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Streamline Training & Documentation: March 2008
Streamline Training & Documentation
Monday, March 31, 2008
Tagging as Standard Operating Procedure
In today's Wall Street Journal, I couldn't help but notice an instance of business lagging behind academia in best practice for information management.
Reporter Ben Worthen interviewed Gary M. Masada, the chief information officer at Chevron, about issues presented by the need to cope effectively with the oceans of information today's companies are awash in.
For his second question, Worthen asks what would make it easier for employees to find particular pieces of information in the vast collection of data that the typical large corporation has in its online files. Masada replies:
People have to do something to help themselves, which is organize their information so that it can be found. Some of it is cleanup. It's like cleaning your house. ...
Another part of it is tagging the information in ways that make it easier to find [by adding so-called metadata that describes what's in a file in more detail]. Some people spend 40% of their time trying to find information. Those people understand that [while this takes more time upfront] it is a productivity booster. But overall it's a challenge because you're asking every employee to do something.
In the world of academic publishing, people have been expected to tag their papers for quite some time. A representative spec is that included in the Journal of Simulation's "Instructions for Authors":
Authors will be asked during submission to provide 3-6 key words defining the essential content of the paper. A list of recommended keywords is given below. [There are 142 items in the list Accidents, Accounting, Advertising, Agriculture, Air transport, etc.] The keywords on the list are used in the referee selection process, and in the construction of the annual index, so it is important that authors make maximum use of this suggested list.
In his further comments on tagging, Masada observes that
We can put in place ... rules that say if something is an important document you'll retain it in a certain place and you have to tag it. Technology can be an enabler that helps people do this. But in the end an individual will have to do it.
I know from personal experience that routine tagging is scarcely a burden. It should not be a big deal for a company to operate a document management system that prompts for keywords when a document is saved for the first time, and that allows for subsequent modifications to those keywords, as needed.
As a follow-on to the post from day before yesterday that mentions Greg Mortenson's work building schools in remote mountain areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, below is video which gives an idea of what the schools look like and how affirmatively they promote education of girls. Dhok Luna is near Jellum, south of Islamabad. The school for girls in grades 1-5 opened in the Fall of 2006 as a replacement for a school that was destroyed in the devastating earthquake of October 2005.
For further explanation of the philosophy Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute (CAI) bring to assisting education of young people in underendowed regions, you can read the history of the Central Asia Institute. A key point:
The tribal communities of northern Pakistan taught Mortenson a critical lesson in our first five years of existence: Sustainable and successful development can only occur when projects are entirely initiated, implemented and managed by local communities. It is also important to listen and learn from the local communities served, rather than impose external evaluations or judgment of what is best from an outsider's perspective. The philosophy to empower the local people through their own initiative is at the heart of all CAI programs.
Given this philosophy, it is not surprising that there has been something of a shift in how CAI uses its resources:
We now put more resources into sustainable initiatives, to improve the quality of education, support teacher training, and help motivated students to achieve their education goals with higher education. We are reducing the number of new schools built and funds put into mere brick and mortar to build buildings.
You can listen to a May 2007 interview with Greg Mortenson here.
Every week or so, the editorial crew at BNET.com post one or more overview articles on management topics that serve as basic and commonsensical summaries of best practice.
The October 2007 article on "Delegating Upward" is exemplary. In the introduction, the article notes typical circumstances under which delegating upward is advisable:
when there is a need for capital or human resources, when expert knowledge is required, or when there are political barriers to be overcome. As an employee, you may also find that on some occasions you need an extra boost of authority to resolve a situation that has run aground. Sometimes, you will simply have too much to do and need some assistance.
The article then offers capsule advice for handling a few typical scenarios, e.g., too much to do, or pushback from the boss.
The final two sections of the article explain do's and don'ts.
Get to know what drives your boss.
Use friendly persuasion in a six-step process:
Consider your supervisor's motivation.
Create the right atmosphere.
Speak clearly and listen carefully.
Suggest what's in it for them.
Make an appointment to meet again.
Thank them for their efforts.
Remain clear and confident.
Lose your cool.
Assume that you and your boss have the same agenda.
Expect to fail all too likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you'd like to browse additional "BNET Basic" topics, you can find a list of the available articles here.
I'm reading Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson's story, co-written with David Oliver Revlin, of his work, underway since the mid-1990s, of building schools in remote villages in Pakistan for education of both boys and girls. Early in the book, Mortenson talks briefly about his father Dempsey's work raising funds for and founding the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC) in Moshi, Tanzania. The story is an inspiring example of effective delivery of professional training in a developing country.
When [Dempsey's] teaching hospital was up and partially running, he insisted, against the wishes of many foreign members of the board, that they focus on offering medical scholarships to promising local students, rather than simply catering to expat children and the offspring of East Africa's wealthy elite.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony in 1971, Dempsey
began by thanking his Tanzanian partner at the hospital, John Moshi, who Dempsey said was just as responsible for the medical center's success as he was. "I have a prediction to make," he said in Swahili, ..."In ten years, the head of every department at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center will be a Tanzanian. It's your country. It's your hospital."
According to Greg Mortenson,
My dad got blasted by the expats for that. But you know what? It happened. The place he built is still there today, the top teaching hospital in Tanzania, and a decade after he finished it, all the department heads were African.
In 1997 the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College opened at KCMC, with a range of training programs, including a five-year program for training doctors, a three-year program for training nurses, and a postgraduate studies and research program.
A post I particularly liked because of my affection for checklists appeared on February 4. James shared a checklist for fine-tuning sales proposals that he developed based on a conversation with Tom Sant, an expert on the subject.
