It is not unusual to hear that the university and consultancy firms go opposite ways: for the former, spending too much time in knowledge transfer has huge costs of opportunity, for it is time not invested on publishing in impact scientific journals; for the latter, most research just cannot be easily included in the client’s bill.
What follows is just a simple exercise on how to embed research in consultancy, so that it does not become a mere overhead but an activity that has a direct measurable impact on the value chain. The scheme presents to sets (columns) of tasks that a chief research officer —or a research office, intelligence unit or knowledge management team, etc.— can perform within a consultancy firm. On the left, we have drawn the tasks that impact the internal client and thus improve others’ activities; on the right, we have drawn the tasks that can by directly put in the market as a product or a service.
The Chief Research Officer in consultancy firms
Activities have been grouped in five (more or less chronological) stages:
- Research: which stands for more basic or less applied research, and consisting in gathering information, building theoretical models and providing strategic advice to the firm. On a more public branch, it can consist on creating measuring devices such as indices or custom measurements, sometimes commercialised as ad-hoc audits.
- Branding: part of research is diffusion. Conveniently tailored, it can contribute to strengthen the power of a brand, contribute to create a top-of-mind brand or even, by lobbying and media placing, to have an impact in the public agenda.
- Consulting: the research office can work with the consulting team in some projects (especially at the first and last stages of the project) to improve its quality. Mind the (*) in consulting, meaning that the research office should not work as a consulting team: research and analysis does require some distance from the research object and, most important, different (slower) tempos than regular consulting activities have.
- Training: a research office that learns should teach, both to other departments of the firm or directly as a service to the clients. Providing policy advice or openly publishing position and policy papers is another way to transfer knowledge to specific clients or openly to society.
- Innovation: closing the virtuous circle of research, modelling and improving methodologies is a way to capitalise the investment that the firm made in a research office, thus making it more efficient and effective.
The European Association for Terminology has just published the
Proceedings of the VII EAFT Terminology Summit 2014: Social Media and Terminology work in which I opened with a keynote speech: The challenge of being (professionally) connected.
The topic dealt with the fact that being up-to-date with digital technologies (ICTs in general, social media in particular) is not a luxury but a must for people working in knowledge intensive environments or jobs. And, beyond the uptake of digital technologies, there is also the need to build networks around one-self — not necessarily digital ones, but surely enhanced and often enabled by digital technologies.
Please find below the slides and (subsequent) full text of the conference.
Throughout the history of humankind, information has been trapped in a physical medium. Cuneiform tablets in Mesopotamia, papyrus of ancient Egypt, modern books, newspapers. Even the most intangible information, the one locked inside the brains of people, usually implied having to coincide in time and space with the device that contained what we wanted to know. That’s why, for centuries, we have structured our information management around silos – archives, libraries, collections, gatherings of experts – and around ways to structure this information – catalogues, taxonomies, ontologies. The information lives in and out of the well, there’s the void. With the digitization of information, humankind achieves two milestones: firstly, to separate the content of the container; secondly, that the costs of the entire cycle of information management collapse and virtually anyone can audit, classify, store, create, and disseminate information. The dynamics of information are subverted. Information does not anymore live in a well: it is a river. And a wide and fast-flowing one. Are we still going to fetch water with a bucket and pulley, or should we be looking for new tools?
Text of keynote:
Peña-López, I. (2016). “The challenge of being (professionally) connected
”. In European Association for Terminology (Ed.), Proceedings of the VII EAFT Terminology Summit 2014: Social Media and Terminology work
, 11-28. Barcelona 27-28 November 2014. Barcelona: EAFT.
For the last 10 years I have been developing my own strategy for open enhanced research — you can also call it e-research, research 2.0, science 2.0, or even digital scholarship. What follows is a simplification of the pathway that can be walked since one has an idea for a research topic/project until outcomes come up and end up in conclusions… conclusions that should feed one’s next research idea. And so on.
And how can the so-called tools of the web 2.0, social media contribute to open up research, to find kindred souls, to test your thoughts and ideas by sheer exposure, to bridge the ivory tower with citizens’ lives… and to be somewhat accountable to taxpayers if you are in a public institution.
It is by no means an exhaustive map of all that can be done in research, the web 2.0 and social media, and the tools and services here presented are just mere suggestions or indications where to begin with. It should be taken as what it is, a simple pathway, not even a roadmap.
Working in the field of open social innovation, and most especially when one considers institutions as platforms for civic engagement, it is almost unavoidable to think of the personal learning environment (PLE) as a useful tool for conceptualising or even managing a project, especially a knowledge-intensive one.
