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A Cafe for Conversation and Social Knowledge

I was asked some months ago to assist a masters student in some research they were undertaking into the role of conversation in knowledge exchange. The intention was to look at the challenges and barriers to communication and what techniques and approaches can help overcome them especially in an organisational environment. Last week I got to see the paper she produced and it makes for a fascinating read.

It’s a fascinating topic and we have touched upon the importance of talking and conversation in the nurturing of social knowledge in this blog before. It is particularly interesting when you consider the aspect of generating high touch conversational aspects of social media and how the various tools that currently underpin the social media mindset have both strengths and weaknesses in that process.

The research was particularly interested in how one particular technique can be used to strengthen communication and knowledge activities, and if it had particular benefits through specifically acknowledging and mitigating some of the barriers that can often strangle good conversation.

That technique is known as a Knowledge Café – a deceptively simple but remarkably effective tool developed by David Gurteen. Both Daniela and I have known David for a number of years and have used the technique in the past, and have attended Dave’s training sessions where he can effectively describe the subtle elements that when applied and understood make the approach so successful.

I would like to take the idea and move it into something that is enhanced for application via social media platforms, with specific advice on how to make the best of this in an online mode, but that will have to wait till after Social Media Week.

However if you have never investigated this technique but would like to know more I would heartily recommend that you check David’s extensive website out at and get along to one of David’s regular training sessions. The next one  is on Tuesday 13 September, at the RSA in central London. So plenty of time to get to that and back to Glasgow for Social Media Week.

It’s fascinating how traditional cafes work though and I just want to say a big thanks to Martin Jack – or Jacky to his friends – for making Business Banter such a success. We love it and you deserved the back slaps you got on its first birthday on Friday. Well done mate!

The Social Media Solutions to public sector IT disasters

The Social Media Solutions to public sector IT disasters

Every once in a while a news item emerges that comments, in one way or another, on the perennial issue of failure and cost in big public sector IT procurement projects. I will, as the occasion demands,  trot out my standard explanations as to why this will continue to happen. Well the season is upon us again today with another such report appearing this time it being  “IT giants ‘ripping off Whitehall’, say MPs”

Well I thought I would reflect on a couple of ways that Social Media mindset would help address some of the issues.
Let’s revisit some of the common problems.


Often specifications are generated through either top down processes, using procedures or manuals to define requirements, or the application of what I would call the binary capture method – that is to say the requirements capture process relies on the use cases resolving around one single approved method of doing things. This simply won’t work in a Social Media world! Apart from being bound to a Taylorist management model that treats folks like machines, it is dictated by the rigidity of the product sets generally deployed. We have touched in this blog in the past how social media tools are very tolerant of ambiguity, are narrative based and emergent. As such they are the most magnificent mechanisms for rich, meaningful specification capture.  This is then an opportunity to get the functional requirement closer to need but it is challenged by the ongoing issues of problem number two which is …….

Product set

Many of the usual suspects (by this I mean the typical consultancy groups who vie for the business of IT delivery to public sector bodies) are wedded to big vendor product sets. Why is this a problem? Well the “solutions” they specify are often very rigid, because you will have a big deployment that is trying to be all things to all men/women and is in fact not leader in the field of any of the functional pieces. Similarly big deployment rely on being in place for a long time to see a return and of course the deployment takes so long  the “solution” will not keep pace with technology, business and behavioural change so by the time the project is delivered the product set is out of date and doesn’t do what is needed any more.
So what different about the soil media mindset approach? Well it is founded in constant change and development. Tools change and evolve all the time. People pick and chose to find what suits them. There is  close relationship to an environment of open api’s product integration, and building value from integrating diverse products and highly iterative development. By approaching a business need from the perspective that there are many ways to complete a process, and we all have our preferred way of doing it, and by adopting a mixed product set made up of smaller applications you get greater efficiency and more flexibility – and so quicker ROI. This, by the way, explains the picture with this post  – it’s the old saying if the only tool you have is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.


Ah yes iteration. Incremental progress is bound into the social media way – big Line of Business applications don’t like that model. Clunky periodic big hit upgrades are probably the worst way to enhance functionality in software – but it is the only way for the big systems.


Leaving aside allegations of cartels and the idea that these organisations see public sector money as easy picking we have to ask why it is the usual suspects do it all? Simple – procurement in the public sector is a shambles with models that are designed to only let the usual suspects in. Blogged on this before in other places but what has it to do with Social media mindset – well quite a lot actually. We regularly talk about one of the key factors in the engagement model of Social Media is the concept of low barriers to entry and how actors see themselves in a different light as a result. We also talk about the tolerance of what I will loosely call the creative destruction model, that is to say the idea that organisations can quite legitimately have a shorter life span, are generally smaller and will partner with other in a much more collaborative way than would have been possible before.
We are increasingly seeing groups coalesce into cooperative vehicles to bid for larger pieces of work, and if the public sector procurement models were more tolerant of this and recognised if they want innovation (particularly in technology) they often need to look at very young firms then there would be a chance to find more flexible, innovative cost effective solutions, and not rely on the men in suits, heavy on process, hand in glove with corporate vendors.
I believe it is changing, gradually, but often the public sector is slowest to change or even recognise the opportunity. But I genuinely hope that with a bit more adoption of a social media mindset in this area we might stop reading about multi-million pound IT failures in the public sector. Well here’s hoping anyway.


Motherwell, Mindset and Meetings

Yesterday we made a breakfast presentation at the Motherwell College Knowledge Transfer Hub and what a pleasure it was. Packed house, engaged participants, intelligent questions, fabulous facilities. Loved it and loved giving them a great insight into the Social Media mindset and how understanding it is of such greater value if you want to extract real (and sustainable) business potential from the use of SM, in contrast with the transient and dubious value of just learning how to tweet.

What was particularly fantastic about being at the College is that it presents a shining example of regeneration at work. Set on the site of the former Ravenscraig steelworks, it is close by the striking Ravenscraig Regional Sports Facility. The College itself has more than 20,000 students all learning rich and valuable professional and personal skills and doing so in a practical and applied way in what I can only describe as an entrepreneurial and uplifting environment. I compared it, in conversation with some of the College’s senior team, to the technical college I attended many years ago where they taught me to weld for a living, and how it and Borstal didn’t seem particularly different. But enough of my misspent youth.

The ideas around regeneration, the community of the College and the sense of reducing barriers to allow people to follow their ambition had much in common with the ensuing discussion of Social Media mindset. The sense of possibility and potential in the college is exactly what is on offer to organisations that understand and embrace the social media ethos. New business models, new value sets, new hope of change.

Later in the day we met with one of the many people who simply “get” the opportunity that Social Media Week Glasgow presents and are just bursting with ideas as to how to make it a sensational international star burst.

It’s days like this that make me reflect that our work in broadening people’s understanding of how social media mindset can truly make a difference in economy, culture and importantly society – means that I probably have one of the best jobs in the world.


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