Consumer democracy?

I have recently discovered the documentary films of Adam Curtis and can highly recommend “The Century of the Self” (2002) – it’s available on YouTube and the four 1-hour episodes are:

  1. Happiness Machines
  2. The Engineering of Consent
  3. There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads; He Must Be Destroyed
  4. Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering

The last 10 minutes gives an excellent summary of how politicians adopt methods used by business (e.g. focus groups) to give voters what they said they wanted, but this consumerism allows people only the illusion of control.  Rather than people being in charge,  their desires are.  They exercise no decision-making power, and democracy demands no acts of citzenry but treats the public as passive consumers.  Responding to a mass of ever-changing and out-of-context individual opinions is very different from having a leader with a coherent plan.

This made me think of the way student feedback may be treated in universities, and whether it is used to inform or guide planning.  I’m all for a higher education sector which responds to student feedback, but I think consumer-driven universities risk focusing on students’ short-term desires at the expense of delivering the kind of challenging and transformative experience that produces confident graduates with useful skills.

See also last Friday’s episode of The Now Show, in particular Andy Zaltzman’s segment (begins at 17:45) about improv politics, and Pippa Evans’ song (26:42) “I’ve got an opinion, everybody listen to me…”

Curtis’ more recent films Bitter Lake and HyperNormalisation are currently available on BBC iPlayer.


#ISEWLib2014 Information literacy

Main post: #ISEWLib2014 at the University of Helsinki Library

We all recognise the problem of trying to deliver training at just the right moment when students ready to take it in and use it!

At the University of Helsinki they have their own ICT Driving Licence course:

58 ICT driving licenceSuggestion from Monica (Ms Norway) about camouflaging information literacy training by getting PhD students to deliver it.  The message can be better received if delivered by someone the students consider their peer, or at least close to them in terms of age and experience.

Katarina (Ms Sweden) told us about the Socrative student response system, which is like Flinga and free.

20 My presentation

My presentation about Skills for Learning at Sunderland University Library. Photo credit Maija Paavolainen.

I (Ms England) told the group about Skills for Learning at @UniOfSunLib.

When resources are tight, or structures changing, think about what you can *stop* doing.

21 Veera customer

@veeris: Customer only cares about what’s in it for him, not about #library. Challenge to switch the message to answer that question.

Study circle cards (Kristina) – these lovely cards can be borrowed from enquiry desk:

22 Study circle cards

Study circle cards

Kristina’s presentation about study circle.  The cards give an introduction and activities on a range of information literacy and study skills themes.  Students can work through them by themselves or in a group.  More info in FinnishMore info in English.

Maija’s presentation about getting feedback on info lit sessions.

Problems with feedback are (a) students’ motivation to give it, and (b) [librarian] teachers’ willingness to receive it.

Solutions for (a): short MCQ form at end of session, give examples of what you’d like to hear in free-response section.

Solutions for (b): reduce sensitivity to criticism by doing it every session; not personal; constructive; good feedback is motivating.

Examples of feedback Qs (I liked emphasis on ‘apply in practice’ rather than enjoyment):

23 Maija feedback QsWhat was the most important thing you learned? (Also helps reinforce the learning points):

24 Maija most important

Highlights from Oxford Social Media Day 2011

Oxford Social Media Day 2011 took place on 8th September.  I live-tweeted the event and you can search for #osm11 on Twitter for all related tweets.

Now that many libraries are using social media, this aim of the day was to be inspired to take it further.  Our  five speakers did an excellent job and here are my top take-home tips.

  • Jo talked about how librarians interact with many different groups of users and stakeholders in our work, and asked us each to prepare a 30-second elevator pitch to market our skills to one of those groups.
  • This was great for practising my skills in “selling” the library and its services to senior management, students or academics.
  • People will infer things from your brand even if you don’t actively manage it.  For the next exercise, we had to think of 3 words or phrases to describe the brand we would like to convey.
  • Use namecheckr  to see if your username is available on a range of social sites
  • It’s important to keep your brand consistent across different social media sites
  • In social media, commitment to community not the tool is important – go to the sites where your users are.

Public library social media policy #osm11

  • Public libraries & museums act 1964 – key legislation relating to how public libraries operate today
  • Some things you don’t know in advance, and can’t predict if a venture will work – you just have to try it out
  • Need qualitative data to assess effectiveness of service delivery
  • Risk aversion makes things difficult (same problem in universities)
  • Use social media for service delivery – go beyond using it simply as an announcement service
  • The worst possible social media strategy: “we want a Facebook/Twitter/whatever page”
  • Libraries can get involved in online forums as well as the main social media sites
  • What would you expect from a public library’s social media presence?

