23 June 2010

Connecting our knowledge to make a difference

The recent TFPL Connect event was very different in that it was trying to make a real difference to people's lives. Adding a good cause to an already healthy mix made the evening immensely rewarding in several ways.

The good cause was Depaul UK, a charity that helps young people who are homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged.

We were given an introduction to the charity's work, and the role of Knowledge Management in this, by its CEO Paul Marriott. From this it became clear that Depaul, like many charities, are based almost entirely on knowledge, in their case the knowledge how to help young people to find accommodation, get a job, stay safe, be healthy, learn skills, be an active member of their community, etc. etc.

This points to one of their problems, simply accumulating, validating, sharing and updating this knowledge. The difficulty is magnified by their geographic spread, fairly high turnover of staff (and volunteers) and the need to respect client confidentiality.

The introduction over, Paul set us six challenges and each table then spent the next forty minutes or address one of these. Some slight structure was added to the process in that we had a simple template form to fill in that captured our ideas and identified the possible barriers and benefits. I found that this structure helped as I had come out of some table discussions previously having had a fun conversation but with nothing tangible to take away.

The time simply flew past and we were soon in the plenary session where we shared some of the key ideas from each table with the whole group.

But the story does not end there. TFPL are taking the output from each table and will be working with Depaul to produce a report of the event with specific recommendations in it. Hopefully some of the things we discussed will help to make a difference to some young people's lives.

I am looking forward to the report to see all the ideas that were generated but the one thought that grabbed me at the time was the possible use of ultra-low tech to help the young people to help themselves. For example, each centre could maintain a simple book or file where they could share tips such as where is the cheapest place to buy bread, who has offers on at the moment or anything else that they feel is worth sharing. If this was built on web2.0 technology we'd call it a wiki.

After the main session came the familiar wine, nibbles and many more conversations as networks were grown and strengthened.

I finally left around 10pm happy, invigorated and looking forward to the next stage of the story. An excellent evening indeed.

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