Sarah Wolfenden was sponsored by ASLIB and SLA Europe to attend the first ASLIB Knowledge and Information Strategy Summit (AKISS) at the British Library, and kindly shares her experiences with us.
In December I was fortunate enough to be granted attendance at the inaugural two-day ASLIB Knowledge and Information Strategy Summit, or AKISS, courtesy of SLA Europe. The event comprised three themes: the digital world, big data, and getting senior management support, and each theme included lectures, panel discussions, case studies and group workshops. I found that this simple and pared down approach meant that the topics could be covered in much greater detail and from a wider range of angles than in conferences I had attended previously. While it meant attendees had to be particularly interested in these themes to get the most out of the event it also meant there was much more opportunity to ask questions and discuss the topics.
As I sat through the lectures, listened to questions being asked by audience members, and took part in the workshops based around the three themes; it struck me that people were becoming increasingly more willing to voice their fears. Not so much the presenters (it’s a rare speaker who admits to something not working) but rather the delegates, and I think this, again, was due to the format of the conference. Fears raised included, amongst other things, tweeting and blogging in to a vacuum, concerns over job security affecting the desire to share knowledge, and ethical concerns about the power of big data and its ownership. Instead of racing around from one room to another trying to cram everything, it was possible to have proper conversations with other attendees and get to know a bit more about them. I think this made people feel much more comfortable about speaking out.
Despite the concerns raised by the delegates, the conference speakers seemed full of hope and confidence. The encouraging words of Neelie Kroes’s video-linked opening address on the first day advocating the sharing of knowledge and Euen Semple’s keynote speech evangelising about the need for people to control their own stories through the use of social media being just a couple of examples. On the second day the SLA President-Elect at the time (now President) Kate Arnold, spoke about the recently published Financial Times report commissioned in conjunction with the SLA, which highlights the level of optimism and opportunities in the sector.
While I took away snippets of information applicable to me and my workplace from many of the sessions, the ones I got most from, however, were the two workshops on the second day. The first of which was on negotiating; its focus was on getting senior management support or ‘buy-in’, but the principles would work for any type of negotiation. In the workshop we discussed the significance of building allies and of focusing on the missed opportunities and consequences of not getting requests approved. We also considered identifying stakeholders and how they might be affected by the agreements made, as well as the importance of giving options and ‘setting the scene’ before asking for a decision. I find myself having to negotiate for things in all types of situations and don’t particularly enjoy doing it so this workshop gave me some pointers on treating it much more as a process.
The second workshop focused on managing change and was very practical. We were placed randomly in groups of four or five people and were asked to come up with a short speech or sentence that would encapsulate a change we were implementing; these included what it was, how it would be implemented, why it was being done and who it would effect. This was harder than it might sound and our team were reasonably pleased with our results. This wasn’t about creating sound bites though – the aim was to increase clarity in our communication to avoid confusion. This session helped me to think a little bit more about the way I communicate messages to people.
For me, ultimately, the overriding message of the conference was about sharing knowledge. In the workshops we heard examples of how companies which are notorious for not sharing are given rewards for sharing good ideas; some organisations even use knowledge sharing as part of their appraisal process. Neelie Kroes mentioned the importance of collaboration in order to capitalise on economic opportunities. Euen Semple spoke about reciprocation (although perhaps less altruistically) to give information in the hope that one day it will come back to you. Throughout the conference the question was regularly raised – how would we use and share what has been learned during it? I’ve already started to receive notes from those who coordinated the sessions which is a nice way to keep the momentum going and people have been in touch about a project I’m working on and so I am grateful to ASLIB and SLA Europe for giving me the opportunity to do this.