Ideas from the audience: Mumsnet, catch kids young, involve community groups, book clubs, humour

Ideas from people on Twitter: Direct contact with someone who can answer queries, not just referral to an FAQ page (via @stormfilled); Up-to-date info & speedy, personal, informal response to enquiries (via @archelina)

Marketing academic libraries in a web 2 world

View more presentations from Ned Potter
  • Social media gives great opportunity to listen as well as post
  • No one cares about the “how” – focus on benefits not features, outcomes not process (in the words of @radfemburlesque: Don’t say “hey, we have books” – say “hey, we can get you a first / make your 2.1 less work”)
  • Recommended sites for Twitter analysis: Twocation, Tweetstats, Klout. Focus on improving engagement stats rather than how many followers you have
  • Use Facebook to rescue buried treasure – highlight features of the library
  • “One minute on… “ technique for making short and snappy videos. e.g. One minute on e-journals
  • Use focus groups to get useful and honest feedback about your service

Andrew Hood from Lynchpin Analytics on Measuring social media success (presentation available to download)

  • Monitoring vs measurement – translating what we’ve measured into “has it worked?”
  • The monitoring challenge: capture, collate, filter, category, sentiment, classify, trend, risk analysis, respond
  • Risk analysis – or opportunity analysis (turn problem into opportunity?)
  • Don’t report on something if you can’t do anything about it – use metrics for factors you can influence
  • Monitoring tips: set up RSS searches and collate
  • Measuring tips: document KPIs, use Google Analytics, benchmark by traffic source & engagement

Duncan Smith of iCompli on Social network sites: managing risks (presentation available to download)

  • Something defamatory + published = libel. Things previously said in private now published publicly
  • Not allowed to run competitions on Facebook
  • Contempt of court: do not publish anything to do with a court case (esp. imp. for local authorities)
  • Employee use of social networks – employees with access should have ‘basic’ legal training
  • BBC’s guidance/policy docs on social media – managers “should not adopt an overly restrictive approach”
  • You are responsible for moderated comments on your blog because you authorised/published them
  • Good idea to have a “notice and take down” procedure – could be just an email address to contact
  • Data Guidance – good for legal info (subscription resource)

A very thought-provoking day… I find myself dwelling on issues of the last presentation in particular.

I would love to think that most employees are intelligent enough to know what is appropriate use of social media (or ask if they’re not sure) and I worry that too much bureaucracy will extinguish the sparks of imagination and creativity that make social media such a dynamic and fun way to reach out to our users.

I’m pondering how to write a titanium* social media policy that would still have enough oomph to be meaningful and act as a useful tool for staff; while avoiding being just another work-related document that you have to sign to say you have read but then forget about**.

*Low density, lightweight but strong.  See what I did there?
**Examples: equal opportunities policy, smokefree policy, use of IT policy, health and safety policy, fire safety policy (I could go on)… all worthy aims but bogged down by documents that can feel more like a noose than an airbag.

360 degree appraisal

I recently took part in a 360 degree appraisal process, which involved receiving feedback from people I line manage, my line manager and other colleagues in the management team and in more senior positions.

The appraisal takes the form of a booklet with nearly 100 statements which are divided into the following categories:

  • Getting information, making sense of it; problem identification
  • Communicating information, ideas
  • Taking action, making decisions, following through
  • Risk-taking, innovation
  • Administrative/organisational ability
  • Managing conflict; negotiation
  • Relationships
  • Selecting, developing, accepting people
  • Influencing; leadership, power
  • Openness to influence, flexibility
  • Knowledge of job, business
  • Energy, drive, ambition
  • Time management
  • Coping with pressure, adversity; integrity
  • Self-management, self-insight, self-development

Here is an example of a statement: “Shows mastery of job content; excels at his/her function or professional specialty”.

For each statement, the person completing the booklet marks a box to indicate that this skill is a strength or an area that needs developing.  If they do not feel strongly either way, both boxes are left blank.

I completed a booklet assessing myself, and the other members of staff each completed a booklet assessing me.  All these data were combined to show how my skills are perceived by the group of respondents.  The process is anonymised, and the feedback only identified the evaluation I gave of myself and my manager’s responses.

When I had to complete the booklet for myself and for other people, I often found it difficult to mark a skill as an area which needed developing as the form does not allow any comment or justification, and I frequently felt that I wished to explain why I had marked that skill as an area for development.  There was also no way to distinguish “needs developing” responses given for different reasons, such as “needs developing because their skills in this area are very weak” from “they’re not doing badly here but could improve further”.

All members of the management team at my workplace took part in this process (the departments we are responsible for are: Library, IT, Finance, College Office, Accommodation & Facilities, Conferences, Estates, Development Office, Catering; plus the College Bursar).  Once the booklets had been completed and the data analysed, we all had 1:1 meetings with Jerry Gilpin of Perception Development who guided us through our feedback.

I’ll admit, I found that meeting hard, even though when I look at my feedback now, it’s quite positive overall!  I think all of us found that we worried more over a small “needs improving” area than congratulated ourselves about the things other people think we are doing well – I guess that’s just human nature.

Last year, I took part in a Springboard self-development course, and one of the most useful things I learned was to accept criticism as a gift.  This doesn’t mean it won’t still hurt when someone does give you negative feedback, but I’ve found it helpful to try to accept the comment, step back and see if it has any justification, and if it does, do something to make things better.