According to James and Sant, you should continue refining a sales proposal until you can answer Yes to all the following questions:
Does the customer know who we are?
Is the customer expecting us to bid on this?
Does the executive summary address customer needs?
Is the executive summary one page or less?
Have we replaced all the jargon that’s meaningful only to us?
Are we sure that another vendor doesn’t have the inside track?
Does the proposal follow the customer’s specified format and outline?
Have we removed all the meaningless marketing fluff (e.g. “state-of-the-art”)?
Has someone edited out other customer names from boilerplate material?
Is the writing clear and forceful rather than flat and technical?
Has the proposal been edited so that it contains no glaring grammatical errors? [I would delete "glaring."]
Can the proposal convince the customer that we can actually deliver?
Does the proposal define how we’ll measure customer satisfaction?
Is the proposal being submitted on time and to the right people?
In true Web 2.0 style, James invited further ideas from readers, and then presented the following additional suggestions in a subsequent post:
Does the proposal express a real need, want, and desire that the customer shared?
Does the proposal mitigate enough risk so that the customer is in a comfort zone?
Is there a deadline for the customer decision-making process?
Does the proposal make sense within the context of the customer’s corporate culture?
Can the customer actually afford your solution?
Is the proposal getting to the real decision-makers, or just going to purchasing?
Is the customer really able to release the money for your solution?
Are you going to have a chance to present the proposal personally?
In a special issue on leadership that the Harvard Business Review published in January 2007, an article I found helpful analyzes the types of networks a leader needs to cultivate.
Herminia Ibarra (professor of organizational behavior at Insead) and Mark Hunter (adjunct professor of communications at Insead) used observation of thirty people transitioning from functional manager to business leader to gain an understanding of what approach to networking is most effective for people moving into leadership roles, roles which require the individuals in question to adopt a new view of how they can best add value.
Ibarra and Hunter define a network as "a fabric of personal contacts who will provide support, feedback, insight, resources, and information." Their fundamental finding is that good leaders devote considerable time and effort to building and maintaining three interdependent types of networks:
Operational network largely composed of internal contacts people who can help the leader successfully carry out his/her internal responsibilities. "The purpose of this type of networking is to ensure coordination and cooperation among people who have to know and trust one another in order to accomplish their immediate tasks."
Personal network largely composed of external contacts people in professional associations, alumni groups, clubs, etc., with whom the leader has something in common. "[M]anagers gain new perspectives that allow them to advance in their careers. ... These contacts provide important referrals, information, and, often, developmental support such as coaching and mentoring."
Strategic network internal and external contacts people who can help the leader tune in to strategic opportunities and stakeholders whose support is needed in selling ideas and competing for resources. "The key to a good strategic network is leverage: the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of a network to achieve results in another."
Ibarra and Hunter found that the last of these three strategic networking is an area where leadership development training can have an especially productive impact because, left to their own devices, new leaders will tend to seriously underutilize this type of networking.
But note also that Ibarra and Hunter argue, "Building a leadership network is less a matter of skill than of will." I.e., instead of letting other, supposedly more pressing activities crowd out networking activities, the aspiring leader has to consciously decide to make time for network building and involvement. As Ibarra and Hunter put it,
... networking is not a talent; nor does it require a gregarious, extroverted personality. It is a skill, one that takes practice. We have seen over and over again that people who work at networking can learn not only how to do it well but also how to enjoy it. And they tend to be more successful in their careers than those who fail to leverage external ties or insist on defining their jobs narrowly.
The whole Ibarra/Hunter article is worth reading because of its practical analysis of the dynamics of networking and intelligent politicking, and because of the wealth of well-chosen examples the authors describe.
Based on my own experience my own doings and observations of others I'm a big believer in identifying your good points and "staking a claim" to them developing them, and putting them into play in situations where they contribute to happy/successful outcomes.
I recently came upon an exercise the BBC has posted online that is based on a similar philosophy that you can find within yourself, and then nurture, qualities exhibited by people you admire.
The exercise is called "Be Your Own Hero." In case the webpage disappears at some point, I've reproduced its explanation of the exercise below, with some editing.
What is the exercise for? The exercise lets you rehearse abilities of yours that are underdeveloped and, by strengthening them, move toward greater fulfillment of your potential.
How do I do it? Note: Have a friend join you so you have someone to talk with (as described below).
Who is your hero? If you don't have one, try to think of someone who has characteristics that you admire or wish you had. Your hero may be real, fictional, dead or alive. Think of why you admire him/her. What are the specific qualities that you look up to?
Imagine how your hero might behave on a very simple level, for example how s/he might walk around a room. Try to emulate what you're imagining.
Once you have established how your hero moves, think of a phrase that your hero might say. Take on the persona of your hero and have a chat with somebody. What would your hero say, and how would s/he behave? What advice might s/he give others?
Next think of a scenario from the past that did not go as well as you would have liked. This can be a problem you experienced at work or at home; an interaction with another person; a struggle with learning or motivation just about anything. Working with a friend, play out the scenario as you remember it happening, including the negative outcome.
What would you have liked to do differently? Re-enact the situation, but this time as your hero. Try not to take action which is too fantastic; beaming someone to the planet Zarg, for example, would be overdoing it. Focus instead on the superior human qualities of your character, and let them dictate your reactions.
How was the outcome more positive this time? How did it feel and how did you cope as your hero? Enjoy the feeling of release and success.
Then ask yourself whether you were just acting as your hero, or if you were uncovering hidden attributes of your own personality. It might well have felt strange, but this is because you're not used to behaving in this way. "Stake a claim" to the qualities that have helped you improve the outcome you achieved.
