Need for an Information Culture

So, my first post was well read and shared with a lot of encouragement to continue writing.

Who would’ve thought, eh?  Certainly not me.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been reflecting on some of my first impressions when I started traveling the region for FFA on the fisheries data and information crusade about 5 years ago.

Yes, I’ve actually had time to reflect on quite a few things since I’m technically unemployed.  It’s been refreshing without the usual noise.

First impressions

I was fortunate to visit the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Kiribati, and Tonga in my first stint of duty travel (for work, of course) after about 6 months with FFA and I recall coming away thinking that there really wasn’t much understanding of, and even lesser people who did understand, the value of data and information being collected for fisheries purposes both nationally and regionally.

Now these impressions weren’t entirely based on the visits to those countries nor were they specific to fisheries.  They were formed after having served the University of the South Pacific (USP) prior to FFA and I had no doubt that other fields in the Pacific had the same issue.

What is needed, to me at least, is a culture of using data and information to support what organisations do in the Pacific region.

An information culture

I like this description from Curry and Moore’s 2003 article Assessing information culture – An exploratory model:

A culture in which the value and utility of information in achieving operational and strategic success is recognised, where information forms the basis of organizational decision making and Information Technology is readily exploited as an enabler for effective Information Systems

There are so many important things in that one-liner that I could probably write a series of blog posts about them.

Another gem on the elements of an information culture from Douglas (2010):

  1. Information flows that are horizontal and vertical;
  2. Individuals have access to the information they need to do their job;
  3. Decisions are based on informed judgement;
  4. Everyone sees information management as part of their role;
  5. Sharing information in order to build effective working relationships; and
  6. IT is seen as a tool to enable the achievement of business outcomes.

If all 6 of the above, or the majority of them, were actively encouraged as part of “corporate culture” by leaders within their respective organisations I’m sure they would find a positive correlation with their organisational performance.  And bottom-lines.

Sadly, there are just too many times I’ve seen information being used as leverage to get ahead within organisations.

It’s not all about the toys

There was a time at USP when business intelligence, analytics, dashboards, data warehouses were the fad and everyone got stuck into it.  Including me.  Countless hours were spent synthesizing raw data into pretty little graphs – pie charts, time series, histograms, etc, all with the purpose of making it easier to make sense of large amounts of data.  To, you know, make informed decisions.

A colleague of mine at the time shared with me that he’d presented a neat dashboard that highlighted key student metrics to an administrator, who had a PhD of course.  It dumbfounded him that this particular administrator could not make sense of the graphs being displayed and how to use it.

That’s when it dawned on me that it’s not always about the toys – the fancy dashboards, latest technology, etc.  If you don’t have experience using and interpreting data and information then you probably won’t make the best use of the toys you have.

There are lots of toys in Pacific fisheries

Mobile app training in Noro, Solomon Is
Mobile app training in Noro, Solomon Is

Over the last 5 years there’s been an explosion of technology in the Pacific fisheries scene.  From video cameras on fishing vessels with their 24 hour monitoring to mobile apps slowly replacing paper forms used by fisheries officers and observers in the region, the ability to transmit data near real-time while at sea using satellite communications devices, and talks of drones conducting surveillance for illegal fishers.

It’s mind-boggling.  But, is there an information culture out there within Pacific fisheries administrations?

Who will interpret the data?  How will it be interpreted?  Will it produce good information that decisions can be based on?

Moving the needle

It’s great to see the Pacific Community (SPC) doing some excellent work in the Education space within the region and trying to address the issue of culture around data and information – http://www.spc.int/blog/building-a-culture-of-education-data-use-in-the-pacific/

The inherently political nature of educational systems sometimes results in difficulties in terms of using data for decision-making.

So true.  In the above quote swap out educational for fisheries or any other field and it will very likely remain true for the Pacific.

But at least the needle is moving on developing information cultures in the Pacific region.

 

References:

  1. Curry, A. and Moore, C. (2003). Assessing information culture: An exploratory model. International Journal of Information Management, 23(2),
    91-110.
  2. Douglas, J. (2010). The Identification, Development and application of Information Culture in the Western Australian Public Sector. PhD Thesis
  3. Virkus, S. (2012). Information Culture. http://www.tlu.ee/~sirvir/Information%20and%20Knowledge%20Management/Information%20Culture%202/index.html

 

 

 

 

 

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