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Document & Knowledge Reincarnation in a Bumblebee Organization Research Methods Participant Observation & Unstructured Interviews 46 Participants over.

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Presentation on theme: "Document & Knowledge Reincarnation in a Bumblebee Organization Research Methods Participant Observation & Unstructured Interviews 46 Participants over."— Presentation transcript:

1 Document & Knowledge Reincarnation in a Bumblebee Organization Research Methods Participant Observation & Unstructured Interviews 46 Participants over a 1 year period (October 2011-October 2012) Over 200 Data Collection Events (observations, interviews, etc.) Actively engaged doing the work of the organization to understand it Analyzed data primarily through writing field notes Document Analysis Over 500 Documents analyzed to varying degrees Documents analyzed for function, especially in social situations, using various techniques (e.g., affordance analysis) Research focused on social use of documents, such as in meetings, where knowledge communication was happening Research Methods Participant Observation & Unstructured Interviews 46 Participants over a 1 year period (October 2011-October 2012) Over 200 Data Collection Events (observations, interviews, etc.) Actively engaged doing the work of the organization to understand it Analyzed data primarily through writing field notes Document Analysis Over 500 Documents analyzed to varying degrees Documents analyzed for function, especially in social situations, using various techniques (e.g., affordance analysis) Research focused on social use of documents, such as in meetings, where knowledge communication was happening Research Site - RGSU Researched Graduate Student Union (RGSU) at a large mid-western university ~2700 member union of graduate students; it employs 3 full-time staff ~ members are active at any point in time Extremely high rate of turnover Average length of participation as an active member is ~1 year; a few people participate for longer; current max length of participation is 5 years (1 person) Bargaining Cycle has been 3 years (it is now 5); leadership is 90% new yearly A few members are still active in the organization from one bargaining cycle to the next (~5); only 1 staff member has seen bargaining more than once Strong commitment to preserving its knowledge Large archive of documents including over 6 filing cabinets, binders on shelves, extensive electronic archives, a database, an archive, etc. In many meetings, staff take transcription-style minutes which are archived. Constantly on the brink of falling apart Knowledge is constantly getting lost as members graduate, yet the organization remains extremely successful Bumble-Bee Organization: it seems like it should not be able to fly, yet it flies extremely well. Research Site - RGSU Researched Graduate Student Union (RGSU) at a large mid-western university ~2700 member union of graduate students; it employs 3 full-time staff ~ members are active at any point in time Extremely high rate of turnover Average length of participation as an active member is ~1 year; a few people participate for longer; current max length of participation is 5 years (1 person) Bargaining Cycle has been 3 years (it is now 5); leadership is 90% new yearly A few members are still active in the organization from one bargaining cycle to the next (~5); only 1 staff member has seen bargaining more than once Strong commitment to preserving its knowledge Large archive of documents including over 6 filing cabinets, binders on shelves, extensive electronic archives, a database, an archive, etc. In many meetings, staff take transcription-style minutes which are archived. Constantly on the brink of falling apart Knowledge is constantly getting lost as members graduate, yet the organization remains extremely successful Bumble-Bee Organization: it seems like it should not be able to fly, yet it flies extremely well. Research Agenda Conducted a study of the role of documents in knowledge communication in an organization. Emphasis was on how documents are actually used to communicate knowledge By knowing how documents are used, we can better understand how knowledge management systems can be more made more effective. Employed both a Design perspective and a Sociotechnical perspective Research Questions (the RGSU is the site of the research, see below): RQ1: How does use of and conversation around documents facilitate knowledge communication in the RGSU? RQ2: How does the structure of documents facilitate knowledge communication in the RGSU? RQ3: What is the intention, action, and process that goes into creating the documents used in knowledge communication in the RGSU? Results are too big for a poster, and data analysis is still in progress. This poster focuses on one interesting finding: In the RGSU, knowledge that had been lost was successfully redeveloped by later members of the organization in a cycle of knowledge reincarnation. How does this happen? Research Agenda Conducted a study of the role of documents in knowledge communication in an organization. Emphasis was on how documents are actually used to communicate knowledge By knowing how documents are used, we can better understand how knowledge management systems can be more made more effective. Employed both a Design perspective and a Sociotechnical perspective Research Questions (the RGSU is the site of the research, see below): RQ1: How does use of and conversation around documents facilitate knowledge communication in the RGSU? RQ2: How does the structure of documents facilitate knowledge communication in the RGSU? RQ3: What is the intention, action, and process that goes into creating the documents used in knowledge communication in the RGSU? Results are too big for a poster, and data analysis is still in progress. This poster focuses on one interesting finding: In the RGSU, knowledge that had been lost was successfully redeveloped by later members of the organization in a cycle of knowledge reincarnation. How does this happen? Case 2: Tuition Waivers (Knowledge) The RGSU was formed as an unrecognized union in 1995, and their first major issue was university