I have submitted this text in Dutch to Informatie Professional (journal for Dutch Information specialists and librarians)
Knowledge Management at the Hague University
In the last couple of months I was guest lecture at the Library and Information Science department of the Hague University. For this department I developed and taught the module ‘knowledge management’. One of the elements within this programme was storytelling. The aim at explaining more about storytelling was to show students how organisations can also enhance knowledge sharing through socio-cultural initiatives and how the newly generated knowledge can be used to create scenarios for the future.
The Future Backwards technique of Cognitive Edge is one example of how storytelling can be used by organisations. This is an open-source workshop which is developed to increase the amount of perspectives a group can have about the past and the future of the organisation. During the lecture I first started explaining the students how they could use storytelling and the Future Backwards technique in the organisation by showing the do’s and don’ts. After that I facilitated a Future Backwards technique in which the students were the participants.
As former student of the department of Library and Information Science I am more than aware that the education has an identity crisis. Both the amount of new students who are starting with the education and the amount of students who are graduating from the education is very low. On one side, there are the public and private sectors jumping for new information professionals. However, on the other side, the supply is minimal.
Why can’t education centres recruit a bigger and more diverse group of students and offer these new professionals to the workforce? To answer this question, educational centres together with the private sector started a new initiative in 2009. This initiative is called Taskforce Labour Communication Information Specialists (TACIS). This taskforce aims at promoting the education among new students. I believe this is a good initiative. However, I do think that we - an with ‘we’ I mean the information specialists within the educational centres - to strengthen ourselves so that the education complies with the wishes and requirements of students. However, the question is: how do we get the information about these wishes and requirements?
I believe that the department of Library and Information Science does have a golden opportunity to answer TACIS’ question. This golden opportunity is: teach the students more about storytelling as tool to share knowledge and, additionally, roll-out a Future Backwards workshop in which the teacher (as workshop facilitator) is asking the students (as workshop participants) to create stories about how they experience the education. When the different departments within the field of Library and Information Science are conducting such a storytelling workshop, I strongly believe that this can give an extensive orientation of what the future opportunities and risks are. How did I apply this storytelling workshop within the Department of Library and Information Science at the Hague University?
Firstly, the students were being put in small groups. Normally the workshop works best when there are minimal 12 participants, because with this amount you can create minimal 3 groups of 4 participants. Smaller groups are not advisable, because this will decrease the amount of different perspectives how students experience the education. During the lecture about storytelling there were only 8 students and therefore it was only possible to create 2 groups.
Image 1: Co-created storytelling at the Hague University
I asked each of the groups to create one story about how they experience the education. The students started by talking about how it looks like today. From here they needed to make a time line of the most important decisions and changing points that has resulted in de current situation of the education. The time line was being made by using tags and keywords (see image 2)
Image 2: Creating a story about today
Secondly, I asked each group to make a story of the hell. In other words, how will the education look like in three years when everything goes wrong that can go wrong. Each group was being asked to think about factive decisions and changing points which lead to this hell scenario. The students were also required to use tags and keywords (see image 4)
Image 4: Co-created story about hell
Thirdly, the groups were being asked to create a similar story about the heaven. However, now the participants in the groups were being ask to create a story when in 3 years everything went perfect (see image 5)
Image 5: co-created story about heaven
At the end each group was required to appoint a storyteller who needed to tell the story to the other group. The different tags were lying on the ground and the students where sitting around the different stories. So the knowledge and experiences with regard the education were being shared in a kind of campfire talk.
The future of knowledge sharing: storytelling
We have now seen a practical example of how storytelling can be implemented within an organisation. But why should organisations use this way to share knowledge? Is this way of knowledge sharing not expensive and time-consuming?
Organisations are increasingly being a part of the new economy. This economy is networked and changing rapidly. Especially because of the fast-changing environment, organisations are feeling they lack the data and information. They need this data and information to make well-informed decisions in new situation. The lack of data and information is also creating insecurity and therefore are organisations graving for new knowledge. In other words, to effectively generate new knowledge, organisations should increasingly find new tools and techniques to enhance organisational learning.
Storytelling is such a tool and technique! With the help of storytelling, organisation can create new knowledge, deploy this knowledge in the organisation through which the organisational efforts are improving.
I believe that storytelling is crucial, because all the changes within the domain of knowledge management over the years have resulted in a focus on the context and narrative of knowledge, instead of the content. Michael Polyani already argued in the fifties of the last century that we only know what we know when we need to know it. This means that human knowledge is contextual and that you can only use it when you are being stimulated to recall it in your memory. Dave Snowden refers to the small verbal and non-verbal signs which lead to the ah-ha moments.
Another reason why storytelling is crucial, is because we always know more than we can tell and we always can tell more than we can write. By sharing knowledge verbally we are losing the context of the knowledge, because not everybody has a rich vocabulary to describe thoughts and that’s why the ideas can only be translated in a limited way. Nevertheless, when we are trying to write down knowledge and ideas, we will lose more of that context because we should then also think more about the structure of the language.
To improve the richness of our vocabulary and consequently enhance knowledge sharing, I believe we should create stories by collaborating (the so-called co-created stories). This necessary, because one story can never ever show the complete truth. Everybody is experiencing new problems and challenges through their own mental filters and experiences. That’s why a story should be developed in collaboration with more than one person.
I have explained the Future Backwards workshop to the students of the education of Library and Information Science. The students learned an initiatives through which organsations can share knowledge. Additionally, the students were being encouraged to self-organize the work, because they were being asked to make a story by collaborating.
By asking the students to become participants in a workshop, the education received rich information from the students. The education has started with a list that is showing the history of the education (the time line), a register of risks that should be avoided (hell) and a vision for the future (heaven). If every education in Library and Information Science is rolling out the same workshop, student can learn how storytelling improves knowledge sharing and the education can learn from the students what the opportunities are, but also what the risks are. So, is this not an activity which TACIS should stimulate actively?