As with anything, practice makes perfect, so if this exercise worked well for you, then carry on assuming the qualities that you'd like to exhibit more consistently. In time you'll see that making a change is not so difficult, and that by acting as our heroes we can become more like them. If you wish, you can keep a journal of experimentation with your "hero" and chart your progress. You may well be surprised.
If you're interested in more of what the BBC has to offer in the self-help arena, another example is their "Get Confident" course.
Gawande addresses the question of what to do when expertise is not enough to maximize successful treatment of hospital patients. In other words, after providing all kinds of training to medical professionals, right up to the most advanced level, what else can you do?
Dr. Peter Pronovost of Johns Hopkins came up with the idea of using checklists to force consistent application of best practice in basics like preventing central line infections. With a checklist, one is no longer entirely dependent on memory during delivery of treatment in the inherently complicated context of caring for patients. Gawande's article details the highly positive results that hospitals adopting the checklist approach in critical care have achieved far fewer infections, fewer deaths, and substantial dollar savings.1
An example of a hospital checklist used to help minimize central line infections is shown below.
Gawande explains the two main benefits of Pronovost's checklists:
First, they helped with memory recall, especially with mundane matters that are easily overlooked in patients undergoing more drastic events. ... A second effect was to make explicit the minimum, expected steps in complex processes. Pronovost was surprised to discover how often even experienced personnel failed to grasp the importance of certain precautions. ... Checklists established a higher standard of baseline performance.
A key element in implementing use of checklists is having senior hospital executives visit the hospital units in question at least monthly to "hear people's complaints, and help them solve problems."
__________ 1 " An Intervention to Decrease Catheter-Related Bloodstream Infections in the ICU," by P. Pronovost, D. Needham, S. Berenholtz, D. Sinopoli, H. Chu, S. Cosgrove, et al. (New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 355, December 2006, pp. 2725-2732). See also "Erratum: An Intervention to Decrease Catheter-Related Bloodstream Infections in the ICU" (New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 356, June 2007, p. 2660).
You can read about the temporary disruption of data collection in a Michigan implementation of checklists in two reports in the Baltimore Sun, one in January of this year, and the other in February.
In the knowledge economy, firms that encourage alumni to stay in touch, rather than obsessing over ensuring that employees and ex-employees protect proprietary information, are arguably strengthening their ability to innovate successfully.
What's the evidence? Research by Lori Rosenkopf (Wharton professor of management) and Rafael A Corredoira (Wharton PhD), described briefly in the April issue of the Harvard Business Review, but available as a working paper (pdf) since May 2006, indicates that when a high-tech professional switches companies, not only does his/her knowledge and skill go to the new firm, but also there is likely a reverse flow of knowledge back to the old firm.1
The reverse flow of knowledge is probably due to one or both of these mechanisms:
Spotlight on the new firm The old firm begins paying more attention to what the new firm is doing.
The data Rosenkopf and Corredoira used was patent citations in the semiconductor industry in the period 1985-1995, specifically,
the frequency with which the patent applications of an employee's old firm cited patents of the employee's new firm
the frequency of citations of patents of all other firms
Rosenkopf and Corredoira found that
after an inventor moves to a new firm in a different region or country, subsequent patents from the inventor's old firm are 36% more likely to cite patents granted to people at the inventor's new firm than to cite patents granted to people at other comparable companies. In effect, the old firm gains knowledge from the new firm. However, this phenomenon is not evident for inventors who move within the same U.S. metropolitan region or the same foreign country. That's probably because in those circumstances, the old company and the new firm are likely to have other existing ties, such as shared customers, suppliers,and acquaintances.
Note that the Rosenkopf/Corredoira results pertain specifically to high-tech firms and do not look beyond patent citations to financial impacts. In other words, though it is clear that the citations of patents at firms to which employees have moved are higher than the average for all firms, it is not clear whether this pays a financial dividend.
__________ 1 Knowledge@Wharton published a summary of the Rosenkopf/Corredoira working paper here.
Model of the Vedic Temple and Planetarium Mayapur, India
"March 21 and September 21 are known as the Spring Equinox and the Autumn Equinox respectively. They are singularly important days in the year since the Sun rises exactly opposite the East everywhere on Earth and sets exactly in the West. Also, everywhere on Earth experiences 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night, thus the equinoxes are days of perfect balance and harmony.
"The alignment of the Temple to the four directions means that its relationship with the Sun will be strengthened on these two days each year, with the Sunrise occurring directly through the East Gate, falling at the feet of Sri Sri Radha Madhava sanctum sanctorum."
The March issue of Maritime Reporter and Engineering News has several articles that address, in editor Gregory Trauthwein's words, "the industry's continued almost desperate need for qualified workers to fulfill current demands and fuel future growth."
New to me was the story of the Sea Scouts, the nautical branch of the Boy Scouts, and a plausible source of new students at maritime academies and other training venues that turn out individuals qualified for civilian and military maritime employment.
Sea Scouting offers males and females who have completed the eight grade, and who are at least 14 years old but not yet 21, the opportunity to learn maritime skills. As author Marc Deglinnocenti explains,
The first advancement rank for a 14-year-old Sea Scout recruit is the Apprentice rank. It consists of learning some basic shipboard safety rules, swimming skills, good attendance, and of course what all good Scouts learn knot tying. The advancement structure then goes to Ordinary [Seaman] and then to Able [Seaman]. The highest crew rank is the Quartermaster. ... To achieve a Quartermaster the youth must plan and conduct all aspects of a long cruise on one of our vessels [such as SSS Chaser, pictured above].
