Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Anticipating research needs; or being there from pitch to party

Old and New Clare Style
Collyer Bristow is home to a long-standing art gallery which presents the best and most interesting contemporary art, whether by up-and-coming or more established artists. Our current show is by Anne Howeson. She works with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century prints that are copied on to drawing paper, which she transforms by rubbing away, and making additions with paint. So a bucolic printed view of tile kilns on old Maiden Lane (now York Way) becomes overlaid with a modern glass fronted office block. This uncanny mix reminds us of the fluidity of London’s architecture, past, present and future.

What does this exhibition have to do with knowledge management and legal information? Surprisingly, more than you might initially think. One of the speakers at an event held in conjunction with this show was Jeremy Smith, an archivist from London Metropolitan Archives. Obviously Anne is a devotee of London’s archives because of their collections of prints, which provide the underlying inspiration for her work. Jeremy was proud that archives were becoming increasingly popular with artists, but admitted that this show was rare because he was able to see the end product of a user's research.

This comment got me thinking. People involved in research do not normally see the client facing, professional end product. Even though Jeremy had spent time with the artist, talking with her, and found these incredible prints, he would not know what thought processes they would trigger, or how the copied images would be used. When you work in any kind of information role, when you send off the carefully researched email or leave the right storage box with the enquirer, you’ve generally completed your task.

Often users will request material and although you might guess what they are going to use it for, you might never know how it will be repackaged. You might argue that seeing the end result isn’t that important; after all, if your client has successfully created something from your research, then what more could you do for them? Some people are happy knowing that they’ve fulfilled a request to the best of their ability, but I think this is what separates an information professional from a knowledge professional. With training anyone can find ‘information’, however providing insightful and anticipatory ‘knowledge’ is much harder to do.

We need to actually anticipate and visualise their reason for wanting the work. By the time they have sent the initial request for information, they are either very early – or late – on in the process of their work. We can enhance the information we provide, by being familiar with the types of matters in which our lawyers are involved. If it is for a meeting, is our summary broad enough? If it’s for a pitch, can we anticipate weaknesses which may lead to hard questions post-presentation? If we are assisting in legal PR, are we ahead of the news curve? Can we know where the gaps are in our knowhow collections? Questions and concerns like these present challenges to those of us outside the immediately involved department.

We can attend departmental meetings to understand the general tenor of the work being done. We can participate in areas of law and business by offering our special skills; this normally revolves around our encyclopaedic knowledge of current affairs and business trends. We can also attend networking events so we meet clients! If you demonstrate an interest, then people will spend time telling you about their work because they appreciate that they are going to get a lot more from you in return. Lawyers are quick to take advantage of business services that enable them to impress clients.

Therefore by being involved in the client process from the start, you can intelligently anticipate what will be needed and when - the perfect excuse for us to be not only involved at the earliest opportunity, but every step of the way; from pitch to party.

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