administration attempts to reduce tuition waivers. In the first contract negotiations in 2003, tuition waivers were still an issue. In 2009 the administration again sought to reduce tuition waivers. However, active members & staff had completely turned over, and nobody remembered tuition waivers had been an issue for the RGSU. In the RGSU was partially successful in resisting administration attempts to reduce tuition waivers. In the RGSU was completely successful in resisting the administrations efforts. In 1995 & in 2009, many of the same tactics were used: informing members, holding protests (rallies, work- ins, etc.), eventually holding a sit-in, eventually holding a work stoppage, etc. Both collections of actions were conducted in similar ways and were about equally successful, despite the fact that nobody knew that they were essentially replicating prior actions. When the second strike and second sit-in occurred respectively, nobody left in the union had been a part of the previous one, and few remembered that they had even happened. The different levels of success happened because in 1995, the RGSU was not recognized, therefore most of the energy went toward recognition, such that by the time the first contract was negotiated in 2003, the win was obtaining a contract, whether or not it had tuition waiver protections. In 2009, the contract existed, and when tuition waiver protections were placed in the contract, the effort between was focused on contract enforcement. The win in 2012 was the administrations willingness to recognize the labor boards interpretation of the contract language in question, which was in agreement with the RGSUs interpretation. Factors that combined to allow success: Knowledge Seeds: In each year, there were a few individuals in the union who had some pieces of knowledge about social movements, organizing, running rallies, creating large-scale protests, and the organizations history. No one person had all the knowledge, and all the necessary pieces did not exist collectively. Even if they did, nobody knew how to put it all together. That had to be figured out. Knowledge of Power Dynamics: While specifics of organizational history had been lost, the general understanding of the source of union power being the collective labor of the workers was fundamentally understood by all, and the first lesson taught to newly active members. Organizational Values: Solidarity (standing together with everyone in the community) and Social Justice are the primary values of the organization, and together they both describe how to be successful, and motivate people to work towards being successfulthey guide behavior in a consistent direction. Similar Situations: In both cases tuition waivers was the issue, and the administration attempted a large-scale reform. This was a major contributing factor, but the values directed the response, the understanding of the power dynamics informed the response, and the knowledge seeds inspired possibilities. Case 2: Tuition Waivers (Knowledge) The RGSU was formed as an unrecognized union in 1995, and their first major issue was university administration attempts to reduce tuition waivers. In the first contract negotiations in 2003, tuition waivers were still an issue. In 2009 the administration again sought to reduce tuition waivers. However, active members & staff had completely turned over, and nobody remembered tuition waivers had been an issue for the RGSU. In the RGSU was partially successful in resisting administration attempts to reduce tuition waivers. In the RGSU was completely successful in resisting the administrations efforts. In 1995 & in 2009, many of the same tactics were used: informing members, holding protests (rallies, work- ins, etc.), eventually holding a sit-in, eventually holding a work stoppage, etc. Both collections of actions were conducted in similar ways and were about equally successful, despite the fact that nobody knew that they were essentially replicating prior actions. When the second strike and second sit-in occurred respectively, nobody left in the union had been a part of the previous one, and few remembered that they had even happened. The different levels of success happened because in 1995, the RGSU was not recognized, therefore most of the energy went toward recognition, such that by the time the first contract was negotiated in 2003, the win was obtaining a contract, whether or not it had tuition waiver protections. In 2009, the contract existed, and when tuition waiver protections were placed in the contract, the effort between was focused on contract enforcement. The win in 2012 was the administrations willingness to recognize the labor boards interpretation of the contract language in question, which was in agreement with the RGSUs interpretation. Factors that combined to allow success: Knowledge Seeds: In each year, there were a few individuals in the union who had some pieces of knowledge about social movements, organizing, running rallies, creating large-scale protests, and the organizations history. No one person had all the knowledge, and all the necessary pieces did not exist collectively. Even if they did, nobody knew how to put it all together. That had to be figured out. Knowledge of Power Dynamics: While specifics of organizational history had been lost, the general understanding of the source of union power being the collective labor of the workers was fundamentally understood by all, and the first lesson taught to newly active members. Organizational Values: Solidarity (standing together with everyone in the community) and Social Justice are the primary values of the organization, and together they both describe how to be successful, and motivate people to work towards being successfulthey guide behavior in a consistent direction. Similar Situations: In both cases tuition waivers was the issue, and the administration attempted a large-scale reform. This was a major contributing factor, but the values directed the response, the understanding of the power dynamics informed the response, and the knowledge seeds inspired possibilities. Case 3: Solidarity & Endorsements (Both) The RGSU has a solidarity fund used to support other unions and community