable in the shortest possible time.  The objective of FKIMD's activities is to ensure the discovery, use and dissemination of all information of business value created by the CFS for the delivery of the sector's programs and services.  As well, the division seeks to ensure that IM practices within the the sector are compliant with the Directive on Recordkeeping (as required by March 2014), and that information management standards are aligned with government standards, such as the Standard on Geospatial Data. Finding the right tools and services to effectively mobilize the organization’s knowledge is a complex problem that will evolve.

The Division has not previously described its work in terms of knowledge mobilization, but it may be useful to set the division's work in the context of the four established knowledge mobilization methods (producer push, user pull, knowledge exchange and co-production) used by Phipps and Shapson (2009) to describe the knowledge mobilization services of York University’s Knowledge Mobilization Unit. In this way, the work of FKIMD can be compared with an established knowledge mobilization unit.

The comparisons suggest that the activities being undertaken by FKIMD are consistent with Knowledge Mobilization activities undertaken by other science-based organizations and should help the CFS mobilize its knowledge to ensure that decision makers and their support staff have access to quality information that is relevant to their work and that impacts decision making.  The only notable exception to this is the relatively limited role of activities in knowledge pull, characterized at York University by the "help desk", where knowledge brokers help facilitate the introduction of a knowledge requester to a knowledge producer and support any emerging conversations that might lead to collaboration.

KMb MethodFKIMD activityNotes
Producer PushPlain language research summaries
Plain language summary that provides a concise summary of the key S&T messages or findings of an S&T publication using simple language that would be appropriate for an audience of non-technical experts in the subject of the publication.
Knowledge retention interviewsInterviews of departing employees and presentations and discussions by departing employees with peers
Directory of expertiseAn online tool to allow knowledge users to find subject matter experts in NRCan
Publications databaseAn improved database of publications that provides access to all CFS publications
User Pull
Knowledge ExchangeCommunities of practiceFostering communities of practice as stewards of knowledge
Project-level knowledge exchange strategiesPilot studies to adapt the Results Map process to bring together knowledge producers and knowledge users to co-create knowledge products
Collaboration / Co-production InfrastructureSimplified disposition authoritiesReducing the number of disposition authorities in NRCan from 64 to about 10 and expanding their coverage from about 60% of all information to 100%
Centralized digital repositoriesImplement GCDocs as a central digital repository for all digital files of business value that will replace shared drives and SharePoint.  Could have collaborative functions in the future
Paper Legacy Information StrategyA strategy to enhance the search and retrieval of CFS’ unmanaged and semi-managed paper legacy documents
Foogle - Integrated data setsAn online tool to catalogue, integrate and access CFS digital data sets
Social media to support collaborationAlthough not a product of FKIMD, the department and the GoC does have a full suite of social media tools including blogging, wikis, forums, SharePoint.  In addition, new Guidelines for External Use of Web 2.0 encourage employees to use social media tools like Twitter and Linked In.

For more detailed information, read my draft paper, Characterizing the work of Forest Knowledge and Information Division within the context of Knowledge Mobilization.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Setting an enabling environment for knowledge sharing

Fancy IT systems and a web of processes and procedures will not increase the flow of knowledge within an organization if the culture of the organization does not value or promote knowldege sharing.  In fact, "setting an enabling environment is fundamental to allowing sharing to happen naturally" (my emphasis added to fundamental), say Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell in their book Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations.

Collison and Parcel looked at knowledge management within organizations from a variety of contexts, and determined that there are some common threads.  In particular, an enabling environment has been achieved by:

  1. A reinforcing leadership style, which challenges and encourages learning and sharing.
  2. Encouraging the right behaviours; behaviours that acknowledge peoples strengths, involve active listening, challenge the status quo, develop relationships and build trust.
  3. Taking the time to understand each other, developing shared beliefs and a common vision.
  4. Building facilitation skills to enable people to find their own solutions.
  5. Good change management capabilities, for example include those affected in the planning, the execution and the outcome.
  6. Collaborative working and learning together from shared experiences.
  7. Common technology that connects people, removes barriers, and makes information widely available.
As I read these seven points for creating an enabling environment for knowledge to flow, I immediately saw similarities with the seven challenges for a learning organization described by Bob Chartier in his book Tools for Leadership and Leaning, building a Learning Organization, and indeed, the role of the Learning Organization Community of Practice in my own organization.

In his book, Chartier describes seven challenges that must be overcome to enable leaders to tap the team's collective wisdom and to share decision-making.  These are:
  1. Shared vision and values
  2. Personal mastery
  3. Systems thinking
  4. Mental models
  5. Team Learning
  6. The Learning Vessel
  7. The art of conversation
Overcoming these seven challenges is the central domain of knowledge upon which the Learning Organization Community of Practice in my organization is focused.  Facilitation is the practice community members engage in to help the organization overcome these challenges.

It is not hard to see the links between Collison and Parcell and Chartier, and I have tried to map the linkages below:
  • A reinforcing leadership syle --> Mental Models
  • Encouraging the right behaviours -->  The art of conversation, personal mastery
  • Taking the time to understand each other --> Shared vision and values
  • Building facilitation skills --> LOCOP
  • Good change management capabilities --> Systems thinking
  • Collaborative working and learning together -->Team learning, The Learning Vessel
The mapping is not perfect and one could probably see other ways to map the two authors' key points together.  Also, Collison and Parcell's point about building facilitation skills does not link to one of Chartier's challenges, but is one of the objectives of Chartier's book and also an important role for the Learning Organization Community of Practice in my organization. Still, the mapping serves to illustrate how the efforts of our Learning Organization Community of Practice are helping to set the enabling environment for effective knowledge flow in our organization. Sometimes, the culture change, which is slow and subtle, goes unseen in the light of other flashy IT products like wikis, search tools, forums, blogs and directories of expertise.

Friday, March 30, 2012

To get people to learn, you must give them a reason to care

I stumbled across this recent blog post about "Learning as Care" by Nick Shackleton-Jones recently.  In the post, Shackleton-Jones makes the point that the most important part of getting anyone to learn something is getting them to care.  Here are some highlights from his post:

  • if people really cared about something we would have no work to do. And if we can't make people care, then we have usually done no work
  • we disseminate information without giving people a reason to care
  • we fail to provide learning resources to people who do care
  • don't tell people what is important, tell them?why, tell the story
  • care is the central mechanism at the heart of all human learning - it governs both how we store information and how we subsequently use it
This is very timely information for me as we prepare to find new ways to get staff to manage their paper documents properly, a topic that our surveys show staff care about, but are intensely frustrated by.