I have been almost permanently hungry since Saturday and I have no idea why, but it’s not one of the symptoms of swine flu so I’m not too worried. I knew that I wouldn’t be getting dinner until late last night as I was going to the Gurteen Knowledge Café, hosted by the BCS as part of Alan Pollard’s “BCS in the Community” programme which forms the theme for his Presidential year. BCS events normally have refreshments but on arrival it’s tea and biscuits: you have to wait until the thing is over before they bring out the sandwiches and cakes.
A Gurteen Knowledge Café is the opportunity to sit around and discuss ideas with other people: kind of a facilitated coffee morning. There was no capturing of notes, no action plans, no outputs, which for a project manager was very unsettling. There was also ‘speed networking’: David Gurteen, the knowledge management consultant who set up the Cafés, blew a whistle, we had to find someone to talk to, and then we moved on to another person when the whistle blew again. By my third person I was getting bored of hearing myself explain my job but I did end up paired with an interesting lecturer from London University in very green trousers and a bow tie.
The theme of the evening was ‘imagining the knowledge technologies of the future’. Knowledge management is all-important to project managers: we create a shed load of artefacts during a project which then all have to be handed over to operational people at the end of the project. On top of that, there is all the project management information, plans, reports, etc etc that we need to organise and be able to lay our hand on instantly (and in my team we’ve been having discussions just this week about sorting out our our project management information system). So I was interested to hear the views of the speakers and what the other attendees would say.
Alan Pollard wasn’t able to attend as he is at HC2009 so he had recorded a message saying his view of the way technology should be going is towards minimising the devices and software required to run our lives. He also pointed out that at some point we are going to have to ask the question: “Do we want to be always available?”
Conrad Taylor, who manages the informal discussion network on Knowledge, Information, Data and Metadata Management (KIDMM), also spoke for a couple of minutes. He broke down approaches to future knowledge technologies into three categories: science-fiction (embedding a chip in your neck), the future of the home PC (like a roll-up display screen to increase the amount of stuff you can see at a time) and magic versions of current processes (automatically interfacing one set of inputs with another through technology).
Chris Yapp, an Executive Technology Strategy Consultant with Capgemini UK, was the final speaker. He said that social networking sites don’t give you collaboration. While I agree that I don’t collaborate on Facebook or LinkedIn, I don’t agree with that as a statement: within project management there are many people making a success out of collaboration by using social networking-type techniques (like LiquidPlanner). He presented for his five minutes very passionately and put forward the argument that it’s not software per se that is the challenge for the future but search algorithms, which are especially poor at the moment for video and music content.
After the three chaps had spoken we sat on our tables and discussed our ideas, wandering from accessibility, one hard-drive type device that could plug into multiple interfaces, the backlash against being ‘always on’ and whether children should be out making mud pies instead of playing computer games.
As something to do it was an interesting evening and I came away thinking of other things I should have said or points I didn’t get a chance to raise. The concept of forced networking in a loosely structured environment hasn’t won me over yet. However, I think it is one of those things that I will start to see the value of once I have had a chance to mull over the experience some more. So I might go along to another Knowledge Café if I get the chance.
Read more about the evening and some of the other discussions on Matthew Rees’ blog.
Elizabeth Harrin is Director of The Otobos Group, a business writing consultancy specialising in project management and topics related to women at work. She also blogs at www.GirlsGuidetoPM.com, where this post first appeared. Reprinted with permission.