Tuesday, April 10, 2018

How thinking like a museum can help us to keep up-to-date!

Rachel Burnham writes: Last month I had the exciting opportunity to speak at the second Disrupt HR Manchester.  I was one of 16 speakers each doing an Ignite – one of those tricky presentations made up of 20 slides, each with 15 seconds set to change automatically over a 5 minute period – a particularly challenging format for a session.  I don’t mind speaking in front of a group of people, but I am more of a facilitator, so speaking without hesitation or seeking to involve participants is a bit out of my comfort zone.

I chose to speak about personal curation and created a set of hand-drawn slides to illustrate.  Here is a summary of my presentation:

I am going to focus on ‘How thinking like a museum can help us to keep up-to-date’ and by doing this refresh our professional know-how and as result be more effective in our professional roles.

With the internet, the amount of information that is available to us is increasing exponentially.   There is so much information that we feel we need to be aware of to be up-to-date in our roles – information about our professional field, new information from the world of science, about technology and its application, about our organisation, the sector it is in and the wider economy and world.  It can feel rather over-whelming.

Almost as though we are under a waterfall with all this different information flowing towards us, over us and around us.  How can we manage this information and make good use of this abundance?

The old methods of managing information are no longer effective.  I remember keeping a topic folder to manage information and actually cutting out articles from magazines, journals and newspapers about the subjects that I was particularly working on at the time.  But just as traditional approaches to learning, such as relying only on face to face training programmes, are no long sufficient to enable us to keep pace with change, so these old approaches to managing information are no longer effective.  We need to be always learning.

It is easy enough to lose track of paper resources – I don’t know whether you have ever turned your office upside down in the search for a lost sheet?  How much easier is it to lose track of a great digital resource – you read an informative thought-provoking article one day, but when you want to refer back to it a month later, can you find it? Or you come across a great infographic, but when you try to share it with your colleagues, you don’t have it to hand!  How frustrating!

This is why we need to learn from the approaches developed by museums and art galleries for managing the information and artifacts in their care.  In particular, we can learn about curation.

What do I mean by curation in this context?

It is a bit like a museum putting on a pottery exhibition, and carefully selecting just a few key pots from amongst it’s great collection of pottery, to tell the story of the development of pottery and using labels and the arrangement of the pots to help to tell that story.

We can make use of Harold Jarche’s Seek, Sense and Share model to help us with our practice of personal curation.   If you haven’t come across this model before, I recommend it to you.  Harold can be found on Twitter @hjarche.

The first part of this model is about seeking out relevant information for you.  A key approach is through developing effective networks of individuals and organisations who share interesting information that is relevant to you.  You need to pick out credible and informed people to access the information that you need.   It is helpful not to limit your network to your specific area of work, but to cast your net more widely, to enable you to be informed more broadly.   This network needs to include people who you trust and interact more closely with in order to ‘sense-make’, which is the second part of Harold Jarche’s model and these people will form your Personal Learning Network.
As part of ‘seek’ it also is helpful to make use of technology to automate the bringing of information to you, so that it is as easy as possible for you to see the information that is relevant to you.   For example, you might subscribe to range of blogs and have these delivered to your mobile phone via the tool ‘Feedly’. 
Thirdly, we need to develop really excellent research skills to be able to seek out additional information as and when we need it.  This means being able to go beyond doing simple Google searches.

The second part of Jarche’s model is ‘sense’ or ‘sense-making’ which is all about weighing up the information we see, evaluating it, working out if the information is relevant and worthwhile, but also about drawing out what it means for us in our situation.  So sense-making involves asking questions about the information we are looking at – assessing it’s credibility, asking how current it is, whether it is accurate, what the source of the information is and assessing whether there is a bias in the information from that source.  This process often leads to filtering out information that doesn’t meet our needs or our standards of high quality.  

We also need to consider how to store any information or resources we discover, so that we can easily get our hands on it again.  It makes sense to do this digitally, so that we can access it at work or when we are on the move.   This involves categorising information and labelling it, so that it is easily discoverable.  There are a number of digital tools that can be used to do this – an example is Evernote.

Perhaps the most important part of ‘sense-making’ is digesting the information we have found and relating it to our own context.  This sense-making can take place through reflection individually, but also through engagement with other people and this can be where your Personal Learning Network really comes into its own.   You may also be drawing information from different sources together and seeing patterns, connections, differences and relationships between these pieces to create new insights.

The final part of this three stage model is ‘share’.   Having found useful resources and having made sense of information, identifying who would it be useful to share this with and how would be helpful to share this material.   You may want to share with your immediate colleagues, groups of employees you work with, other stakeholders or peers.  It is worth thinking through what method of sharing would work best for a particular audience and how you can put the information or resource into context for that audience.   By making careful choices of what you share and when and how and the additional information you add, you can ensure that you add value to what you share. 

To be effective at curation, it is worth considering your mindset – it helps to be curious, to consider what your ‘intent or purpose’ is in curating and to recognise that you don’t need to know everything about a subject area and instead can focus on knowing who does have expertise in that area and where information can be found.

To be effective at curation, it also helps to make use of the digital tools to make your task simpler.   There are many different digital tools that can be used to support each of the aspects of ‘Seek - sense - share’ and I have mentioned just a couple of those available earlier in this piece.   These can be used alongside the skills of networking, researching, filtering, collaborating for greatest effectiveness.

I also think that habits can play a part in effective curation - for example, I have developed the practice of always writing notes about any resource I look at and setting out its relevance, what I think of it and its source and date, before I store it.  These notes are not extensive - simple labels to help me manage the information.   Other habits that can be helpful could be when you set aside time for reading or listening to podcasts, or regular patterns for sharing material that you have come across eg a weekly round-up for colleagues.    

‘Personal curation’ is as it suggests about a personal approach.  What works for one person, won’t necessarily work for someone else.  The precise combination of mindset, skills, digital tools and habits that work will be different for each individual.  We need to create our own approach.

We can do this by reviewing what we are already doing to manage the information we need to be effective in our work.  What amongst the things we are doing to seek, sense and share is going well, what is not working so well?  We can learn from the experience of other people and pick up tips and ideas from them.  We can also experiment and try out new approaches ourselves, particularly with using digital tools to automate some of these steps.   It is an ongoing process to refine our approach and make it work for us, so that the abundance of information available to us, isn’t a burden, but a resource for our effectiveness.

So, here is my challenge to you – how might thinking like a museum help you to keep up-to-date?

And here is the video of my Ignite if you would like to watch it! 

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D works with individuals and organisations to help them learn and work more effectively.  As part of this I help L&D professionals to be even more effective through updating their skills and know-how.  I have a particular interest in curation and the use of digital technologies in learning.  I frequently Sketchnote at events and offer workshops in Sketchnoting.  

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