Training takes place in the classroom (e.g., principles of navigation and piloting), underway (all aspects of safe voyaging), and dockside (e.g., diesel engine repair).
It should be noted that membership in the Boys Scouts of America is not open to atheists, agnostics, and avowed homosexuals.
You can get a quick introduction to how South Africa is approaching the need to build people's skills, and to do so in a way that redresses injustices of the apartheid era, by reading the March 10 article by Anne Newman, Nkhabele Marumo, Lynn Hunt, and Catherine Mercer Bing of ITAP International posted at the Training magazine website (and published in somewhat abbreviated form in the March/April issue of the magazine).
A key point is that the Sectional Educational Training Authorities (SETAs) established under the Skills Development Act are getting considerable criticism from businesses whose needs for skilled workers the SETAs are supposed to address by helping to standardize and accredit training programs and by funding worker training that is effective in increasing participants' employability and productivity. As the Training article notes, restructuring of the SETAs is likely in the near future.
An article by Michael Biddick in the March 3 issue of Information Week is a reminder of the depth of thought and preparation that has to go into creating a dashboard for monitoring business performance.
The sine qua non for an optimized dashboard is that it reflect optimized business processes. This means that a company should regularly analyze its processes to identify issues in need of attention.
As for creating the dashboard itself, Biddick lays out the following eight preparatory steps (here somewhat edited). (Note that Biddick is specifically considering a CIO dashboard. However, his eight steps apply with minor modification to just about any area of a business, or to the business as a whole.)
Carefully define the key performance indicators (KPIs) your dashboard will track.
KPIs are measures of what actually drives the business. An example in the case of IT might be the percentage of staff working on active projects. The standard might be 80%, in which case an actual percentage significantly above or below 80% indicates a likely need for corrective action.
Chosen appropriately, KPIs facilitate managing the organization and doing so in alignment with the organization's goals.
Map the KPIs to specific data requirements. Determine which (clean) data are already available in company systems, and which, if any, need to be collected.
If data gaps exist, develop a plan and timeline to implement the systems needed for acquiring and storing the data in question.
The Relationship between the Performing Arts and Cognition
As a complement to the recent post concerning how studying the visual arts can help build critical thinking skills, I'd like to note some newly published research looking at the relationship between participation in the performing arts and cognitive development.
The research team was funded over the past three years by the Dana Foundation, "a private philanthropy with principal interests in brain science, immunology, and arts education." The researchers' mission was to investigate
the question of why arts training has been associated with higher academic performance. Is it simply that smart people are drawn to “do” art to study and perform music, dance, drama or does early arts training cause changes in the brain that enhance other important aspects of cognition? [source]
The results obtained so far are still in the realm of correlations, as opposed to cause-and-effect relationships, but the correlations are generally tighter than prior to this concentrated research effort.
Michael S. Gazzaniga (UC-Santa Barbara) summarizes the team's findings as follows [source]:
An interest in a performing art leads to a high state of motivation that produces the sustained attention necessary to improve performance and the training of attention that leads to improvement in other domains of cognition.
Genetic studies have begun to yield candidate genes that may help explain individual differences in interest in the arts.
Specific links exist between high levels of music training and the ability to manipulate information in both working and long-term memory; these links extend beyond the domain of music training.
In children, there appear to be specific links between the practice of music and skills in geometrical representation, though not in other forms of numerical representation.
Correlations exist between music training and both reading acquisition and sequence learning. One of the central predictors of early literacy, phonological awareness, is correlated with both music training and the development of a specific brain pathway.
Training in acting appears to lead to memory improvement through the learning of general skills for manipulating semantic information.
Adult self-reported interest in aesthetics is related to a temperamental factor of openness, which in turn is influenced by dopamine-related genes.
Learning to dance by effective observation is closely related to learning by physical practice, both in the level of achievement and also the neural substrates that support the organization of complex actions. Effective observational learning may transfer to other cognitive skills.
Further research is envisioned that will ultimately pin down "whether arts training changes the brain to enhance general cognitive capacities," and, if so, by what mechansims this occurs.
The latest edition of the newsletter our mayor sends out periodically was in my email today. After detailing Northampton's budget woes, the newsletter mentioned a visit to the mayor on Valentine's Day by Cecilia Appianim (pdf), a cocoa farmer from the village of Asentem in central Ghana.
Appianim was accompanied by Niki Lagos, sales and marketing associate of Divine Chocolate, a farmer-owned fair trade chocolate company. A major portion of the ownership of Divine Chocolate is held by the Kuapa Kokoo Society, a cooperative of 45,000 Ghanaian cocoa farmers, including Appianim, founded in 1993.
Appianim is Kuapa Kokoo's recorder in her village, which means she is responsible for collecting farmers' dried cocoa beans, checking that the beans meet quality standards, weighing them, arranging transport to storage and market points, and receiving and disbursing the farmers' payment for their beans. You can read more about Kuapa Kokoo here.
The March issue of the US Naval Institute Proceedings contains a reminder of why I decided to call my company "Streamline." The article in question "Improving the Commander's Brief" discusses yet another instance of a communication process that offers considerable opportunity for saving on preparation and distribution time, with no sacrifice either of the clarity of the messages, or of the completeness with which the intended audience is reached.
Authors Terry McFarlane (USAF ret), Woody Henderson (USN ret), Pam Kelley, and Sam Landau1 have taken a close look at how daily "commander's briefs" are typically produced in the US Navy. Based on their research, they have devised a straightforward five-part method Navy staff can follow to make preparation and distribution of the briefs more effective. (The article is available online to Naval Institute members.)
