Alice MacGillivray

Supporting Leadership & Knowledge Work Across Boundaries

Archive for Leadership

X-disciplines or lose relevance?

hands

News and conversations are filled with challenges that cross disciplinary divides: climate change, poverty and effective education to name a few. In my consulting practice, I work with leaders who are struggling with complex, knowledge-related challenges. As a researcher, my scholarship hovers around the intersections of leadership, complexity theory and knowledge management. Increasingly, I appreciate the strengths and relevance of people who can make connections across boundaries to enable innovation, ethical decisions, and environments in which people can learn and thrive.

Last night I attended a small house party where people were associated with at least five universities. Several individuals—who knew little or nothing of my background—spoke to me about leadership, complexity theory and/or knowledge-related challenges. Almost everyone spoke about spanning, linking or integrating disciplines. Some described the challenges of communicating with single-discipline-focused colleagues. One had been told by a supervisor at their university that they had too many interests: they could not be an “expert” in all of them.

In my world of practice, important learning can occur rapidly, across many boundaries. Someone posts a request for help and within hours there are stories, references, provocative questions, practice examples and tool suggestions posted by experts from many organizations and countries. These conversations sometimes continue through cycles of experimentation and improvement. For better or worse, such learning does not require terms of reference documents, project charters, grant proposals, approvals through hierarchies, publication, peer reviews or evaluation metrics.

What are the risks and benefits of universities’ maintaining discipline-based structures and values? I suggest formal education in some fields will quickly lose relevance of universities do not find meaningful ways of honouring and rewarding their boundary-spanning faculty and students.

Photo of hands from http://tiny.cc/8xzl8

Metadata on Steroids

Recently, Lisa Petrides posted this tweet:
“listening 2 interesting talks on metadata (really!). we have 2 get away from narrow def of it, to include user-generated, annotations, etc.”

This reminded me of a work I had done with Andrew Faulkner in which we used data warehouse infrastructure (his specialization). I created views of data integrated from several sources so that front line managers could quickly access basic and customized reports related to particular tasks, challenges and opportunities. They had no interest in technical metadata, but did care about what the data meant, from where it was drawn, how recent it was, and why each report option could be helpful.

Although Andrew and I never wrote about what he calls metacontent in this context, he did write a paper with Henry Kucera titled “Managing Metacontent: Metadata + Meta-information in the BC MELP Data Warehouse,” which I am sharing here with his permission. kucera_oow98

What makes a blog post/tweet valuable?

I am working with a group of talented and respected leaders, most of whom have not worked with technologies such as forums, discussion groups, blogs, wikis, communities of practice platforms, etc.  They have an online space in which they are starting to post some questions, comments and resources.

Several have asked me what makes a post valuable or meaningful. I thought it only fair to ask some of my virtual colleagues for their views, so I asked via twitter (@4KM) and CPSquare Thanks to Barb McDonald, Brenda Kaulback, Brian J. McNely, Christina Merl, Jas Darrah, Jenny Mackness, John D. Smith, Joitske Hulsebosch, Sibylle Noras, Tony Burgess (also Nancy Dixon and his CompanyCommand colleagues), VMaryAbraham and others who may join this conversation in the future.

The attached file — meaningful-posts is my effort to synthesize and quote their ideas.

Public engagement & social technologies

Today, Nancy White joined one of our calls for leaders in park and protected area systems. Our focus was on how their public engagement efforts might be enhanced through use of social technologies and related tools. A common challenge for these professionals is maintaining the relevance of systems developed with a European-shaped North American perspective of wilderness. Youth who have grown up in cities and new Canadians from Asia, for example, may have totally different perspectives. I think my favourite idea was involving new Canadians in creating videos about their first experiences in parks, and posting them on YouTube. Park organizations could learn a lot about their interests, their ideas of positive experiences and their stories. And their stories could be very powerful for their communities.

Horizontal & Vertical Collide

As I was fine-tuning my dissertation about how respected leaders work in horizontal, boundary spanning environments, I read a story in the Washington Post.

In Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages, Kornblut writes “Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts. What does that mean in 21st-century terms? No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking.” (A March ’09 update appears here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/01/AR2009030101745.html?sub=AR)

This brought to mind so many stories from my research participants about the challenges of bringing innovations from the horizontal into the vertical, as well as stories about the tensions between knowledge management and information technology shops.  I’ve added a postscript in the dissertation about watching the strategies Obama and his staff use to integrate two very different ways of thinking and working.