Mapping information landscapes in the workplace

Models of workplace change management are often indifferent to how informational resources available to staff change over time, and how perceptions of these resources differ between groups.

HiB Library
HiB Library.

Research undertaken at the University of Manchester seeks to address these issues through the development of concept mapping tools and techniques. Early results have been used within the Norwegian academic library sector, with follow-on studies planned within additional HEI settings. 

Mapping tools

For change to succeed in any organisation, its advocates must understand the social dynamics of an organisation and the relationships which exist between stakeholders. Our work provides a robust model for the development of bottom-up information mapping tools, relevant to a wide range of workplace environments.

When significant change is required within an institution, it is essential that the human aspects of change are foregrounded, and all stakeholders are able to obtain a sense of ownership. Yet too frequently, the principles of shared understanding are side-lined, with many stakeholder groups lacking a voice, as well as the capacity to influence change.

Bibliotek i Endring (BIE)

A study of two Norwegian academic libraries, funded by the Norwegian National Library – Bibliotek i Endring (BIE, Changing Libraries) – addresses this issue. It does so in a context where political pressure towards the rationalisation of higher education institutions has precipitated extensive consolidation within the academic library sector.

BiE is a co-operative enquiry, involving significant contributions from the management and staff. It uses an innovative and original concept mapping methodology, incorporating the Ketso creative engagement toolkit.

This was advantageous at a number of levels:

  • A rich dataset was continuously generated over the course of a year, providing an overview of the whole change process – including the outcomes of a campus merger and a new directorial appointment – as it played out in real-time.
  • Whilst based on a sociological understanding of workplace transformation, and how communities of practice operate within corporate settings, the bottom-up nature of this engagement was open to local and place-specific aspects change.
  • Through sustained self-reflection and data interrogation, including two project workshops, outcomes from each of the six concept mapping sessions were immediately rendered useful to participants, and subsequently fed back into the processes of change they documented.
  • Bibliotek i Endring (Changing Libraries)

Lessons learned

A number of lessons emerged for our partners:

  • Concept maps that record changes in resources, and connections between them, are effective forms of management data. They lay bare the evolution of the information landscape within an organisational unit.
  • Some areas designated as a priority by participants remained largely stable between engagement sessions. This marked them as both areas of neglect, and potential institutional blockages.
  • Reorganisation brings new opportunities and allows for specialisation; however new models of professional development may be required, to address deficits in informational capacity.
  • Whilst consolidation promises clearer hierarchies and the possibility of greater control of change, the need for inclusive management comes increasingly to the fore.

Our research

Ketso session
Ketso session.

Researchers and library staff used Ketso to map their information landscapes, during six sessions, at two-monthly intervals over a year (October 2013 - September 2014). A total of 28 library staff members participated in the project, with two additional interview sessions conducted with each participant (June 2013 & September 2014).

The data obtained via concept maps and associated sociograms have been used to develop a wider set of methodological tools that seek to conceptualise and refine models for the effective facilitation and stewarding of information landscapes. The scrutiny and ongoing review of information practices within organisations are foregrounded, with several core concepts central:

  • Communities of practice: Popularised by Etienne Wenger, these are groupings that either evolve naturally, or are created specifically, that share a craft and/or a professional role. Through sharing experiences and informational resources, members learn from each other and develop capacity. Such communities may or may not share a physical space.
  • Stewarding: The ability to distribute authority over practice, and the management of the information landscape. Unlike communities of practice, this is a less developed aspect of Wenger’s work. Our research contributes towards both a refinement of this term, and an original contribution.
  • Brokers and boundary objects: These are important aspects within any change management programme, as they span different communities of practices, and contribute to dialogical learning.
  • Radical information literacy: A stress on the importance of how decisions are made regarding the relevance of information, reversing the privilege generally given to disempowering objective and rule-based approaches. Such approaches devalue an intersubjective perspective that seeks to situate the individual within a wider social and community context.

Key people

Further information