Let the definition of a PLE be
a set of conscious strategies to use technological tools to gain access to the knowledge contained in objects and people and, through that, achieve specific learning goals. And let us assume that a knowledge-intensive project aims at achieving a higher knowledge threshold. That is, learning.
The common — and traditional — approach to such projects can be, in my opinion, simplified as follows:
- Extraction of information and knowledge from the environment.
- Management and transformation of information and knowledge to add value.
- Dissemination, outreach and knowledge transmission.
These stages usually happen sequentially and on a much independent way one from another. They even usually have different departments behind.
This is perfectly valid in a world where tasks associated to information and communication are costly, and take time and (physical) space. Much of this is not true. Any more. Costs have dropped down, physical space is almost irrelevant and many barriers associated with time have just disappeared. What before was a straight line — extract, manage, disseminate — is now a circle… or a long sequence of iterations around the same circle and variations of it.
I wonder whether it makes sense to treat knowledge-intensive projects as yet another node within a network of actors and objects working in the same field. As a node, the project can both be an object — embedding an information or knowledge you can (re)use — or the reification of the actors whose work or knowledge it is embedding — and, thus, actors you can get in touch trough the project.
A good representation of a project as a node is to think of it in terms of a personal learning environment, hence a project-centered personal learning environment (maybe project knowledge environment would be a better term, but it gets too much apart from the idea of the PLE as most people understands and “sees” it).
A very rough, simple scheme of a project-centered personal learning environment could look like this:
Scheme of a project-centered personal learning environment
[Click to enlarge]
In this scheme there are three main areas:
- The institutional side of the project, which includes all the data gathered, the references used, the output (papers, presentations, etc.), a blog with news and updates, collaborative work spaces (e.g. shared documents) and all what happens on social networking sites.
- The inflow of information, that is data sources, collections of references and other works hosted in repositories in general.
- The exchange of communications with the community of interest, be it individual specialists, communities of learning or practice, and major events.
These areas, though, and unlike traditional project management, interact intensively with each other, sharing forth information, providing feedback, sometimes converging. The project itself is redefined by these interactions, as are the adjacent nodes of the network.
I can think at least of three types of knowledge-intensive projects where a project-centered personal learning environment approach makes a lot of sense to me:
- Open social innovation (includes political participation and civic engagement).
In all these types of project knowledge is central, as is the dialogue between the project and the actors and resources in the environment. Thinking of knowledge-intensives projects not in terms of extract-manage-disseminate but in terms of (personal) learning environments, taking into account the pervasive permeability of knowledge that happens in a tight network is, to me, an advancement. And it helps in better designing the project, the intake of information and the return that will most presumably feed back the project itself.
There is a last reflection to be made. It is sometime difficult to draw or even to recognize one’s own personal learning environment: we are too used to work in projects to realize our ecosystem, we are so much project-based that we forget about the environment. Thinking on projects as personal learning environments helps in that exercise: the aggregation of them all should contribute in realizing:
- What is the set of sources of data, bibliographies and repositories we use as a whole as the input of our projects.
- What is the set of specialists, communities of practice and learning, and major events with which we usually interact, most of the times bringing with us the outputs of our projects.
Scheme of a personal learning environments as the aggregation of knowledge-intensive projects
[Click to enlarge]
Summing up, conceiving projects as personal learning environments in advocacy, e-research and open innovation can help both in a more comprehensive design of these projects as in a better acknowledgement of our own personal learning environment. And, with this, to help in defining a better learning strategy, better goal-setting, better identification of people and objects (resources) and to improve the toolbox that we will be using in the whole process. And back to the beginning.
Innovation, open innovation, social innovation… is there such a thing as open social innovation? Is there innovation in the field of civic action that is open, that shares protocols and processes and, above all, outcomes? Or, better indeed, is there a collectively created innovative social action whose outcomes are aimed at collective appropriation?
It seems unavoidable, when speaking about innovation, to quote Joseph A. Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy:
The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.
In the aforementioned work and in Business Cycles: a Theoretical, Historical and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process he stated that innovation necessarily had to end up with existing processes, and that entire enterprises and industries would be destroyed with the coming of new ways of doing things, as the side effect of innovation. This creative destruction would come from, at least, the following fronts:
- A new good or service in the market (e.g. tablets vs. PCs).
- A new method of production or distribution of already existing goods and services (e.g. music streaming vs. CDs).
- Opening new markets (e.g. smartphones for elderly non-users).
- Accessing new sources of raw materials (e.g. fracking).
- The creation of a new monopoly or the destruction of an existing one (e.g. Google search engine)
Social innovation is usually described as innovative practices that strengthen civil society. Being this a very broad definition, I personally like how Ethan Zuckerman described social innovation in the Network Society. According to his innovation model:
- Innovation comes from constraint.
- Innovation fights culture.
