Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Encouraging user participation in RM projects

Its been a recurring theme of mine for the last couple of years now that records management needs to find better ways of connecting with users; of thinking a little less about ‘the organisation’ and a little more about ‘the individual’.  For without the support and enthusiasm of those on the ground even the most ambitious and robust of RM implementations is pretty well doomed to failure. 

Human Computer Interaction and User Centred Design based approaches certainly have a great deal of potential in this regard and the more I have researched these areas the more convinced I become that we need to find ways to bring such techniques more fully into the RM canon.  It would certainly be interesting to know just how many EDRM/ERM systems have ever undergone any robust, independent usability testing.  The change in tack from some vendors away from the “our product integrates ‘seamlessly’ with your users desktop” message of the past to the “our product integrates seamlessly with Sharepoint so your users never even know its there” message of today suggests a certain recognition that this was largely a battle lost.

I suspect many of those involved in RM projects might protest that user consultation and engagement has been an important facet of their projects.  Focus groups, ‘model offices’, and user representatives on project teams are all well established mechanisms for ensuring the user voice isn’t lost.  But how effective are they?  Are these channels which really proactively encourage free thought and honest reflection, or are they (perhaps subconsciously) designed to only produce a narrow range of responses with most of the important decisions already made: more a question of ‘Which user interface do you like best: A, B, or C’ than ‘What could we do to improve your access to the information you need to do your job more easily’?  Whereas the former already assumes a new interface is needed, whether the user likes it or not; the latter makes no such assumptions and could elicit a broad spectrum of ideas that go far beyond changes to a system interface.

As part of my role at JISC infoNet I’ve been increasingly engaged with participatory techniques and stringing these together to run participatory workshops.  These are simple, creative exercises that are designed to get groups of people working together, raising issues, sharing ideas and forming a consensus.  They are the polar opposite of most of the workshops I’ve ever encountered in terms of the energy and enthusiasm they generate and the results they generate.  Just this week we’ve released an online guide to how to conduct such an event through our Planning a participatory workshop infoKit.

We’ve been using these techniques extensively with project teams, College leadership teams and internally within our own team for over a year now and I increasingly think they have an important role to play as part of any information or records related project.  Of course, just getting running a participatory workshop or two or livening up a meeting with some of these exercises alone isn’t going to guarantee a successful RM project, but it might just represent one of the pieces of the records management puzzle that I’m increasingly convinced is missing at the moment.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Process Modelling – A missed opportunity?

“Staff working on the project did not have experience of defining business processes or of translating metrics into monetary terms. It was difficult at first to think of the management of personnel files and employee records as a business process."

So reported one of the projects piloting our Impact Calculator back in 2010. I stumbled on this by chance just the other day whilst preparing for a workshop on the Impact Calculator but the reason for my interest actually relates to some thoughts I have been having recently about process mapping and in particular the tools and standards that records managers adopt when carrying out process mapping for their purposes and how these compare with the ‘industry standards’ employed by those for whom business mapping is core to what they do.

To this end I sent an email to the UK records management jiscmail list, acknowledging that:

 “functional analysis has long been considered an important aspect of the records management canon. We understand the importance of taking a ‘functional approach’ to record keeping and for having classification schemes, retention schedules and other RM controls determined by a function-based structure.

What I would be very interested to know, however, is what tools and/or standards do people tend to use when it comes to undertaking this analysis and capturing the outputs?”

To be fair I received a fairly limited response, but what I did receive struck me as interesting. In essence a pattern seemed to emerge where by the records manager reported that they use Powerpoint or Mindmap or something at what could be described as the ‘basic’ or ‘non-specialist’ end of the spectrum whist at the same time pointing out that ‘the organisation’ uses something else (usually something more specialised). Obviously it’s all very anecdotal and based on a small sample but I wonder whether it suggests some potentially missed opportunities?

What do I mean? Well, use of different tools and individualised (non standard) approaches to modelling may make it harder for the records manager to add their outputs to whatever models are being compiled throughout the rest of the organisation. If so, is there a risk that by not ‘talking the same language’ as our business analyst and IT colleagues that we are making it harder for ourselves to add RM controls and services to the enterprise’s architecture? Does a lack of adoption of accepted standards and tools also mean we are limiting our capacity as records managers to start sharing and joining up our process models between organisations working in the same sectors, limiting the opportunity for their reuse and for collaborative work? And finally, are the Mindmaps, Powerpoint slides and non-standard Visio notations really fit for our own purposes, or have we just grown accustomed to accepting the limitations of what we can achieve within these tools, rather than exploring the benefits that greater knowledge and use of more sophisticated tools could bring to our own daily work?

I’m not really sure where, if anywhere, any of this is leading or whether its not really an issue at all, but cant seem to shake the nagging feeling that there is some trick being missed by a lot of us at the moment.