A commander uses the commander's brief to explain his/her intentions concerning current and future activities. Specifically, the brief helps establish
daily synchronization that allows orders, missions, and plans of action to be communicated. The brief is typically built in PowerPoint, organized by department [engineering, combat systems, etc.] and presented each morning.
Using the mnemonic "USAIL," McFarland, Henderson, Kelley, and Landau recommend these five adjustments to the preparation and distribution process:
Use the Knowledge Web K-Web is a Navy database that can accommodate uploaded briefings either in PowerPoint format or in HTML. Anyone needing to retrieve a brief can do so generally faster than if the PowerPoint version of the briefing is distributed via email. Furthermore, storing briefs on K-Web facilitates updating.
Standardize and simplify the information presented There should be a standard, editable template for organizing core topics and content.
Adopt best practices In addition to using a template, those preparing the brief should keep its length to about a half-hour.
Improve collaboration Time savings can "be achieved through improved coordination and collaboration within work centers, departments, and across the ESG/CSG [expeditionary strike group/carrier strike group].
"Because brief preparation involves many steps (research, data collection, analysis, slide building, review, coordination, final build), each department and staff should take a closer look at its internal processes to identify areas for consolidation and streamlining." The authors also discuss opportunities for better collaboration at the strike group and coalition levels. (The coalition level involves non-US forces.)
Lean (pare down) the process The idea is to eliminate both unnecessary steps and unnecessary variability in the preparation and distribution process.
The authors estimate that, in addition to improving the quality of commanders' briefs, the USAIL method would avoid costs of at least $5.1 million a year.
__________ Henderson, Kelley, and Landau are assigned to the Human Performance Center Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) Detachment in San Diego. McFarlane, the principal researcher and analyst for this project, used to be at the Human Performance Center SPAWAR, and is now at the US Air Force Academy.
Yesterday's post laid out the rubric for critical thinking that the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum used in their "Thinking Through Art" (TTA) progam for (so far) students in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades. Today, I'll follow up by noting the results the researchers have reported from their effort to develop children's critical thinking skills through a curriculum focused on looking at and interpreting art objects.
"Thinking Through Art" is part of the Gardner Museum's School Partnership Program, which began in 1996.1 According to a March 8, 2007 press release (pdf) about the results of the TTA program,
When looking at and talking about works of art in the Gardner collection, School Partnership Program students used five of the identified critical thinking skills (observing, interpreting, associating, problem-solving, and flexible thinking) more often than non-program students. Gardner students spent twice as long as other students did in talking about each artwork, and were significantly more likely to offer evidence for their ideas.
Peggy Burchenal, the museum's curator of education and public programs, offers an expansive view of what happens during the children's participation in the program:
In talking about art with their peers, students learn to think creatively and independently and to respect the ideas of others, to provide evidence for their ideas, to remain open to multiple possibilities, and to trust their own abilities to find meaning in the unfamiliar. The Gardner’s School Partnership Program provides students, and teachers alike, with an approach for grappling with new problems because every work of art presents a new "problem" to be solved.
The principal of one of the participating schools offered this summary of what the program accomplished:
[Such a program is] part of teaching the whole child; it’s part of their learning. The partnership with the Gardner teaches children how to look carefully, how to notice details, and that makes them sharper observers and helps with their language by trying to put into words what their eyes see.
The question that remains in my mind is when we'll hear about research to determine the degree to which students in the TTA program are able to apply critical thinking skills honed in studying art objects to other school subjects, such as reading.2
2 In the latter portion of the TTA program, the Visual Thinking Strategies methodology developed by Visual Understanding in Education (VUE), a non-profit organization, was adopted for participants' guided discussions of the art they were viewing. VUE has compiled a list of research results indicating transferability of critical thinking skills developed in studying art objects, to other areas of learning.
An earlier post presented a rubric for critical and integrative thinking developed at Washington State University for college-level students.
As an illustration of the importance of taking the learning context into account when defining a critical thinking rubric, I've reproduced below (slightly edited) the rubric developed at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for their K-12 "Thinking Through Art" program (about which more in tomorrow's post).
Isabella Stewart Gardner School Partnership Program Critical Thinking Rubric
Observing 1.1 what something is or is not 1.2 action, what someone is doing 1.3 how it looks; sensory & physical aspects 1.4 features; what it's made of & how it's made 1.5 gallery or object label; reading posted info
Interpreting 2.1 the use or function of objects 2.2 implicit conditions, features, characteristics, feelings and emotions, mental states, status 2.3 identity (who people are, their relationships) 2.4 actions or intentions (what's going on, what people/animals are doing, what is about to happen; intention of artist, collector, or subject)
Evaluating 1.1 based on personal preference 1.2 based on perceived merits of the work or on artist's ability
Associating the object/situation directly with personal experience; making connections to prior knowledge or experience.
Problem-finding: student requests information or identification; notes missing information needed to form a conclusion/opinion; may propose a hypothesis.
Comparing what is similar or different; noticing relationships between situations/objects; noticing patterns.
Flexible thinking: remaining open to multiple possibilities; seeing things from different perspectives, revising thinking.
Providing evidence for assertions an over-arching skill that can be applied to any use of the seven other critical thinking skills listed above. Two levels are defined:
Weak: Student attempts to support assertions, observations, or opinions; evidence is based in personal opinion or speculation rather than in the object, idea, or situation; uses unclear or unreasonable support for assertions, or uses completely circular logic; there is no attempt to express how s/he arrived at a conclusion, or s/he is unclear about how s/he arrived at a conclusion.
Strong: Student supports assertions, observations, or opinions with specific information and/or cues from the object, idea or situation; provides clear and reasonable support for assertions; may attempt to express how s/he arrived at a conclusion.
