Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Information behaviour of people working in local government organisations #i3rgu

I’m at the i3 http://www.i3conference.org.uk/ #i3rgu conference in Aberdeen, Scotland (day 1). Mark Hepworth presented a paper on A study of the information behaviour of people working in local government organisations: building corporate information capabilities. This study took place over about 3 years.
There are various drivers and challenges to local government in England, with implications for how they use and share information (e.g. "joining up" services). This is at the same time as they are having to make financial cuts and as the fall-out from any information disasters can be punitive. Despite the importance of information management, workers are experiencing information overload and stress, in different information cultures and with different systems. There has been an emphasis on technical solutions (which are sometimes expensive non-solutions), and information management (IM) tends not to be at the forefront of people's minds: the practice is in focus, not the information associated with it.
The purpose of the research was to work towards a change in organisational culture with more awareness of IM; to contribute to a corporate IM strategy; to understand workers' information experiences and to develop a set of tools to help.
There were 4 teams (30 participants) in different areas of local government, investigated using various data collection techniques e.g. observation, e-survey, interview, workshops. Through this data collection the researchers gained insight into people's current IM views, values, capabilities and practice. They spent time with the teams which gained the participants trust and interest in the researchers and the actual research topic. For the workshops, the researchers developed some IM stereotypes (e.g. hoarder, sharer) which enabled people to discuss, and reflect on, these behaviours in their teams.
The researchers found that there were issues with things like: storage, retention, disposal, sharing, quality, security, search and retrieval. Mark highlighted some of the particular problems around these areas e.g. people using data sticks for storing information, uncertainty about which information to keep or throw away. Different parts of local government will be focusing on e.g. troubled families, so they can intervene before things get out of hand (e.g. if a vulnerable teenagers is planning to leave home). This brings in a requirement to share information across departments, to understand what other information people might have etc. There was misunderstanding about the data protection act (e.g. resulting in less sharing of information than is allowed, with adverse impact on ability to act for the benefit of vulnerable families and individuals)
Researchers found that there was a lot of variation between individual workers (factors included recent vs. long term employees) and inconsistency of practice. This was the first time that people had the opportunity to discuss their IM practice, even though they were dealing with citizens' highly sensitive personal information. The positive side was that they were now taking IM seriously, realising that IM capabilities needed to be addressed, with implications for training.
However this is a very complex problem area, with many factors affecting workers' information behaviour. Examples are the hierarchical nature of work in local government, the different information cultures. There is also both an individual level and a team/shared level of IM and information behaviour: training etc. needs to address both individual and team capabilities. The researchers have gone on to develop e-learning packages about information security and information sharing. They are putting a lot of emphasis on why it is important (for example, why it is important to share information and what the consequences are of not sharing). Mark also mentioned that the there is an information sharing hub (MASH: Multi Agency Information Sharing Hub) in Leicestershire and also a national initiative IISaM (Improving Information Sharing and Management).

A previous presentation on this same project is at http://www.slideshare.net/MarkHepworth/mh-lilac12-information-literacy-in-the-workplace

No comments: