Who’s filtering the complexity?
Over the last year or so we have often talked about the ever increasing complexity that organisations have started to face as the 21st century begins to mature. One obvious element of this complexity has been the exponential growth of information and the development of the necessary tools and platforms for accessing, organising and distributing it. However, the increasing volume of information is not the only challenge we are experiencing. As the volume of information has increased, so has its creators. The once limited number of recognised authoritative sources has now been radically overtaken by an ever increasing ‘critical mass’. As the Institute of Education recently pointed out, “What we have here is a transition from a stable, settled world of knowledge produced by authority/authors, to a world of instability, flux, of knowledge produced by the individual”. Whilst leaving the debate about the integral differences between information and knowledge to one side, we can see that the problem is primarily twofold. How do we cope with the ever increasing volumes of information, as well as attempting to understand and clarify the validity of its sources?
Evidently this problem is not a new one, certainly within the field of education. The sociologist, Edgar Morin, understood that this problem would be fundamental to education, in what was then, the coming century. In his 1999 publication, Seven Complex Lessons In Education for the Future, he wrote “The universal problem for every citizen of the new millennium is how to get access to information about the world, and how to acquire the skills to articulate and organise that information.” As the 21st century has matured, access to information is perceived to have developed at an almost limitless pace. One of the consequences of this development, at least in the area of education, has been the well documented demise of the Librarian as a symbolic figure for sourcing information. As our ability to access information from almost any location has increased, the need to consult with a custodian of information has faded dramatically. However, the notion of access only deals with half of the problem. As many experienced researchers will tell you, a librarian’s knowledge of a source of information is usually supported by the invaluable knowledge of both its validity and quality. To this end one could argue that in today’s world of ‘instability and flux’, especially within our schools, colleges and universities (and possibly our organisations) the role of a symbolic figure, such as a librarian, to filter and qualify information has never been more necessary.
But where does this leave our organisations? Who within them can be considered to be the custodians and filters of information? Well unfortunately, in most cases, this responsibility has historically been left at the door of HR departments, and as the experience of their response to the growth of social media will tell you, this is probably not the best place! However, in some cases organisations have recognised the importance of this responsibility and created the role of a Chief Information Officer in an attempt to deal with it. Unfortunately, in the main, this individual has been plucked from his or her current IT role and given mainly the technical task of organising and distributing internal information, as opposed to creating the conditions for procuring and validating the quality of information sourced from beyond the firewall. This then becomes the broader problem of the modern organisation; how does it connect with the ‘outside’ and validate the quality of that connection for the benefit of its own growth? Because without the ability to do this, anything resembling growth, in today’s world of instability and flux, will almost certainly begin to look like a thing of the past.