The original version of the rubric is posted here (pdf).
In addition to its citation as one of the Top 125, Choice was among the smaller group of organizations whose training techniques were written up as best practices. In Choice's case, the best practice relates to how their call center handles incoming calls. You can read a summary, including a brief interview with Christopher Yellen, Choice's VP of associate development and quality assurance, here.
The item in Sarah Boehle's interview that particularly caught my attention because it touches on an area of skill development that is increasingly important in today's service-oriented economy was a tip Yellen offered to others seeking to emulate Choice's success in generating incremental revenue through better handling of incoming calls:
Coach the coaches. We have spent a significant amount of time coaching our supervisors on how to coach, and we continue to look for ways to make the coaching we offer more robust and effective. One upgrade we'll make this year, for example, is to move from a manual call-monitoring process to an electronic process. Doing so will allow our supervisors to provide more coaching to reps and record more calls. During the first quarter, we’ll also provide our supervisors with additional training on how to coach. The goal is to help them better understand their associates' individual personalities, then use that knowledge to tailor their coaching accordingly.
Providing guidance on how to individualize coaching strikes me as particularly apt.
In September of last year, one of my favorite trade magazines, Network Computing, published a handy guide to the three types of mashups Web users are creating. It's a quick read only about one page.
The three types are:
Presentation Mashup Brings "information from more than one source together into a common user interface." An example would be a Web portal, such as My Yahoo. "Because presentation mashups involve little real integration, creating them usually means simply dragging and dropping pre-built widgets or choosing among RSS feeds."
Data Mashup Extracts and then combines data from multiple sources. "The goal is easier access: Instead of combing through multiple data-bases, users can query several databases at once, both saving time and enabling more cross-referencing and comparison." An example would be a map-based mashup, such as that shown in the video below.
Logic Mashup Connects "two or more applications, automating certain tasks, and include[s] awareness of workflow." An example would be a comparison shopping site, such as PriceGrabber.com.
In "The Power Mapping Tool: A Method for the Empirical Research of Power Relations," Eva Schiffer, a post-doctoral fellow at IFPRI, describes a practical approach to "empirical measurement of power in governance processes."
The problem the Power Mapping Tool helps address is the perennial difficulty in getting technically sound economic development interventions implemented in a way that actually accomplishes their goals. For example, all too often, development assistance intended for the poorest segment of a country's population ends up in the hands of the country's relatively well-off, a phenomenon referred to in the development literature as "elite capture."
The Power Mapping Tool seeks to bolster effective implementation by determining in advance, or as implementation proceeds, the power structure within which a program is being carried out. With this information in hand, implementation can be adjusted to maximize positive contributions of various actors, while minimizing dysfunctional influences.
The Power Mapping Tool involves interviewing individuals with first-hand knowledge of a program's governance context. The interviewees answer three basic questions:
Who is involved?
What is each actor's range of action?
How much power does each actor have?
To elicit complete, meaningful answers to these questions, the Power Mapping Tool adopts a set-up resembling a board game.
As illustrated in the photo below, the Who question is answered by assigning each actor a playing piece. The actors are placed in ovals representing the various organizational bodies involved in implementation. When an actor is a participant in more than one organization, this is captured by having the corresponding ovals overlap.
The range-of-action question is answered by having the intervieweee assign up to four types of playing card to each actor. The four types of cards bear symbols representing, respectively:
The amount-of-power question is answered by placing each actor's playing piece atop a stack of disks (e.g., checkers). The height of the stack for a particular actor represents that actor's power relative to the power of the other actors an interviewee has identified.
The Power Mapping Tool produces both quantitative and qualitative information. The latter is obtained through discussing with the interviewee the thinking behind his/her answers to the Who, range-of-action, and amount-of-power questions.
I highly recommend reading Schiffer's entire paper (21 pages). Then, as a next step, you can look at the Net-Map toolbox Schiffer has developed to integrate power mapping and social network mapping (see illustration below).
Capacities to identify opportunities, develop common interests, and negotiate commitments are prerequisites for successful public-private partnerships. Yet, many public-private partnerships fail due to lack of both skills among the partnering agents and efforts to strengthen these skills.
The data underlying the authors' findings concerning how to address this issue of deficient skills come from research conducted in nine Latin American countries, starting in 2002. The discussion paper itself examines
seven cases of public-private partnership-building in which private-sector companies, producer associations, and research organizations engage in collaboration for the purpose of developing innovations in agricultural production and value chains.
The seven partnerships studied were located in four countries Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and El Salvador. The authors' main conclusions from their study are (slightly edited):
1. Capacity-strengthening1 in partnership-building is specific to the value chains2 and actors it involves. The value chain is an appropriate context for analyzing opportunities for innovation in areas of common interest that can best be exploited through public–private collaboration.
2. Capacity-strengthening for partnership-building goes beyond traditional training to include horizontal learning among the partners; it is a continuous, customized process in which needs are identified, taking all partners into consideration.
3. Determining when to enter into a partnership depends on the partners’ analytical skills and the information available on technological and market opportunities. Participation in diagnostic exercises strengthens the capacity of partners to enter into present and future partnerships.
4. The choice of appropriate capacity-strengthening measures depends on the existing level of cohesion among the potential partners. For example, awareness building may not be necessary if talks about potential collaboration are already occurring. The possible entry points for partnership-building measures need to be considered to enable common themes and objectives to be identified. One approach is to go through an exercise in which potential partners map out their country's agricultural value chain, noting where there are opportunities for development. This also helps in identifying key stakeholders and suitable partners.