- Innovation does embrace market mechanisms.
- Innovation builds upon existing platforms.
- Innovation comes from close observation of the target environment.
- Innovation focuses more on what you have more that what you lack.
- Innovation is based on a “infrastructure begets infrastructure” basis.
His model comes from a technological approach — and thus maybe has a certain bias towards the culture of engineering — but it does explain very well how many social innovations in the field of civil rights have been working lately (e.g. the Spanish Indignados movement).
The best way to define open innovation is after Henry W. Chesbrough’s Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating And Profiting from Technology, which can be summarized as follows:
|Closed Innovation Principles
||Open Innovation Principles
|The smart people in the field work for us.
||Not all the smart people in the field work for us. We need to work with smart people inside and outside the company.
|To profit from R&D, we must discover it, develop it, and ship it ourselves.
||External R&D can create significant value: internal R&D is needed to claim some portion of that value.
|If we discover it ourselves, we will get it to the market first.
||We don’t have to originate the research to profit from it.
|If we create the most and the best ideas in the industry, we will win.
||If we make the best use of internal and external ideas, we will win.
|We should control our IP, so that our competitors don’t profit from our ideas.
||We should profit from others’ use of our IP, and we should buy others’ IP whenever it advances our business model.
Open Social Innovation
The question is, can we try and find a way to mix all the former approaches? Especially, can we speak about how to have social innovation being open?
In my opinion, there is an important difference between social innovation and innovation that happens in the for-profit environment:
- The first one, and more obvious, is that while the former one has to somehow capture and capitalize the benefits of innovation, the second one is sort of straightforward: if the innovation exists, then society can “automatically” appropriate it.
- The second one is the real cornerstone: while (usually) the important thing in (for-profit) open innovation is the outcome, in social innovation it (usually) is more important the process followed to achieve a goal rather than achieving the goal itself.
Thus, in this train of thought, open social innovation is the creative destruction that aims at making up new processes that can be appropriated by the whole of civil society. I think there are increasingly interesting examples of open social innovation in the field of social movements, of e-participation and e-democracy, the digital commons, P2P practices, hacktivism and artivism, etc.
I think that open social innovation has three main characteristics that can be fostered by three main actions of policies.
- Decentralization. Open social innovation allows proactive participation, and not only directed participation. For this to happen, content has to be separated from the container, or tasks be detached from institutions.
- Individualization. Open social innovation allows individual participation, especially at the origin of innovation. This does not mean that collective innovation is bad or avoided, but just that individuals have much flexibility o start on their own. This is only possible with the atomization of processes and responsibilities, thus enabling maximum granularity of tasks and total separation of roles.
- Casual participation. Open social innovation allows participation to be casual, just in time, and not necessarily for a log period of time or on a regular basis. This is only possible by lowering the costs of participation, including lowering transaction costs thus enabling that multiple actors can join innovative approaches.
How do we foster decentralization-individualization-casual participation? how do we separate content from the container? how do we atomize processes, enable granularity? how do we lower costs of participation and transaction costs?
- Provide context. The first thing an actor can do to foster open social innovation is to provide a major understanding of what is the environment like, what is the framework, what are the global trends that affect collective action.
- Facilitate a platform. It is not about creating a platform, it is not about gathering people around our initiative. It deals about identifying an agora, a network and making it work. Sometimes it will be an actual platform, sometimes it will be about finding out an existing one and contributing to its development, sometimes about attracting people to these places, sometimes about making people meet.
- Fuel interaction. Build it and they will come? Not at all. Interaction has to be boosted, but without interferences so not to dampen distributed, decentralized leadership. Content usually is king in this field. But not any content, but filtered, grounded, contextualized and hyperlinked content.
Some last thoughts
Let us now think about the role of some nonprofits, political parties, labour unions, governments, associations, mass media, universities and schools.
It has quite often been said that most of these institutions — if not all — will perish with the change of paradigm towards a Networked or Knowledge Society. I actually believe that all of them will radically change and will be very different from what we now understand by these institutions. Disappear?
While I think there is less and less room for universities and schools to “educate”, I believe that the horizon that is now opening for them to “enable and foster learning” is tremendously huge. Thus, I see educational institutions having a very important role as context builders, platform facilitators and interaction fuellers. It’s called learning to learn.
What for democratic institutions? I cannot see a bright future in leading and providing brilliant solutions for everyone’s problems. But I would definitely like to see them having a very important role as context builders, platform facilitators and interaction fuellers. It’s called open government.
Same for nonprofits of all purposes. Rather than solving problems, I totally see them as empowering people and helping them to go beyond empowerment and achieve total governance of their persons and institutions, through socioeconomic development and objective choice, value change and emancipative values, and democratization and freedom rights.