organizations. The Executive Committee (EC) of the RGSU determines what solidarity requests are approved. Supporting other unions is generally uncontroversial. Supporting community organizations can be quite controversial. Because the EC is almost a completely different body each year, the same discussions about whether to fund events of non-labor community organizations keep recurring. Some people (1-3) do continue from EC to EC, but not enough of the 11 person body. Furthermore, their perspective plays a surprisingly small role in the debatesthey are just regular participants. The controversy happens due to a fundamental conflict between two core values of the organization. The two values are (a) creating a big-tent organization that is accepting of multiple viewpoints of different members; and (b) building solidarity with local community organizations by practicing social justice as written into the RGSUs constitution. The debates take many forms, and many different arguments are expressed, but they always boil down to: (a) we should not give to the organization because some members who do not value social justice will see it as us giving away their member dues for non-union activities that they might not even agree with; versus (b) we should give to the organization because we need to keep building relationships with the community we are a part of, and real relationships means mutual respect and support as per the value of solidarity (i.e., making their campaigns ours because they are willing to make our struggle theirs). Depending on who is an officer, and how strongly each argument is pushed, either argument can win. The documents produced include meeting minutes, conversations, and formal solidarity responses to the requesting organization (either pro or con). There is certain knowledge content that is remarkably constant across different documents produced in different years. Factors that combined to allow successful knowledge re-creation: Tension Between Organizational Values: Most participants have little understanding of either the big-tent democracy or the social justice solidarity values when the conversation begins. However, through the process of the (heated) discussion, by the end, participants end up with a very refined understanding of each value, no matter the decision made. By exploring the tension between the values, participants better understand both. Structure of the Circumstance: Without the community groups solidarity request, the debate between the values would not occur. Without the tension between activist values and the white middle class values of many members, the tension would not be so acute, and the issues would not be fully explored. Organizational Practice: The legitimate way for decisions to be made in the RGSU is through consensus. Thus most decisions are talked through until everybody is in agreement, or everybody feels that the issue has been sufficiently explored and nothing new is left to be brought up. Votes are typically formalities. In this (rare) case, the votes actually matter, but the habit of discussing the issue fully ensures the debate happens, and the issues are fully explored. Case 3: Solidarity & Endorsements (Both) The RGSU has a solidarity fund used to support other unions and community organizations. The Executive Committee (EC) of the RGSU determines what solidarity requests are approved. Supporting other unions is generally uncontroversial. Supporting community organizations can be quite controversial. Because the EC is almost a completely different body each year, the same discussions about whether to fund events of non-labor community organizations keep recurring. Some people (1-3) do continue from EC to EC, but not enough of the 11 person body. Furthermore, their perspective plays a surprisingly small role in the debatesthey are just regular participants. The controversy happens due to a fundamental conflict between two core values of the organization. The two values are (a) creating a big-tent organization that is accepting of multiple viewpoints of different members; and (b) building solidarity with local community organizations by practicing social justice as written into the RGSUs constitution. The debates take many forms, and many different arguments are expressed, but they always boil down to: (a) we should not give to the organization because some members who do not value social justice will see it as us giving away their member dues for non-union activities that they might not even agree with; versus (b) we should give to the organization because we need to keep building relationships with the community we are a part of, and real relationships means mutual respect and support as per the value of solidarity (i.e., making their campaigns ours because they are willing to make our struggle theirs). Depending on who is an officer, and how strongly each argument is pushed, either argument can win. The documents produced include meeting minutes, conversations, and formal solidarity responses to the requesting organization (either pro or con). There is certain knowledge content that is remarkably constant across different documents produced in different years. Factors that combined to allow successful knowledge re-creation: Tension Between Organizational Values: Most participants have little understanding of either the big-tent democracy or the social justice solidarity values when the conversation begins. However, through the process of the (heated) discussion, by the end, participants end up with a very refined understanding of each value, no matter the decision made. By exploring the tension between the values, participants better understand both. Structure of the Circumstance: Without the community groups solidarity request, the debate between the values would not occur. Without the tension between activist values and the white middle class values of many members, the tension would not be so acute, and the issues would not be fully explored. Organizational Practice: The legitimate way for decisions to be made in the RGSU is through consensus. Thus most decisions are talked through until everybody is in agreement, or everybody feels that the issue has been sufficiently explored and nothing