5. Strengthening partnership-building capacity should predominantly focus on identifying and exploring common interests among potential partners. It is necessary to clarify interests in terms of technology development, production, and sales. If partners do not become seriously interested in pursuing the partnership, they will not attach the necessary importance to its planning. Third-party catalyzing agents (brokers) are necessary to bring partners together, motivate them, provide information, and organize space for negotiations.
6. It is important to have at least one visionary leader among the partners. The leader supplies the capacity for sectoral analysis in the partnership and can help to clarify and communicate the advantages the partnership offers. The leader is also important in motivating and attracting potential partners. Through a gradual transfer process, the internal leader may eventually take over the initiative from the external promoter.
__________ 1 The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ... defines capacity strengthening as “the process by which individuals, organizations, institutions and societies develop abilities (individually and collectively) to perform functions, solve problems, and set and achieve objectives.” (p. 17) In the IFPRI study, "successful capacity strengthening elements relat[ed] to identifying partner’s interests and motivation, negotiating partner commitments, fostering leadership, and building relationships that enable joint learning and innovation." (p. 10)
2 Agricultural value chain: sectoral arrangement that allows buyers and sellers of a commodity, separated by time and space, to progressively accumulate value as products pass from one member of the chain to the next. Agricultural value chains embrace all the actors dealing with the commodity from the farmer to the final consumer. The value-adding activities that occur along the chain include production, transport, processing, and marketing.
A framing contest is a process in which groups of employees champion alternate scenarios for how the organization's market environment and opportunities will unfold in the future. Each group engages in activities aimed at mobilizing others to adopt their particular point of view.
There are a number of lessons suggested by Kaplan's work, two of which are of particular interest to me because they fit with ideas that I've found fruitful in my own experience.
First, a group of employees with a point of view concerning the strategic direction they consider most promising, can't simply depend on the logic of their position, or on the clarity of the evidence they're using to arrive at their position, to have their point of view prevail. Instead, they will need to use political skill to get others to see things as they do, and to mobilize support for what they are proposing.
Second, the fetish some have for rapid decision-making, especially in a time of crisis, is a problem in itself. If it is not possible for contending points of view to be brought into alignment, the best course of action may well be deferring a decision until further reflection and/or evidence leads toward consensus sufficient to enable the organization to motivate engaged employee effort to achieve whatever strategic goals have won the framing contest. (In a similar vein, see this earlier post on negative capability.)
The Goizueta Business School at Emory University has given an advance look at work on knowledge transfer done by Roopa Raman, one of their graduate students, under the guidance of Anandhi Bharadwaj, an associate professor of information systems and operations management.
Emory's summary of the Raman/Bharadwaj paper, "Exploring Stickiness in Knowledge Transfer Processes: The Case of Evidence-Based Medicine," is here.
As Raman explains, “When you introduce a new practice for accomplishing a certain subgoal associated with [the patient medication administration] process, based on the latest scientific evidence, the new practice often introduces rippling changes in other interdependent subgoals involving other roles. Often people in those other work roles may be reluctant to accommodate these changes because they don’t see the value or they may think those changes are going to introduce new difficulties in their own work flow. That’s when transferring the new practice becomes sticky: when that misalignment exists between interdependent parts of the same process or when that need for realignment is not accepted or is not convenient for people.”
The impacts of stickiness in knowledge transfer are not necessarily entirely negative. For example, the existence of stickiness can stimulate innovation and creativity in redesigning a work process to improve the quality of the outcome of the process.
Multiple simultaneous interventions to correct stickiness are likely to produce better results than a single intervention. Using the example cited in Emory's report, correcting shortcomings in the process of administering medicine to inpatients is probably best handled by making several adjustments along the path from creation of the medication order, to recording the administration to the patient.
Information systems can be adjusted to promote effective information transfer. For example, a hospital "can embed the structure of the new evidence-based practice within the clinical information systems that healthcare providers in the hospital are required to use for documenting their work relating to these practices. The electronic documentation requirements thereby mirror the new knowledge-based practice that the organization aims to transfer, thus prompting the various players in this case doctors, nurses and other hospital staff to follow the new practice."
As a follow-on to the post on Hans Rosling's efforts to help people draw accurate conclusions from statistics on economic development, I'd like to note the work of MIT's Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), which has a similar "let's look at the evidence" philosophy.
dedicated to fighting poverty by ensuring that policy decisions are based on scientific evidence. We achieve this objective by undertaking, promoting the use of, and disseminating the results of randomized evaluations of poverty programs. [The rationale for using randomized trials is explained here.]
The first treatment groups is offered access to DrumNet, a Kenyan NGO. These clients are told about opportunities to sell their crops, and are provided access to transportation so they can complete advantageous sales.
The second treatment group is offered the same services, but in addition is offered an in-kind loan at the local agriculture supply store. This is a short-term loan that gives the client just enough credit to buy fertilizer, herbicide, or other chemicals before harvest. The loan is repaid directly from the proceeds from the sale of the client's crops. Hence the only risks for the lender are that the client's crop fails for some reason, or that the client leaves the DrumNet system and sells their crop through another channel. By directly linking the credit to the crop sales, it is hoped that this can be a sustainable agricultural lending model that helps farmers gain access to working capital to invest more in their harvest.
Results so far (the project is ongoing):
More and more farmers are growing horticultural produce for export, investing more inputs.
As a result of higher investment, farmers are seeing higher net margins and higher gross prices for their produce.
DrumNet is an effective model for encouraging the production of export-oriented crops.
Farmers are less likely to grow horticultural produce for export without credit.
A comparison of members of farmer self-help groups with access to credit to those without shows that credit is effective in improving yield per acre, but the improvement does not translate into differential income gains.
