We Have Data! Now What?

Perfectly executed and statistically valid survey results won’t help you unless you actually do something based on the results. The trick is to design the survey and your business processes to enable action. Here are a few tips for doing so.

What questions will help us to determine results and make changes?
This is the most important of the three: considering what questions will best help you to improve the program, service or product about which you are gathering data.

If you offer a training seminar, is the satisfaction of the attendee during the event the most important aspect or are the improved outcomes they create on their job using this new knowledge? Probably the latter, although it is much more common to survey the former.

Who can best answer those questions for us?
Following what to ask is then who to ask it. Continuing the example above, if the key metric is improved job performance, then the right people to ask about that are probably the supervisors or managers of the people attending the event rather than those who were there.

It can often be extra work to identify and contact those who can actually answer your questions but it is critical if you want data that is valuable and enables you to take action.

Build in time and resources for analysis and action.
Even when you ask the right people the right questions, you won’t get anywhere unless you build in time and resources to really go through the results.

Who can make decisions about what to do? Who can best analyze the results and recommend alternatives and changes if warranted? Put time on their calendars before the surveys goes out so they will convene to review results and make decisions.

If you do the above you’ll be much more likely to improve the quality of whatever it is you are surveying about.

Extreme Separation of Content Management and Presentation

Seth Gottlieb, of Content Here, posts some very good points about the extent to which you should separate the management of your content from the systems that actually publish them for your online audiences.

However, as I have warned in earlier posts, the flexibility may not be worth the cost for all publishers. Unless your business model depends on aggressively leveraging your content and you can afford to play on the cutting edge, a lighter weight “website in a box” style architecture may give you the flexibility you need without the additional complexity and cost of building and integrating these de-coupled systems.

In short, you have to balance elegant engineering with the value of the outcomes you are pursuing with your web site. If you are in the content publishing business and are of sufficient size, then extreme separation can pay off in a significant way. Outside of those two conditions, a pursuit of architectural elegance may actually be counter productive for your needs without sufficient return on the big investment it requires.

What is your favorite application or tool for notes?

I’m working on my next issue of the Web Strategy Report and will include a section talking about the cross-platform note taking service/application from Evernote. I’d also like to include a list of tools used by my readers of the blog. Please post in the comments your favorite note taking tool, service or application. Dead tree based technologies are welcome too!

UPDATE: How embarrassing, commenting is broken at the moment! So, if you’d like to submit your favorite note taking tools, please e-mail to me at david@highcontext.com while we get the site fixed up. Thanks!

UPDATE 2: Comments are back! Feel free to post your favorite tools here.

Starting a New Collaborative Space for Small Groups

I fielded a question last week about what factors are the most important in launching a wiki to support a small working group, such as a committee, task force or team. I’ve decided to address it a bit more broadly by looking those factors for online collaboration in general.

In my experience designing and facilitating collaborative spaces online for large and small association, volunteer groups, alumni and others, you need the following to maximize successful outcomes:

  • Have a very clear and focused goal for using the space that all participants understand and support. The narrower the better;
  • Provide ample handholding and individual training for those who need it;
  • Leadership of the group MUST be avid champions for using the technology;
  • Start with one group that is excited to use the tool as a pilot test and early exemplars. Their success will draw others to adopt the tool;
  • Make sure the technology you use is very user friendly and provides the functionality your group will need to achieve their desired outcomes. Bad tech is the kiss of death.

Tools like a wiki can be greatly valuable for group collaboration but people who are new to it must have the value for THEM explained and heavily emphasized. A really strong WIIFM value proposition will get late adopters over the hump.

No One Cares About Your Intranet

James Robertson points to a post decrying the lack of attention that corporate intranets receive nowadays in a challenging economy.

Expecting executives to fund the intranet is like expecting them to fund fax machines: better make a good case leading with the value of the outcomes an intranet can achieve rather than the depth of your features or total document count or the purity of your taxonomy.

In fact, I’d stop calling your group an intranet team immediately. Rebrand yourself as the rapid solutions team, working tirelessly to help profit centers make more profit and cost centers to cost less.


