I’ve been engaged by John Saward, a drupal developer working with the Smart Water Fund, to research options for SWF’s Knowledge Hub and its joint venture partners, the water utilities of Victoria.
The first generation Knowledge Hub makes research commissioned by SWF available to water utilities, the water industry and the general public. Water utility users want a stronger focus on
research that meets their needs, and an easier way to search for information on innovation. What else they might want
and how best to meet their needs, is the focus of this research. Framed as a question: What web-based facilities will best support innovation by water utilities?
My job is to find out how people in water utilities currently search for and test out new ideas that might support innovation in their area of responsibility, and to facilitate discussion on how some kind of web facility can support this. John Saward is proposing a process of agile development, where development proceeds in small steps, with testing for use as facilities come on-line. I am facilitating the process of research in the midst of action that will inform that agile development.
We worked with staff from utilities this week, people who sit at the interface between staff (and potential innovators), and research (and researchers). We asked them how people currently search for ideas when they see a need for a change in what things and how are done (innovation rather than just efficiencies). Their answer was this:
If you want to find new ideas, solid research and good people in a field, then a) consult your own network first, or b) talk with someone who has good networks in the area in which
you are interested. Best of all, c) find someone with good networks who is a generous networker, and they’ll tell you not just who to contact and where to search, but also why that person and that resource is useful. If you get really lucky d) they might introduce you. So e) put time into building your own networks, so that when you have a need for connections to people and resources, you’ve got a broad palette to choose from, and people who know you and are willing to help you.
This reminded me of a study of high performing researchers at Bell in the USE, where the principal finding was that these people invested time in prompt responses to others researchers’ inquiries so that when they in turn had a need to ask for help, they had plenty of brownie points. Norms of reciprocity meant these researchers got much faster replies than average researchers, allowing them to drive their own research faster.
It also brought back an old project, “Working the Networks”, which used action learning to develop networking and network building skills amongst extension staff, 1999-2001, AgWA. Same skills. Strangely, I recently had an email via LinkedIn from one of the project managers of that work, who gave me some feedback on that job:
I am still in awe of the work you did on active networking. The pity is that there are probably only two or three people that really appreciated the rigour of the work and its relevance.” Nice to hear that!