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Knowmad Society released – and it is beautiful!

I am very pleased to share that the print edition of Knowmad Society is in press, and it is beautiful!

Knowmad Society cover-print-smallYou can read it now at http://www.knowmadsociety.com – the book is available in print, PDF, iOS, and Kindle editions. If you enjoyed a free copy of the book, please consider purchasing a printed copy. It helps us recover our costs, and, as I can’t say enough: It is beautiful.

Knowmad Society explores the future of learning, work, and how we relate with each other in a world driven by accelerating change, value networks, and the rise of knowmads.

Knowmads are nomadic knowledge workers: Creative, imaginative, and innovative people who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. The jobs associated with 21st century knowledge and innovation workers have become much less specific concerning task and place, but require more value-generative applications of what they know. The office as we know it is gone. Schools and other learning spaces will follow next.

In this book, nine authors from three continents, ranging from academics to business leaders, share their visions for the future of learning and work. Educational and organizational implications are uncovered, experiences are shared, and the contributors explore what it’s going to take for individuals, organizations, and nations to succeed in Knowmad Society.

Coda: In producing the print edition, Martine Eyzenga took charge of the creative layout of the interior, and the cover was illustrated by Symen Veenstra. Thank you to everybody who provided feedback while the book was available in its “preview” format – you provided critical peer review.

The emerging and future roles of academic libraries

Libraries are actively reinventing themselves for the digital age.  Confronted with corrosive budgets, skyrocketing costs, and challenged by a fear of obsolesce resulting from the accelerating rate of technological change; libraries are struggling for their survival.  For the academic library — the “heart” of the modern research university — survival requires demonstrating their value in new ways, embedding themselves deeper into the university’s core functions of teaching, learning, and research.  Although daunting, these challenges are nothing new for academic li-braries.

Within a generation, the signs of change are highly visible.  Gone are the card catalogues, monastic study corrals, and physical books replaced by media labs, new expertise in strategic areas (teaching and learning, information literacy, copyright, data visualization, and media production), and professionally designed collaborative workspaces.  The resonance of these changes has extended beyond the bookends of the library.  Just this week the Atlantic Monthly blog crowned the 2011 South by Southwest Festival “The Year of the Librarian”.


Photo: library cards Creative Commons BY NC SA 2.0 dorywithserifs

Despite radical attempts to meet the changing needs of every generation of scholars critics have argued that the library — in its current form — may have outlived its purpose.  For some change at the library hasn’t come quickly enough.  A recent editorial in The Chronicle of Higher Education codifies this position, accusing practitioners of being complicit — spending the last few decades rearranging the books in the Titanic library.  Sullivan, (2011) contends:

“… it is entirely possible that the life of the academic library could have been spared if the last generation of librarians had spent more time plotting a realistic path to the future and less time chasing outdated trends while mindlessly spouting mantras like “There will always be books and libraries” and “People will always need librarians to show them how to use information.” We’ll never know now what kind of treatments might have worked. Librarians planted the seeds of their own destruction and are responsible for their own downfall”.

I disagree.  There is ample evidence that library leaders have in earnest set their sights on the future — most notably, two of the largest American academic library professional organizations (The Association of Research Libraries and the Association of College and Research Libraries), recently produced future oriented reports to catalyze support for the value of academic libraries, and to provide vision for the future.  In my mind, these reports capture the excitement of an institution in transition, and provide insights into the future of higher education as a whole.

Futures Research
The first report, from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), a nonprofit professional organization which represents 126 of the largest college and university research libraries in the United States and Canada, created the ARL 2030 Scenarios project to address their strategic focus:

“How do we transform our organization(s) to create differential value for future users (individuals, institutions, and beyond), given the external dynamics redefining the research environment over the next 20 years?

ARL members were invited to participate in individual interviews, focus groups, and a survey.  Key stakeholders from within and outside the academic library community codified the results into four distinct scenarios.  The results were intentionally distributed inside of a user’s guide to ensure that the scenarios were packaged with an accompanying template for utilizing the scenarios at academic libraries as part of their strategic planning process.

Scenario 1: Research Entrepreneurs
In this future “individual researchers are the stars of the story”.  Academic institutions and disciplinary silos are no longer relevant for entrepreneurial researchers who chase short-to-long term contract work from private and public sources.