A December 2005 report on the DrumNet project is here (pdf).
The Illusion of Sustainability An investigation in Kenya of several pediatric de-worming interventions, notably, free provision of de-worming drugs vs. numerous approaches intended to be financially sustainable (i.e., not requiring ongoing subsidy), such as cost sharing, health education, and verbal commitments (a mobilization technique).
The main results:
It appears that there may be no alternative to continued subsidies for de-worming.
Providing medicine to treat worms is extremely cost-effective, although medicine must be provided twice a year indefinitely in order to keep children worm-free.
An effort to promote sustainability by educating schoolchildren on worm prevention had no impact on the children's worm prevention behaviors and thus child health is likely to be worsened to the extent that funds are diverted from medical treatment into health education in this setting.
A verbal commitment intervention which asked people to commit in advance to adopt the de-worming drugs, taking advantage of a finding from social psychology that individuals strive for consistency in their statements and their actions had no impact on treatment rates.
Take-up was highly sensitive to drug cost: the introduction of a small fee led to an 80% reduction in take-up, relative to free treatment.
A June 2003 report on the de-worming project is here (pdf).
On his website, Burton cites the central premise of On Being Certain:
Despite how certainty feels, it is neither a conscious choice nor even a thought process. Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” are sensations that feel like thoughts, but arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that function independently of reason.
An important implication of this premise is that, instead of doggedly insisting on having one's own views prevail, there is good reason to be tolerant of the views of others, and to be open to considering ideas others come up with that diverge from our own.
Burton goes on to argue that
[The feeling of knowing] explains how we learn. ... If we have sensory systems to connect us with the outside world, and sensory systems to notify us of our internal bodily needs, it seems reasonable that we would also have a sensory system to tell us what our minds are doing.
To be aware of thinking, we need a sensation that tells us that we are thinking. To reward learning, we need feelings of being on the right track, or of being correct. And there must be similar feelings to reward and encourage the as-yet unproven thoughts -- the idle speculations and musings that will become useful new ideas.
Certainty is not biologically possible. We must learn (and teach our children) to tolerate the unpleasantness of uncertainty. Science has given us the language and tools of probabilities. That is enough. We do not need and cannot afford the catastrophes born out of a belief in certainty.
Burton's piece struck a responsive chord with me because of the dysfunction I've encountered from time to time when an individual, instead of being open to new ideas and learning, insists on the unassailable validity of his/her own point of view.
In 2006, and then again in 2007, Hans Rosling, a widely respected professor of international health at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, gave talks at the annual TED conference about reducing poverty. These talks have attracted considerable attention.
Rosling, along with his son and daughter-in-law, developed data visualization software called Trendalyzer. The software uses animation of graphed data to help people grasp the stories (trends) embedded in time series data, such as statistics on national income and infant mortality. (Trendalyzer was acquired by Google in 2007.)
Rosling's goal is to facilitate evidence-based formulation of development policy. His key message is that more social and economic improvement is possible in developing countries than people unfamiliar with the details buried in development statistics realize.
You can watch the 2007 talk in the video below.1 If you want to skip the BMW commercials, start at 00:25 and stop at 19:06. If you want to skip Rosling's demo of sword-swallowing, stop at 17:20. Note that at 13:23, Rosling talks about the challenges African farmers face in getting their crops to market, the subject of an earlier post dealing with the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange.
Rosling's 2006 talk is here:
You can read a description of Trendalyzer that Rosling presented at an OECD meeting here (.doc). You can read a brief interview with Rosling here.
__________ 1 As I read Rosling's Trendalyzer bubble graphs, they accommodate as many as six variables (exported from an Excel spreadsheet): item name (e.g., country), item trait (e.g., geographical region, indicated by bubble color), x-coordinate (e.g., per capital GDP), y-coordinate (e.g., infant survival to age one, per thousand live births), bubble size (e.g., population), and time (shown via animation of the bubbles).
If you're interested in learning about the basics and/or the finer points of Web design, A List Apart, a zine that has been publishing more or less weekly articles on various topics in this area since 1998, is a great trove of accessible expertise.
The topics A List Apart uses to organize its articles over 500 have been published at this point are summarized here. A sampling of articles that I've found useful would include:
"Designing For Flow," by Jim Ramsey (December 4, 2007) "Flow, as a mental state, is characterized by a distorted sense of time, a lack of self-consciousness, and complete engagement in the task at hand. For designers, it’s exactly the feeling we hope to promote in the people who use our sites."
"Reviving Anorexic Web Writing," by Amber Simmons (July 31, 2007) "We’ve starved all the life out of web writing. The kind of writing we encourage is lifeless, insipid, and calorie-free. If we want to get back on track—to allow writers to write wonderful user experiences—we have to change our expectations and our rules."
"How to Be a Great Host," by John Gladding (October 24, 2006) "Anyone who can host a great party can start a successful forum."
"Your About Page Is a Robot," by Erin Kissane (August 22, 2006) “An About page should provide context and necessary facts, but should also give the reader compelling reasons to do what you want them to do.”
"Anonymity and Online Community: Identity Matters," by John M. Grohol (April 4, 2006) “While anonymity may allow people to feel more free and disinhibited to discuss otherwise embarrassing or stigmatizing topics, it can also be a community’s biggest enemy.”
"Home Page Goals," by Derek Powazek (January 30, 2006) ”...home pages are anxiety-inducing for companies. The home page is your first impression. And like the old saying goes, you only get one chance. So home pages themselves have a unique set of design goals.”
In September 2006, Erin Lynch, A List Apart's production manager, provided her own very helpful list of articles new visitors might like to peruse.