new is left to be brought up. Votes are typically formalities. In this (rare) case, the votes actually matter, but the habit of discussing the issue fully ensures the debate happens, and the issues are fully explored. Case 1: Scripts for Phonebanking (Documents) Phonebanking is a systematic phone calling of members, typically to ask them to turn out for a particular event (rally, general membership meeting, etc.) It is vital for ensuring large numbers of members will attend a particular event Writing an effective script for phonebanking requires considerable skill The conversation must be short so as not to disorganize the member, but typically the request to attend the event must be contextualized with a summary of current events Most people must compose multiple scripts and see them in action in order to learn enough from their mistakes to develop effective scriptwriting skills This skill seems to get lost between bargaining cycles, as the amount of phonebanking greatly decreases. It seems to be a skill developed primarily through learning-by-doing. Factors that combine to allow successful knowledge re-creation: Experience of Performing Task: The act of phonebanking is very informative, and gives insight into what is required of the script Watching/Experiencing Failure: There is nothing that gives more insight than a person having trouble using their own phonebanking script Task Remains Constant: Here: activity (phoning) and purpose (turnout). Case 1: Scripts for Phonebanking (Documents) Phonebanking is a systematic phone calling of members, typically to ask them to turn out for a particular event (rally, general membership meeting, etc.) It is vital for ensuring large numbers of members will attend a particular event Writing an effective script for phonebanking requires considerable skill The conversation must be short so as not to disorganize the member, but typically the request to attend the event must be contextualized with a summary of current events Most people must compose multiple scripts and see them in action in order to learn enough from their mistakes to develop effective scriptwriting skills This skill seems to get lost between bargaining cycles, as the amount of phonebanking greatly decreases. It seems to be a skill developed primarily through learning-by-doing. Factors that combine to allow successful knowledge re-creation: Experience of Performing Task: The act of phonebanking is very informative, and gives insight into what is required of the script Watching/Experiencing Failure: There is nothing that gives more insight than a person having trouble using their own phonebanking script Task Remains Constant: Here: activity (phoning) and purpose (turnout). Approach to Analysis At first glance, each of these cases seems quite different, yet each is clearly knowledge reincarnation. To analyze the data a design perspective was brought to bear through questions like: Given the problems the RGSU has with maintaining organizational knowledge, what would leadership need to know in order to intentionally design an environment that would foster knowledge reincarnation? Can any kind of knowledge be reincarnated? What would I do to design an environment that would foster a particular kind of knowledge to be reincarnated? This analysis is necessarily speculative given the lack of ability to actually test the conclusions, but the goal is to provide testable hypotheses for future research. Approach to Analysis At first glance, each of these cases seems quite different, yet each is clearly knowledge reincarnation. To analyze the data a design perspective was brought to bear through questions like: Given the problems the RGSU has with maintaining organizational knowledge, what would leadership need to know in order to intentionally design an environment that would foster knowledge reincarnation? Can any kind of knowledge be reincarnated? What would I do to design an environment that would foster a particular kind of knowledge to be reincarnated? This analysis is necessarily speculative given the lack of ability to actually test the conclusions, but the goal is to provide testable hypotheses for future research. Ingbert Schmidt University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Analysis & Findings Customizing to Context Knowledge reincarnation happens in many different ways. Any effort to create an environment that fosters knowledge reincarnation when keeping full knowledge is difficult must be customized to the particular context and goals of the organization. Learning from Experience All of the cases I have found of document and/or knowledge reincarnation involve action (e.g.: calling people, running a strike, making a decision on giving solidarity donations). Therefore, it seems that an experiential component of the knowledge may be necessary for knowledge to be reincarnated. Task Process vs. Task Purpose The details of how to accomplish a task are not important. Understanding the purpose of the task is vital. If a person or group of people is given a task, and if they understand what the task is supposed to accomplish, then they can figure out how to accomplish the goals of the task themselves. Often the actions they take will be similar to those that people took before. Understanding Functional Dynamics Understanding or learning the functional dynamics of a situation is vital for people to effectively re-create knowledge. Whether it is knowledge of the power dynamics which give unions the leverage to successfully negotiate contracts, the dynamics of how effective solidarity between organizations works, or the dynamics of an unsolicited phone call, understanding or having the opportunity to learn these dynamics is what allows knowledge or documents to be successfully reincarnated. Added benefit: the reincarnated knowledge is customized for current events. Learning through Trial and Error To learn these dynamics, or to otherwise re-develop the knowledge, requires opportunities to try something, watch it fail, and then learn from the mistakes. Not everything can be tried in full (e.g., strike), but pieces of it must be practicable (e.g., pickets, demonstrations, turnout, etc.), then later assembled. In the solidarity example, the debate