Strategies for Changing Culture of Information Use

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Title of Session


[Catherine Fisher][1], Strategic Learning Initiative, Institute of Development Studies


A marvellous and engaged group whose names I did not record. Please add yourself here!

Key Discussion Points

This session turned on its head the question of “how do you encourage people to share what they know? [Or how do you create a knowledge sharing culture?][2] Instead we looked at how you can encourage people to be interested in what others know?

As the initiator of the open space discussion, I started with a story of how I became to be interested in the topic. When I worked on information services like Eldis and GDNet, we were focussing on collecting and organising information to help people to access it. However from talking to users and non-users of our services, we realised that although many people are looking for information, many others aren’t and just don’t see the value of information – providing access isn’t enough. I also talked to people from the library at IDS who had noticed that some of our students were familiar with going out and looking for resources, whilst others had never really had a need to do so and didn’t know why or how to start. Around the same time someone sent around an article KM4Dev list called “does your organisation have an asking problem?”. Together these got me interested in the demand for information from others, was it there and if not could it be encouraged?

As I explained the story, participants responded with stories from their experience that illustrated why people might not be interested in information from others.

Problems identified about the supply of that information:
  • Information is often in inappropriate formats, particularly research!
  • Information is out of context and so cannot be useful
  • Information is not relevant because potential users are not involved in its creation
  • Information is not available because people are unwilling to share

Problems to do with demand for information and cultures around information:
  • People think that when they get a job the learning is over!
  • In some organisation cultures it is not ok to accept that you do not know something and ask for help or look for information
  • People don’t have time to search for or read information
  • It doesn’t occur to some people to look for information - someone told a story of people who in an information needs assessment asked for information that did exist but that they had never tried to look for it!
  • People are intimidated by or don’t understand how to use places where information is stored, eg databases, intranets
  • People are so overwhelmed with information they don’t know where to start
  • People don’t know how to use or apply information in their work

Generally it was agreed that knowledge sharing processes that seek to share knowledge between different people and co-construct new knowledge are the most effective. This in turn raised some interesting discussion about the connection between information, knowledge, learning and action. However it is not always possible to co-construct knowledge or share knowledge in a process. Sometimes information is the only way we have to access knowledge from outside. We thought that combining our own experience and knowledge with information about experience and learning from outside can sometimes produce new ideas and innovation. But that this requires space and time, something few of us have!

Strategies that people have tried to encourage use of information include:
  • Learning events where people are encouraged to read about a particular topic related to their work then discuss it with their colleagues (although this was a top down initiative from management and was not widely accepted)
  • Informal introductions in forum such as Brownbag lunches that try to demystify sources of information, particularly organisation intranets
  • Creating organisational cultures where it is ok to accept you don’t know something
Other ideas:
  • Creating informal spaces for discussing digesting, analysing and applying information eg walks, discussions over dinner or drinks
  • Rethinking training sessions so they are not just about sharing information but include a component that helps people to discover and assess information for themselves

What do you think? If people don’t see the need for information can you persuade them of the value of using it? Can people be encouraged to view problems as information problems ie those that could be better solved by looking for info from outside? Are processes of knowledge sharing the only means by which knowledge from one person can generate knowledge in another person?

The British Library of Development Studies at IDS is planning to explore some of these issues. They will work with others with similar interests to explore how principles around information literacy or capabilities can be applied in domains of development research, policy and practice. Contact Catherine for more info.

Additional Resources (if applicable)

[Does your organisation have an asking problem?] [3](pdf) Nancy Dixon, (2004)Common Knowledge

[From Access to Action: Impact Pathways for the IDS Knowledge Services](pdf), [4] Anna Downie (2008) Strategic Learning Initiative, Institute of Development Studies

[Push and Pull as motivators for Knowledge Management] video Nick Milton Knoco Ltd 2009 [5] Nick Milton discusses the two motivating mechanisms behind the exchange of knowledge - Push and Pull - the motivation to share and the motivation to learn.