A very wet Saturday afternoon, the Significant Other setting up the new Digital Television & our Teenager getting a grip on top level senior high school maths. And I cleaned up my Google Reader RSS feeds, neglected during a week's family R&R on a coral cay in Queensland's Great Barrier Reef. Finally nearly done, I came across a item posted on Australia Day by Dr Laurence Lock Lee Laurie in his Governance in a Networked World blog, where he debated the need for balance between enabling & command/control paradigms - also drawing on his Australian Chinese heritage.
His blog post reminded me of the challenges that Australian Public Authority Civil Engineers increasingly faced over the last 20 years. For decades they were considered infallible experts and so community consultation, aka crowdsourcing was not even on their radar. "Trust me I'm an Engineer" was their mindset & mantra.
I had been an elected City Councillor from the early 1990's and witnessed, at first hand, the struggles Public Authority Civil Engineers faced as they began to realise that community engagement was not going away. Chairing meetings was challenging, as I & my fellow City Councillors sought a balance, allowing the community & the expert engineers both to be heard. Our region is periodically impacted by severe flash flooding, destructive winds & bushfires, as well as Geotechnical landslide instability. The issues are very real. Several have died, properties destroyed - and so trust in the expertise of the engineers was increasingly questioned. Community emotions often run high.
Coincidentally I was also, then, on an external advisory committee to the Faculty of Engineering at our local University. Obviously I strongly supported introducing a community engagement programme into the Faculty's already crowded undergraduate curriculum. A mid 1990's version of crowdsourcing ?
And later when a 4th Year Subject was introduced, viz Human Factors in Engineering, I was only too happy to accept invitations to do periodic guest lectures - drawing from my Materials & Asset Reliability Engineering background, as well as my political experiences. At least today's graduating engineers may be a little better prepared than earlier cohorts.
Laurie's Australia Day post on balance also really hit home for me on another level, as several days earlier I had been in a tense & robust meeting with my org's Corporate IT geeks. The meeting subject ? Termination of our org's COPS - Communities of Practice - set up by Laurie a decade earlier. All of that tacit, unstructured data was not appreciated by many IT folk.
During the GFC crisis period there was inevitably little discretionary time to support our networks & communities. So it seemed some folks of the more Command & Control mindset now intended their downsizing, at least, and even possible outright culling. And yet with the departure of the BabyBoomers it seemed crazy to just jettison all the informal tacit knowledge accumulated in online discussions, that so many had shared & contributed to the COP's.
And in the GFC induced restructuring, our people resources had been stretched as huge leave levels were taken to reduce the alternative of mass job sackings instituted in some other orgs. Although a significant number of BabyBoomer aged employees did leave the organization - taking with them centuries of expertise, when considered in aggregate.
Fortunately our Local IT manager, empathetic & a master of engaging our user community stakeholders, did support moving the COP tacit knowledge to a contemporary repository. So it was agreed that the content would be migrated to SharePoint. Even better, he allocated a team member to develop a collaborative COP style template in SharePoint - but not requiring too much customisation, to enable easier migration to SharePoint 2010 in the future. In the meantime, some remaining users started to respond to the queries of do we need the COP's. Offers came in to take responsibility for being COP administrators in some of our existing SharePoint sites - including the KM COP itself.
Inevitably there will be more wrangling between those from the Command & Control paradigm and those who see collaboration enabling paradigms, especially as Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0 & Social Media uses grow. Perhaps it is time for our ICT students to be offered the same community stakeholder engagement lessons that are provided for Engineering students. Human Factors in Organizational ICT ? And they may already exist in some Universities ?
Sadly there are too many stories about "delivering food & drinks to Code Monkeys behind closed doors". We even had one young IT geek avoiding Face to Face and instead doing a "Live Meeting" - when he sitting in his cubicle which was next door & within site of those at the meeting table ?? Much easier to leave it to the BA's to deal with the face to face stuff ! Especially when the User Communities, with their own Folksonomies, generally do not use the same Taxonomies as the ICT folks.
A changed world of engaging Users could challenge some ICT Academics as well. Especially those with a preferred focus on Information Architecture & deployment of ICT solutions etc - ie avoiding crowdsourcing User Communities on their expectations.
However, introducing Human Factors in Organizational into ICT curriculums, on a wider scale, just may help future graduating ICT students achieve the balance that Laurie Lock Lee was advocating.