I saw via Twitter last week (sorry, can’t remember who posted it!) this post about the New York Times Newswire API. In essence, the Times has published an interface with which you can access their latest headlines, including tons of meta data options to slice and dice your query.

This kind of API tends to result in a lot of experimentation and new value in presenting the content available via the system. Twitter’s API is a great example of this.

Pretty innovative stuff. If you are in the business of moving content this is something to check out.

Improving the capacity to act.

I recently conducted a workshop for a clienton the topic of knowledge management. As I prepared for the event, I rediscovered a great definition of knowledge from Karl Erik Sveiby:

Knowledge is a capacity to act.

I find this to be a highly useful definition of knowledge because it helps to focus any knowledge-related endeavor on a specific outcome.

For example, does your intranet improve the ability of staff to act? This one question will lead to a cascading inquiry of the actions employees need to take in support of their goals, how they can best take them, and how your intranet can then facilitate that action taking process.

It boils away all the impurities of knowledge management as a field and highlights that which it is supposed to create in the business context: the improved capacity to take action.

Developing Your Own Technical Talent

I hear from many clients that it is still quite hard to find experienced technical talent for IT or web development and administration work. What to do when you can’t afford to lure away an experienced technical employee? One alternative is to develop your own.

The key to success is to design your positions and professional development program to enable you to develop an entry level person and then promote them in place. This eventually develops the skill set you need while enhancing your chance of retaining the person after they have been trained.

Design an entry level technical position that you will fill. Also design a more senior position, based on the original job description, that includes higher-level responsibilities and the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities. As your entry level new hire is developed, promote them into the higher level position which you have created by design. It’s good to have two to three of these junior to senior path positions in place, if you can afford it, so that you can have new talent in the pipeline before a trained person does eventually leave.

This does a couple of things. It offers the realistic chance of relatively rapid promotion for the entry level person once they have learned how to do the more advanced job. They don’t have to wait for someone more senior to leave, they can simply be promoted in place. This will help to acknowledge the value of their new skills to the company and contribute to keeping them with you longer than they would have stayed for a dead-end entry level job. It also creates a senior position that you can fill directly if you happen to find that perfect candidate (it does happen now and then!).

Learning the Wheel vs. Reinventing It

In a post I wrote earlier this month about pre-requisites to knowledge sharing, Ellen asked about what do when the same old question keeps popping up even if it has been resolved or hashed over ad nauseam in the past.

This question highlights what the title of this post sums up: there is a difference between rehashing the invention of the wheel vs. learning about how to use it.

Many knowledge sharing/capture/management/what-have-you efforts are developed specifically to avoid reinventing the wheel. What is often overlooked is that you then have to educate new members to the effort about what has been covered in the past. Often, the only way to do this is when the question arises. Rather than getting in a twist about someone asking about wheels, view it as an opportunity to connect them with what has already been discussed/developed about wheels.

The Strobist blog gives a good example of how to deal with this. This blog has coalesced a community of flash photography aficionados who interact via the blog comments and their Flickr group. Many newbies join this group every day. David Hobby, who writes the blog, has written a document called Lighting 101 that covers the basics of off-camera flash lighting. New participants are gently and quickly directed to it so they can then interact with some knowledge in the broader community. Same thing can be done in other environments as well.

Methods for guiding people to these foundational resources are quite varied and include everything from very prominent links, tailored local search engine results and members of the community acting as knowledge sherpas.

Even when your wheel has been invented, there is still a big need for others to learn about how to use it. Make sure that is addressed in your efforts.

Prerequisites for Knowledge Sharing

There are three prerequisites for enabling knowledge sharing among a group of people:

  1. Clearly understood goals for sharing knowledge that provide value to everyone;
  2. A trusting and safe environment for sharing;
  3. Effective processes and systems for sharing knowledge.

Without inherent value for the participants, you will not achieve significant or enduring adoption.

Without trust, you will not achieve significant or enduring adoption.

Without effective systems and tools, not much will be shared.