Connecting Knowledge Communities: Approaches to Professional Development

Conrad Taylor writes:

The September 2016 meeting of NetIKX was introduced by David Penfold. He explained that at this time in 2015, the NetIKX meeting about ‘connecting communities’ had heard from various organisations in the knowledge and information management space. This year, the decision to focus the meeting on training and development had been partly influenced by a plea at an ISKO UK meeting for more thinking about these topics.

All our speakers had interpreted the meeting topic as being about Continuous Professional Development (CPD). There were two presentations, followed in the usual NetIKX pattern by discussion in table groups. The first presentation was given by Luke Stevens-Burt, who is Head of Business Development (Member Services) at the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals.

CILIP’s Professional Knowledge and Skills Base

Luke explained that CILIP accredits degree programmes at universities, and registers and certifies members though chartership and fellowship, but that their main support for the development of its members is delivered through CPD, which he defined as ‘intentionally developing the knowledge, skills and personal knowledge needed to perform professional responsibilities’.  In the past, CPD had been conceptualised as a formal training process, but there has been a shift towards understanding informal experiences and exposure to ideas as being as important, if not more so.

As a person’s work experience develops, and the world of work changes, CPD helps to bolster adaptability. The resources available for learning are diversifying, including MOOCs, journals, seminars and conferences and meetings, even informal conversations over coffee.

Central to CILIP’s support for CPD is something they call the ‘PKSB’, which stands for Professional Knowledge and Skills Base. The conceptual diagram for this – rather difficult to read because of unfortunate low-contrast colour choices – Luke called the ‘wagon wheel’. At the hub, the diagram places ‘Ethics and Values’. Radiating from this are eight spokes representing aspects of Professional Expertise, and four more spokes represent Generic Skills. Around these the diagram portrays a ‘rim’ representing the wider context of the library, information and knowledge sector, and finally an outer ‘tyre’ of an even wider context, to do with the employing organisation and its environment.

The eight headings for ‘Professional Expertise’ are: organising knowledge and information; knowledge and information management; exploiting knowledge and information; research skills; information governance and compliance; records management and archiving; collection management and development; and so-called ‘literacies’ and learning.

The more generic skillsets, which can be found in many professions, were identified as use of computers and communication, leadership and advocacy, strategic planning, and a sundry collection around customer service design and marketing.

A system for self-assessment

Fundamentally, it seems, the PKSB toolkit is a system, using which a person can make a self-assessment of their level of understanding or skill in each of these areas (and subsidiary sets under these, totalling about a hundred in all), based on a ranking between zero for ‘no understanding’ and four for the highest level of expertise.

In using the PKSB, CILIP members are supposed to define what level they are at in each skill area that’s relevant to their current job, and what level they would ideally like to attain, and add an explanatory comment. For example, a person might decide that they only score a basic ‘1’ at using classification schemes and taxonomies, but would like to make progress towards level ‘2’. An alternative use of PKSB could be for career planning, related not to your current job, but to one into which you would like to progress, which might require an upgrading of skills.

Apparently, this PKSB system is used by CILIP in deciding whether to register someone as a member, for example as a chartered member. In this case, the self-assessment is only one step, because one must also submit a portfolio, explaining how you have gained your skills, and this will go before an Assessor.

Thereafter, the PKSB is purely a self-assessment tool so that members can monitor their progress and design a CPD path for themselves. It is for use by CILIP members only, though it is also used as the framework for deciding whether university courses meet the standard at which they can be accredited by CILIP.

Until mid 2016, CILIP members used the PKSB by printing out a set of forms and maintaining them manually. The recent developments do not fundamentally change the system, but make it available as an online interactive system with an app-like interface, usable from a computer, tablet or smartphone. Much of the rest of Luke’s presentation consisted of a live demonstration of the online PKSB interface and facilities, for example showing how it can generate summary reports.

Finally, Luke touched briefly on the resources CILIP can directly provide to support professional development. Within CILIP there are a number of member networks. Some are regionally based, and some are special interest groups – such as the School Libraries Group, the Multimedia Information & Technology group, and the UK eInformation Group (UKeIG). CILIP also plans to launch a new SIG in January 2017 for knowledge and information management, as a revamp of the existing Information Services Group (it will be interesting to see whether this new body will be prepared to collaborate with others in the field, such as NetIKX, ISKO, etc).

CILIP also maintains a Virtual Learning Environment, with online modular courses, about which it would have been nice to hear more; and publishes a members’ magazine (Update), e-bulletins, and various journals, some of which are in print form and some online.

CPD in Government

The second presentation was given by Christopher Reeves and Karen Thwaites, who both work for the Department for Education – Christopher on the records management side, and Karen as a knowledge and information manager with a training role. Additionally, Christopher is on the working group for the Government Knowledge and Information Management (GKIM) Skills Framework, which was the topic of their talk.

The Knowledge and Information Management (KIM) profession has been recognised by the UK government only since the turn of the century, though there have been many jobs in the civil service with aspects of KIM within them, such as librarians and managers of information rights, and records managers. Karen displayed an ‘onion diagram’ showing a core set of KIM roles, surrounded by allied roles such as specialists in geospatial information or data scientists, and an outer rim of allied professions.