Scenario 2: Reuse and Recycle
Scenario 2 outlines a world defined by an “ongoing scarcity of economic resources” which forces the reuse and recycling of research activities, with virtually no public support for research.  Academic institutions persist, but have little to offer scholars.

Scenario 3: Disciplines in Charge
Utilizing advances in information technology “computational approaches to data analysis dominates the research enterprise”, fostering massive research projects aligned around “data-stores”.  Two classes of researchers emerge: those who “control the disciplinary organization and their research infrastructure” and everyone else who “scramble to pick up the piecework”.

Scenario 4: Global Followers
As funding forces dry up in the West academic power shifts to the Middle East and Asia.  Scholars continue to do their research but with new cultural influences from Middle Eastern and Asian funding agencies.

ARL Scenario Space
Figure 1: ARL Scenario Space, Creative Commons BY NC ND

The real strength of ARL’s scenarios is the user guide toolkitScenario planning — and futures research in general — is often criticized for being too empyreal.  ARL addresses this criticism head-on featuring six chapters dedicated to implementing of the scenarios within an academic library.  Also, as part of an ongoing process towards validating and refining each scenario articles, studies, and reports are being collected and coded as they pertain to each of the 4 possible futures.

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), another leader in the academic library world, also recently completed a future oriented study presenting 26 possible scenarios for 2025.  ACRL is the largest division of the American Library Association (ALA) with over 12,000 members worldwide.

Research for this study began with an intensive two-month review of quantitative and qualitative literature related to how academic libraries demonstrate their value.  ACRL staff then combined the results into 26 possible scenarios.  ACRL members were surveyed on the probability of each scenario occurring, the impact of each scenario, the speed at which the scenario might unfold, and whether the scenario reflects a threat or opportunity to academic libraries.  The survey results were then visually displayed on a problem space with a number corresponding to each scenario, with green numbers representing opportunities for academic libraries, and red signaling threats (Figure 2).

ACRL Scenario Space
Figure 2: ACRL Scenario Space, Creative Commons NC SA

The survey results concluded nine of the scenarios were highly probable and impactful including: “breaking the textbook monopoly”, “bridging the scholar/practitioners divide”, “everyone is a ‘non-traditional’ student”, “I see what you see” [advancements in IT make collaboration with users easier], “increasing threats of cyberwar, cybercrime, and cyberterrorism”, “meet the new freshman” [librarians help non-traditional student cross the digital divide], “right here with me” [advances in mobile technology for research and publication], “scholarship stultifies”, and “this class brought to you by…” [increased corporate sponsorships of courses and research].

The combined 30 scenarios presented by ARL and ACRL describe the potentially hostile, but promising world for academic libraries in the next 20 years.  The three most common themes throughout all of the scenarios: the impact of technology, the changing informational and infrastructural needs of their users, and the challenges to creating novel funding sources to combat acute budget shortfalls present real opportunities for leadership on the part of library administrators.

Although some have criticized these first attempts at futures research as a waste of time, I argue these reports have been successful because they have forced the debate about the future of the academic library to the forefront of the profession.  Certainly futures research cannot predict the future, however these scenarios provide academic libraries a chance to both strategize for what is most likely to happen, while advocating from an informed position for their most desirable future.

References
Association Research Libraries. (2010). The ARL 2030 Scenarios: A User?s Guide for Research Libraries. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/arl-2030-scenarios-users-guide.pdf/.

Connelly, P. (2011). SXSW 2011: The Year of the Librarian. Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/03/sxsw-2011-the-year-of-the-librarian/72548.

Staley, D. J., & Malenfant, K. J. (2010). Futures Thinking For Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/issues/value/futures2025.pdf.

Sullivan, B. T. (2011). Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050. Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Academic-Library-Autopsy/125767/.

 

 

Fab Lab: Build 'almost anything'

“The Fab Lab program has strong connections with the technical outreach activities of a number of partner organizations, around the emerging possibility for ordinary people to not just learn about science and engineering but actually design machines and make measurements that are relevant to improving the quality of their lives.” [MIT Center for Bits and Atoms] Moreover, each Fab Lab is connected with others around the world, sharing ideas and experiences. Every Fab Lab user is required to document how they created products so that their inventions may be replicated anywhere around the world.