is a simulated trial-and-error, as people try out (advocate) certain decisions, and other people say what they believe the various consequences of that decision will be. Organizational Values The values of the organization give much needed structure to a particular task. Without the values, the task is under-defined, as it unclear what a success would look like, or what the person is trying to accomplish with the task. With the solidarity example, the tension between values defines the task. With the tuition waivers example, the values guide how the organization approaches the task and what makes a particular approach valid versus another approach. For example, a strike that is not democratic is a failure. In phonebanking, the values are more subtle, but still define what makes one approach better than another: a call in which a member is informed and feels comfortable asking questions is better than a call in which they feel talked at. In essence, values provide the constraints needed to narrow options to a manageable number. Facts & History Many facts and much history can be forgotten when knowledge can be reincarnated, which is useful for situations where this is inevitable. What they provide is (a) ideas for what is possible, (b) a place to start (we did this then, lets try it again), (c) knowledge of what not to do, what to avoid. Organizational Process & Practice The organizations method of functioning is vital contextual information for determining what methods of knowledge reincarnation will actually work. Analysis & Findings Customizing to Context Knowledge reincarnation happens in many different ways. Any effort to create an environment that fosters knowledge reincarnation when keeping full knowledge is difficult must be customized to the particular context and goals of the organization. Learning from Experience All of the cases I have found of document and/or knowledge reincarnation involve action (e.g.: calling people, running a strike, making a decision on giving solidarity donations). Therefore, it seems that an experiential component of the knowledge may be necessary for knowledge to be reincarnated. Task Process vs. Task Purpose The details of how to accomplish a task are not important. Understanding the purpose of the task is vital. If a person or group of people is given a task, and if they understand what the task is supposed to accomplish, then they can figure out how to accomplish the goals of the task themselves. Often the actions they take will be similar to those that people took before. Understanding Functional Dynamics Understanding or learning the functional dynamics of a situation is vital for people to effectively re-create knowledge. Whether it is knowledge of the power dynamics which give unions the leverage to successfully negotiate contracts, the dynamics of how effective solidarity between organizations works, or the dynamics of an unsolicited phone call, understanding or having the opportunity to learn these dynamics is what allows knowledge or documents to be successfully reincarnated. Added benefit: the reincarnated knowledge is customized for current events. Learning through Trial and Error To learn these dynamics, or to otherwise re-develop the knowledge, requires opportunities to try something, watch it fail, and then learn from the mistakes. Not everything can be tried in full (e.g., strike), but pieces of it must be practicable (e.g., pickets, demonstrations, turnout, etc.), then later assembled. In the solidarity example, the debate is a simulated trial-and-error, as people try out (advocate) certain decisions, and other people say what they believe the various consequences of that decision will be. Organizational Values The values of the organization give much needed structure to a particular task. Without the values, the task is under-defined, as it unclear what a success would look like, or what the person is trying to accomplish with the task. With the solidarity example, the tension between values defines the task. With the tuition waivers example, the values guide how the organization approaches the task and what makes a particular approach valid versus another approach. For example, a strike that is not democratic is a failure. In phonebanking, the values are more subtle, but still define what makes one approach better than another: a call in which a member is informed and feels comfortable asking questions is better than a call in which they feel talked at. In essence, values provide the constraints needed to narrow options to a manageable number. Facts & History Many facts and much history can be forgotten when knowledge can be reincarnated, which is useful for situations where this is inevitable. What they provide is (a) ideas for what is possible, (b) a place to start (we did this then, lets try it again), (c) knowledge of what not to do, what to avoid. Organizational Process & Practice The organizations method of functioning is vital contextual information for determining what methods of knowledge reincarnation will actually work. Relevance to LIS One of the more recent shifts in Knowledge Management has been from systems- centric approaches (building the perfect database) to people-centric approaches (help me find the expert I need to talk to). This research suggests ways in which knowledge can be stored that is neither systems-centric nor people-centric, but rather organizational-structure-centric. Clearly, this is not appropriate for all knowledge, but provides a framework for developing new ways of thinking about information storage and retrieval: generative instead of just static. Relevance to LIS One of the more recent shifts in Knowledge Management has been from systems- centric approaches (building the perfect database) to people-centric approaches (help me find the expert I need to talk to). This research suggests ways in which knowledge can be stored that is neither systems-centric nor people-centric, but rather organizational-structure-centric. Clearly, this is not appropriate for all knowledge, but provides a framework for developing new ways of thinking about information storage and retrieval: generative instead of just static.


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