This is, actually, the turn that I would be expecting in the following years in most public and not-for-profit institutions. They will probably become mostly useless with their current organizational design, but they can definitely play a major role in society if they shift towards open social innovation.
Notes from the PhD Dissertation defence by Ana Rivoir entitled Estrategias Nacionales para la Solciedad de la Información y el Conocimiento en América Latina, 2000-2010. El caso de Uruguay (National Strategies for the Information and Knowledge Society in Latin America, 2000-2010. The case of Uruguay), directed by Mila Gascó.
Defence of the thesis: National Strategies for the Information and Knowledge Society in Latin America, 2000-2010. The case of Uruguay.
Despite the revolution of the Information Society, its impact is meagre in Latin America, due to the digital divide, to meaningful use, to social appropriation, etc. How have public policies responded to that?
After year 2000 we see the flourishing of the so-called “digital agendas” in several countries in Latin America. Initially, they are criticised for too much focusing on infrastructures. Besides the technological approach, there is, though, a more complex approach where ICTs are seen as a driver of development, having a role in social change, and where policies have a more comprehensive approach focusing on inclusion, and articulated with other public policies. In the complex approach, indeed, the issue at stake is not the “telecommunication market” but many other actors converge in the arena.
This research deals with the transition from one (technological) approach to another (complex) one in Uruguay during the decade 2000-2010. Specifically, it is stated that Uruguay did that transition because it adopted, in 2005, a more human development-centred approach.
There is a powerful international context, with several summits in the region (Latin America and the Caribbean) either directly related with the Information Society or with Human Development (e.g. Millennium Goals).
The first agenda, Uruguay En Red (UER), is not achieved due to contradictory design, lack of leadership, an environment of economic crisis. The strategy for the Information Society in Uruguay 2005-2010 or Agenda Digital Uruguay is very different to the former one. There is a deep influence of the Millennium goals; goals are simpler, though more focused on technology; difficult to measure; new bias towards a “complex approach”. That is, despite the agenda being simplified and seemingly technological, its development is of the complex kind.
In general, the new strategy goes in line with the rest of the region and the international context, with technological goals but complex achievements. These achievements especially relevant in the field of e-Government but partly leaving aside participation and empowerment.
The complex approach, though not in the design, is effectively achieved in the implementation of the different policies. This is due to the different design from the former UER to the later ADU, which makes it easier to execute digital policies. An important observation to be made is that the complex approach is fostered by broad participation of actors, but it is not a necessary pre-requisite.
It is evidenced by this research that two models (technological, complex) do exist and it would be advisable that international organisms (e.g. ECLAC) made it explicit in their handbooks and reports on how to design and assess Information Society policies.
Tamyko Ysa: are we using a policy-network approach or a issue-network approach in this research? are we seeing two approaches of public policies, or the difficulties to carry on a given policy, are we measuring policy designs or are we measuring outcomes? how are outputs and outcomes related? How do we know that policies in Uruguay were affected by the regional or the international arena, and not the other way round?
Jacint Jordana: Despite the thesis having a multidisciplinary approach, it maybe lacked a “core” theoretical framework. Some statements should have been put in context in relationship with other macro indicators (changes of government, GNP, etc.). More “dialogue” between the many indicators gathered in the thesis would have been a rich improvement.
Joan Subirats: The thesis is initiated in 2000 where we used to speak about “strategies” to foster the Information Society, but do we need such strategies 13 years after? Is there a real capability to design such a comprehensive policy that can span all the related issues of the (immense) Information Society? What kind of debate nurtured or accompanied the design of policies and strategies to foster the Information Society? Would it be possible to replace technological/complex with instrumental/systemic? Another analysis that could have been made is not only the degree of change in Uruguay, but also in neighbour countries, and to compare the different degrees of change and the reason for these differences (if any). Why, for instance, is human development so absent in e.g. Europe, especially in comparison with Latin America.
Ana Rivoir: The always changing topic of analysis made the theoretical framework also a changing issue. That is one of the reasons why a solid framework was very difficult to weave. Notwithstanding, it is very likely that a multidisciplinary approach should be replaced by a disciplinary one, to avoid the continuous changes of the matter of analysis.
About the possibility that the concept “strategy for the Information Society” might be outdated, we are just now witnessing the debate around “broadband agendas”, which is but the same thing with a different name. Thus, it still makes a lot of sense to speak about policies or strategies to foster the Information Society, with this name or with another one.
Concerning the different authors, it can be stated that at the beginning of the period 2000-2010, there was not much acknowledgement or even awareness about the relationship between Information Society and Human Development. This changed later, and even a good amount of literature is written to explain not only that there is such a relationship but also how it does happen.