Yesterday afternoon, I visited the Fab Lab at Century College in Minnesota. A Fab Lab (fabrication laboratory) is a small-scale workshop with an array of computer controlled tools that cover several different length scales and various materials, and is the brainchild of MIT’s Neil Gershenfeld. The facility, faculty and institutional support for the initiative is amazing. Loaded with 3D printers, laser cutters, and other rapid prototyping and small-scale fabrication tools, allows uses to make “almost anything.”

My take on Fab Labs is that they provide school students and other members of the community with valuable expertise and resources to transform their creative ideas into tangible products … and, hopefully, meaningful outcomes and innovations. Since the Fab Labs blend social and fabrication technologies, I feel that school systems should consider either investing in the concept for every school, or collaborate actively with an institution that already has a Fab Lab.

Last November, I also had the privilege of visiting the Fab Lab hosted by the Waag Society in Amsterdam (the video in this link is worth watching). A couple of the key differences is that this Fab Lab is open to the public (at a cost), but is also integrated with the other services provided by the Waag Society (i.e., Creative Learning Lab, incubators) and its use is eligible for subsidization by the Dutch government through innovation grants.

An observation from my whirlwind tours of both facilities is that is the Minnesota-based Fab Lab seems to produce things that already exist, whereas the Dutch Fab Lab produces many new creations — things that have not existed yet. The question on my mind is, why is there a creativity gap? Is it a cultural phenomenon? Or, is it structural:

  • Is it because our education system is no longer producing many creatives (focusing instead on creating functionaries)?
  • Is it because the Dutch have access to a broader support system that draws creatives to the Fab Lab?

Or, is something else happening?

Going green: Our post-industrial imperative

Peter Senge, Bryan Smith, and Nina Kruschwitz wrote an article in Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.‘s strategy+business on transforming business thinking to combat climate change.

We cannot meet the 80-20 challenge under the present industrial system. Success will require a sea change in the prevailing kinds of energy we use, cars we drive, buildings we live and work in, cities we design, and ways we move both people and goods around the world. It will require other changes that no one can yet imagine. That’s why basic innovation is so important: Humans must rapidly rethink and rebuild their infrastructure, technology, organizations, and approach to working with nature. Meanwhile, the growing recognition of this 80-20 challenge [to generate an 80 percent reduction of worldwide emissions in 20 years] — among scientists, businesspeople, and citizens — is itself a signal that the industrial age bubble has reached its limits, just as general recognition of the unsustainability of many Internet businesses preceded the bursting of the dot-com bubble of the 1990s.

Indeed, the industrial age is over (at least in industrialized nations), and the world is moving toward a socioeconomic system that favors knowledge and innovation over industrial outputs.  Global climate change is creating an imperative for ecologically sound, innovative transformations of industries and society.  The idea of “business as usual” is no longer economically sound or socially acceptable.

When we talk about schools going green, we often focus on energy efficient classrooms, lunchroom waste reductions, and conservation of office supplies.  Far less frequently, we talk about helping students build a capacity to innovate toward creating ecologically-sound solutions.  We’re producing students that will be successful in 19th or 20th century assembly line jobs, but not for roles they will need to assume in a knowledge- and innovation-based society.

No more business as usual means we can no longer do education as usual.

With this in mind, it’s perhaps appropriate to round off Cobo‘s list of skills for knowledge workers with a final point: be responsible. These are all items that schools should work on developing in the communities they serve:

  1. Not restricted to a specific age.
  2. Highly engaged, creative, innovative, collaborative and motivated.
  3. Uses information and develops knowledge in changing workplaces (not tied to an office).
  4. Inventive, intuitive, and able to know things and produce ideas.
  5. Capable of creating socially constructed meaning and contextually reinvent meanings.
  6. Rejects the role of being an information custodian and associated rigid ways of organizing information.
  7. Network maker, always connecting people, ideas, organizations, etc.
  8. Possesses an ability to use many tools to solve many different problems.
  9. High digital literacy.
  10. Competence to solve unknown problems in different contexts.
  11. Learning by sharing, without geographical limitation.
  12. Highly adaptable to different contexts/environments.
  13. Aware of the importance to provide open access to information.
  14. Interest in context and the adaptability of information to new situations.
  15. Capable of unlearning quickly, and always bringing in new ideas.
  16. Competence to create open and flat knowledge networks.
  17. Learns continuously (formally and informally) and updates knowledge.
  18. Constantly experiments new technologies (especially the collaborative ones).
  19. Not afraid of failure.
  20. Oriented toward building positive social, economic, and ecological futures.