The Civil Service Reform Plan, published in June 2012, stated that civil servants should operate as ‘digital by default’, with a set of skills transferrable between the public and private sector. People with KIM roles have become more prominent lately; in the field of records management, the Hillsborough Enquiry played a role in raising a more general level of awareness, as has the current independent enquiry into child sexual abuse.

The GKIM Framework working group

A working group for the GKIM Skills Framework was announced in 2015 by Stephen Mathern as Head of Profession, and gathered under the chairmanship of David Elder to review an existing Framework and propose revisions. The volunteer participants in the group, which included Christopher, represented a range of grades and a variety of KIM roles, across a broad spectrum of departments. The new Framework was launched at a conference in 2016.

The process started with a survey of KIM colleagues, via the departmental Heads of Profession. The results indicated that the existing Framework was seen as too rigid, not user-friendly, with complex language and jargon, and not accessible.

Putting together a plan of action, the working group resolved that the replacement Framework should be flexible, able to fit the profession as it evolves. However, the three main skill areas were retained as definitions: these are (a) abilities to use, evaluate and exploit knowledge and information; (b) abilities to acquire, manage and organise knowledge and information; and (c) information governance skills.

The group resolved to define a ‘foundation level’ for KIM skills, appropriate for juniors, and those outside the profession itself who nevertheless need better information and knowledge handling skills. Because people need to be able to benchmark their skills and performance, a self-assessment tool was recommended (showing parallels with what CILIP have done with their PKSB). Finally, the working group was asked to gather examples of good practice and competency within KIM roles.

Six core KIM-professional roles were identified as existing in all departments (and Christopher returned to the ‘onion diagram’ to display these) – they were, the Information Managers, Records Managers, Information Rights Officers, Knowledge Managers, Information Architects and Librarians. The working group members divided up responsibility for gathering examples of good practice for each of these roles, at all levels.

The draft Framework proposals were then circulated to the departmental Heads of Profession and widely consulted on in other ways, and the working group asked for opinions about whether they had managed to meet the needs expressed by the previous survey. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but did lead to some minor amendments being made.

GKIM launch and implementation

The new GKIM Framework was officially launched at the 2016 GKIM Conference. The launch was actively promoted to the departmental Heads of Profession, and Civil Service Learning weighed in by enabling a Web presence for the GKIM materials. (It later emerged in discussion that the Framework documentation consists of one over-arching document, and there are add-ons with more detail about each of the core KIM professions identified.)

Karen closed the presentation with a brief look at the Department for Education as a case study. Within the DfE, senior KIM professionals now have a good awareness of the Framework and its supporting documentation, and are committed to rolling it out to departmental colleagues.

The profile of KIM will be promoted through a ‘KIM Learning Month’ (March 2017), and a stand at the DfE departmental ‘fair’ event in October 2016. The KIM strategy will also be linked to DFE’s performance management objectives, and the Permanent Secretary’s Transformation Programme, within which knowledge management has a critical role to play.

Q&A about GKIM

There were questions asked about whether the slide-set would be available for NetIKX members to peruse later (yes, they will be posted in the Members’ Area), also how accessible the GKIM Framework documents were . The answer to this was that the Framework can be downloaded from http://www.cilip.org.uk/government-information-group/working-government/gkim-skills-framework.  David Penfold reported that the July/August 2016 issue of CILIP Update includes an interview with David Elder about the GKIM Skills Framework.

Table group discussions

I confess that my memory of the table group discussions at this meeting are a bit vague. A flip chart was available during the tea break, on which people could write suggestions for discussion questions, and four were written up, though I cannot remember them in detail, even though I contributed one! The arrangement whereby one question was assigned to each of four table groups was not to my liking: I thought several questions were worth talking about, and the division seemed artificial.

One of the table groups looked at how KIM skills should feature in everyone’s development, not just that of ‘information professionals’ – at least, at the level of promoting a core awareness of the issues. An example might be that everyone should have an awareness about information governance.

The point was made that the language around ‘knowledge’ and ‘skillsets’ is too limiting. You could pick up knowledge and maybe skills by attending some workshops and getting a CPD certificate; but organisations need employees to have appropriate behaviours and values around information and knowledge. I suppose examples could be things like habitually paying attention to information security, or sharing knowledge appropriately with other sections rather than hoarding it.

One of the tables (where I was) had explored a number of topics and not limited to professional development, but looking also at general intellectual development in society at large. There had already been mention of basic skills around information and knowledge, and we considered extended definitions of ‘literacy’, such as ‘information literacy’, and in particular the ability to evaluate information sources as to accuracy, relevance and trustworthiness. 2016 seems to have brought some very low points for poor quality and misleading information, in politics and the media particularly. I personally would like to see more critical thinking taught even in childhood.

There was discussion about how some people need only perhaps a basic ‘awareness’ of KIM issues, plus maybe knowledge about whom to approach for further help. Christopher said that at the foundation level of the GKIM Framework, they do talk about ‘Information Awareness’.

With the government moving in the direction of putting pressure on businesses to take on apprentices, it may be apposite to think about what a KIM apprenticeship might look like, perhaps along the lines of the ‘management apprenticeship’ scheme being developed by the Chartered Management Institute.

[Apologies to Conrad and to all readers for the delay in uploading this report.]

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