Whether tangible or not, all communication has an intended outcome.
The purpose of information is to inform and communicate. We want to communicate our achievements (financial results), our desires (purchase orders), our directives (policies), and our knowledge (whitepapers & case studies). We want our communication to be actionable (buy something from my company), informative (the news), and educational (achieve and grow).
We communicate in real time (over a coffee, via instant message, over the phone) and asynchronously (email, billboards, Twitter). We communicate with no-tech (talking, non-verbal), low-tech (TV, print), and high-tech (blogs, Facebook). Our communication can be targeted to an individual, to a group, to the world. We receive communication as individuals, as groups, and as organizations.
The information we communicate may be acted upon immediately, in the near-term, in the long-term, or far into the future. Worst of all the information we communicate may never be acted upon, which ought to cause us to evaluate the quality of the information and the effectiveness of our communication.
When we communicate something that has a positive outcome we’re golden. If, however, a negative outcome results from our communication … not so much golden; we are held accountable for our communication. This is as it should be.
Given that what we’re really doing is communicating, something we’ve been doing since the dawn of time, why is it so difficult to build effective accountability into our information and communication management practices?
Update the Policies
Policies that were created in the days when paper ruled need to be updated, not applied as-is to electronic content. In fact, some (most?) of these policies need to be scrapped altogether and completely re-written. Policies need to be crafted in a manner that leverages the intrinsic value of information, not in a way that subjugates information to the fear and paranoia of the risk managers and the legal system. This is not to say that we ought to ignore risk and legal issues, we just can’t continue to let them be the driving force. Unless and until we transform information governance from a risk based model to a model based on value, organisations will never see the true benefits of their information assets and knowledge workers will never reach their full potential.
In order to develop policies that encourage innovation, creativity, and productivity, without exposing organisations to unnecessary risk you first need to identify the reasons you communicate, your target audiences, and your communication channels. Information governance policies need to be tailored to support the purpose of the information and the communication channels employed to disseminate the information.
Use the Tools
As much as there’s been an explosion in the amount of information that we deal with every day, there has also been an explosion in the number and variety of tools available to deal with the information. I’m not referring to tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social tools, which are viewed by some as being part of the problem. I am referring to the variety of information management and security tools that are available today.
There has been an explosion in the number and types of tools available to us to manage information. These tools include email archival tools, content and records management tools, business intelligence tools, newsreaders, collaboration tools, and information rights management tools. The problem we have is not that we’re missing the tools; the problem is that we’re missing an holistic approach to deploying these tools through the organisation in a manner that focuses on value rather than control.
Change Corporate Culture
Much has been written about the lack of general adoption of social business tools in organisations. One factor that is inhibiting adoption is that there are as yet no effective governance models in place for dealing with social business on an enterprise scale. ARMA recently released a research paper that, I suppose, provides some guidance in this area. However, it is my belief that the paper actually exacerbates the problem as it continues to deal with control instead of value. (Cheryl Mckinnon has a pretty good take on the paper.)
Corporate culture needs to change. Organisations need to develop reward and recognition policies that encourage employees to actively participate in social business, as consumers and as contributors.
What if Information Management policies were more focused on the value of information rather than on controlling information? Is it possible that the 2008 economic meltdown could have been predicted, less severe, or prevented altogether?