Is innovation the pink elephant in the classroom?

Jeffrey Phillips asks:

Here’s a challenge for you. Find me a firm, any firm, that isn’t telling it’s people, it’s customers and it’s investors that innovation isn’t important. Can you imagine that? Telling these constituents that innovation isn’t important is like telling people that oxygen isn’t important. So, let’s take as a given that most firms advocate a bias toward innovation.

How about schools or colleges? How often do we bring up innovation (or discussions of creating pathways toward continuous innovation) with educational leaders only to receive a response of, “oh, we’re already doing that?”

Too often.

In my experience, I would say that perhaps 10-20% of school leaders I’ve talked with believe that they’re “already innovating” or are “innovating enough.” Innovation, by definition, means doing something substantially different, and it’s something that everybody can do. Perhaps what educational leaders are telling us is that we’re failing to define what innovation is and means what we need to do in educational contexts.

Can leaders see the pink elephant in the classroom if they’re looking at their organization through rose-tinted glasses? It’s time to start looking at our institutions differently.

The second most dangerous "hate" organization

News of the absurd:

Conservative front group Family Security Matters (FSM) today released its list of “The Ten Most Dangerous Organizations in America.” Universities and colleges earned the #2 spot in the rankings. FSM writes that these 10 “hate” organizations are “growing powerful in the world of politics” and share a common “unwillingness to bend in their strictly biased view of the world.” Here are 10 most dangerous organizations:

10. ThinkProgress
9. Muslim Student Association
8. CodePINK
7. American Civil Liberties Union, National
6. Family Research Council
5. Center for American Progress
4. League of the South
3. MoveOn.org
2. Universities and Colleges
1. Media Matters for America

(adapted from ThinkProgress)

Creating Schools of the Future through Systems Thinking

Upcoming Urban Leadership Academy workshop in Minneapolis:

Creating Schools of the Future through Systems ThinkingFebruary 1, 2006

Verna Allee, Verna Allee and Associates

Verna AlleeVerna Allee, M.A., is recognized worldwide for her work as a pioneer in the field of knowledge management. She is a practitioner, thought leader, author, and frequent keynote speaker on value networks, knowledge management, intangibles, communities of practice, and new business models. Through her value network of colleagues, she consults with a wide variety of organizations—from global corporations and entrepreneurial startups to government agencies and global action networks. She will speak on bringing the wisdom of knowledge management and systems thinking into our schools.

Verna’s publications include The Future of Knowledge: Increasing Prosperity through Value Networks (2003) and The Knowledge Evolution (1997), which is a continuing best seller in the knowledge management field. She is also co-editor with Dinesh Chandra of What is True Wealth and How Do We Create It? (2003). Verna is a contributing author to several books and journals and is on the editorial board of Knowledge Management magazine.

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NY Times: Business reorganization affects innovation

Article link: Innovation and disruption still going hand in hand

The New York Times reports that “the cutthroat environment of ever increasing competition could actually hinder future technological advances.” The drive for innovative business models in an increasingly deregulated and globalized environment creates rapid continuous change in the global economy. An American school textbook publisher, for example, must now generate most of its material in New Delhi to remain competitive. But funding for new technology development has significantly decreased since the 1990’s. The article suggests business reorgination in favor of competitiveness causes companies to no longer consider the “long view” of their development strategies. In exchange for competitiveness today, companies are neglecting innovative technological development.

Sixth sense: accelerating organizational learning with scenarios

Van der Heijden, K. A. (2002). Sixth sense: accelerating organizational learning with scenarios. Chichester ; New York: Wiley.

Van der Heijden builds upon the ideas in Scenarios and delves into more modern approaches to scenario planning. He argues, scenario-based continuous learning is the best approach for organizations to identify and plan for external environmental inputs into their systems. Scenario planning does not help determine the future, but explains the nature of the future, allowing organizations to respond appropriately.

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