Try feedforward instead of feedback

Annual appraisals can be beneficial, when done well, though I think that more frequent interaction between a manager and the person they manage is essential to bringing out the best performance in a person.  Not just informal one-to-one meetings, but a review of how things are going every few months or so.

Perhaps the trickiest part of an appraisal is going over any areas of work which have not been done so well.  Most people probably find it difficult to hear themselves criticised, however kindly, but it is also tough giving constructive criticism.

So here’s a great idea by Marshall Goldsmith.  In his paper from 2002, he suggests that we “try feedforward instead of feedback“.

His proposal is that we shift from performance feedback which focuses on past events, and move to an approach that focuses on future development.

Here is a summary of the main points:

1. We can change the future. We can’t change the past.
2. It can be more productive to help people be “right,” than prove they were  “wrong.”
3. Feedforward is especially suited to successful people. Successful people like getting ideas that are aimed at helping them achieve their goals.
4. Feedforward can come from anyone who knows about the task. It does not require personal experience with the individual.  Feedback requires knowing about the person. Feedforward just requires having good ideas for achieving the task.
5. People do not take feedforward as personally as feedback.
6. Feedback can reinforce personal stereotyping and negative self-fulfilling prophecies.   Feedforward is based on the assumption that people can make positive changes in the future.
7. Most of us hate getting negative feedback, and we don’t like to give it.
8. Feedforward can cover almost all of the same “material” as feedback.
9. Feedforward tends to be much faster and more efficient than feedback. An excellent technique for giving ideas to successful people is to say, “Here are four ideas for the future. Please accept these in the positive spirit that they are given. If you can only use two of the ideas, you are still two ahead. Just ignore what doesn’t make sense for you.”
10. Feedforward can be a useful tool to apply with managers, peers, and team members.

This concept appeals to me because it combines management and leadership.  As a manager, I supervise people’s work.  As a leader, I build a vision for the library and empower my colleagues to work together towards that goal.

It is amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares about who gets the credit.

– Robert Yates

Feedforward combines making improvements in procedures and everyday tasks with a more exciting ambition of improving the library service overall.  I hope this approach will help my team to consider their appraisals as opportunities for personal development and catalysts for their professional growth.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

– Thomas Edison

Risk, failure and success

Today, Google announced that they are discontinuing support for Google Wave.  Much of the reaction on the internet has been of the “I always knew it wouldn’t work” or “it has been a total failure” variety.

I would like to offer a different view.  I am really glad that Google tried something out, and when it didn’t have the success they might have hoped for, they made a public statement that they were not continuing the service any more.

I like this for several reasons.

  1. If we only carried out projects where success were assured, we would rarely innovate or improve.
  2. Any new technology is bound to become less relevant (or, at worst, obsolete) eventually.  I would not consider a typewriter a failure just because I don’t use one now.  Perhaps some people have benefitted from Google Wave during its short existence.
  3. Being honest about the status of the service is to be commended, rather than just letting it slip away and hoping people won’t notice.  Other examples include where an author or administrator lets you know that a blog or website is no longer being updated.  Much of the existing content may be useful, so it’s good to leave the site up, but also useful to know that links won’t be checked, and the information may go out of date.  I did this on my previous blog, OxfordStaffDev, which still gets traffic.

Scout badges: a measure of success

Coming back to the idea of failure, I would like to explore the difference between a true failure and a lack of success.  I don’t intend this to sound like a difference in wording for the sake of political correctness.  I believe that a failed project is one where all the necessary resources were in place, but someone or a group of people did not step up and contribute what was necessary for the task to work.  Compare that with a project for which everyone did what they could to make it work, but for some unforeseeable reason, it wasn’t as successful as intended.

FourSquare badges - a different measure of success

I would like to encourage a culture in libraries of taking risks with trying out ideas which are not guaranteed to succeed, but for which all reasonable risks have been managed and taken into account.  This is especially true for ventures into social media.  This summer, I am involved in running the 23 Things Summer Camp session on strategy.  In these sessions, I work with the group to explore the various social media avenues that different libraries could explore, and what might go wrong.  The most frequent worry is “what if someone posts a negative comment on our Facebook page?”.  My response is that our library users have opinions about our service that we rarely pick up via surveys or other tools.  Having a space where we can respond to these concerns is an excellent way of knowing more about what our users think about our libraries.  It also gives us the perfect opportunity to respond to the criticism in a way that hopefully resolves the issue for the user and shows us to be responsive to feedback and willing to act on any suggestions for improvement.  People will complain about things, so I say we are better in that conversation that out of it!

One last point… making “the right decision” versus making “a good decision”.  A few months ago I read about subtleties implied in each, and found the difference liberating.  As I see it, making “the right” decision is committed in time, as it supposes that morality (right) is permanent and unshakeable.  On the other hand, “a good” decision implies one that takes into account all relevant information available at the time, and tries to balance competing priorities for the common interest.  As factors change over time, what was a good decision in the past may need review as more information comes to light; whereas the right decision can be hard to go back on.

Well done, Google, for trying something out and having the courage to admit that it didn’t go as planned.

Further reading: R.I.P. Google Wave by the inimitable Ange Fitzpatrick