About ianwatson

Programme Manager for knowledge management and knowledge media type things at IRISS. Particularily interested in social media and how we can get better access to it in the workplace

Research Unbound: the future of research dissemination.

In mid 2012 the Finch Report heralded the ‘’the most radical shakeup of academic publishing since the invention of the internet‘. By 2014 all publicly funded research was to be freely available to the public. To achieve this, Finch recommended support for ‘Gold’ open access publishing, where publishers receive their revenues from authors rather than readers, thus allowing journal articles to become freely accessible to everyone immediately upon publication.

RU launch-iw-2

Introducing Research Unbound

This approach leaves the role of the academic publisher largely unchanged, which is rather odd when we consider that the internet has disrupted so many business models, including newspaper publishing, music and travel.  Why not journal publishing?  After all, when Tim Berners-Lee invented the web he was aiming to support and improve scientific communication and the dissemination of scientific research. And it has been argued that researchers do not consume articles in the form in which the currently write them.

In January 2014 an article in Guardian Professional (Why open access should be a key issue for university leaders) argued that it was time senior leaders in higher education made openness their concern

the strategic and ethical questions that arise from the rapid and comprehensive advances in digital technologies – and particularly openness and its consequences – are for anyone in a leadership position, whether an academic programme convenor, a dean or a vice-chancellor. All universities are now digital, and all research and teaching will be shaped by continuing technological change

Gold and Green Open Access will remain a part of the publishing ecosytem but, as Gary Hall argues (On the unbound book: academic publishing in the age of the infinite archive)

publishing strategies are becoming more pluralistic and decentralised, making use of blogs, wikis and services like Figshare

Which brings us to Research Unbound, an IRISS contribution to creating such a decentralised and pluralistic world.  Research Unbound is a platform (a blog, basically) on which researchers of all kind (academics, practitioners) may share their findings, in whole or in part. It is also a campaign to encourage the use of social media to share, engage and build networks.

At our launch event on 21 February 2014, Brian Kelly shared his practical wisdom on how social media can enhance your research activities.  Among his many hints and tips was Socialbro for managing and analysing your Twitter network.  Fergus McNeil, Professor of Criminology and Social Work at the University of Glasgow and an active blogger (see Discovering Desistance), offered a measured assessment of ‘new’ versus ‘old’. While the traditional route to publication remains important, it can be many years before a researcher gets feedback, in the form of citations, whereas blogging can deliver immediate feedback and can help measure impact. Nina Vaswani, Research Fellow at the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice, talked about  blogs as a form of reflective journal writing.

Research is a tangled, messy and complicated process and sharing the experience of this journey not only aids reflection and learning for the blogger, but also can help readers learn from the experience too. (from Nina’s blog post about the event)

Two of our contributors to Research Unbound (Marguerite Schinkel and Fiona Sherwood-Johnson) talked about why they are using this channel to share their research. The event generated lively and stimulating discussion, some of it captured via Twitter and summarised on Storify (or see and contribute to the whole #researchunbound stream on Twubs).

The role of social networking in the research process is neatly summarised by Nina Vaswani in her blog

In order for me to make a difference I need to produce high quality research that is relevant, useful and, equally importantly, accessible to my audience.  I certainly don’t want my research gathering dust in some far corner of a university library.

We hope Research Unbound will play an important part in linking research and practice in social care.

An undeniable right to digital inclusion?

The interim report of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s inquiry into spreading the benefit of digital participation in Scotland – published on 4 December 2013 – calls on the Scottish Government to recognise that every individual has an undeniable right to digital inclusion and for steps to be taken to motivate individuals and businesses to engage in the online world. Digital technologies, the report notes, can offer opportunities for people to explore interests and share and access knowledge, and to achieve this

…we must ensure that all public, private and third-sector organisations in Scotland have unfettered access to the infrastructure, tools and skills they need to make effective use of digital technologies.

The word ‘unfettered’ is important. Our experience at IRISS is that while people who work within organisations can be motivated to try out new ways of sharing information, for example by using Dropbox, employers offers little encouragement to use this form of communication.  Some block access to Eventbrite (on the ground that is is a ‘shopping site’). Others have stopped their staff from using Doodle which takes the pain out of scheduling meetings. Unfettered access must mean allowing to staff to engage with any web-based service as and when required, bearing in mind that it is often the client who chooses the tool. To refuse to use, say Doodle, is simply to transfer costs onto the client.

The report goes on to say that enterprise agencies should develop simple checklists of free online services and tools -such as business listings, appointments diaries, blogs and calendars – and use these to help businesses to engage with the online world. The problem is that staff in enterprise agencies are themselves often blocked from using these tools (Google Docs, Flickr etc) and are therefore hardly in a position to offer advice.

Organisations need to develop a culture that supports and encourages their staff to engage in web-based communication,  By engaging they will acquire the digital literacy skills necessary to be digitally included.

Along with former DCC Gordon Scobbie and Ian Watt, representing SOCITM, I’ll making a presentation to the Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group on Digital Participation on this topic on 10 December 2013.  We’ll be suggesting that to tackle digital exclusion and promote digital participation, it is absurd on the one hand to wonder why people don’t engage while, on the other, actively block them from doing exactly that.

Social media in the workplace – survey and infographic

social-media-workplaceMedia agency ZenithOptimedia were in touch this week to tell us about this infographic drawn from a survey of social media in the workplace around the world. The survey finds that social media has become increasingly accepted as a vehicle for conducting business, but the ways in which workplaces deal with it are still in flux.


Around the world, social media usage raises difficult questions as to whether and how rules regarding workplace confidentiality, loyalty, privacy and monitoring apply to these forums, and, if so, how they are balanced against freedom of expression.


The report offers five recommendations on best practice:

  1. Get a social media policy and make sure you communicate it.
  2. Make sure you have a separate policy on misuse of confidential information by employees via social media.
  3. If you monitor staff make sure you have policies that comply with the law.
  4. Monitoring should go no further than necessary.
  5. Exercise extreme caution if relying on information from social media sites to make employment-related decisions.

While it is generally accepted that having policies on social media is a good thing, my problem with this report is that it doesn’t define ‘social media’.  The only social media service mentioned by name in the report is Facebook which, while very popular, is only one kind of social media. While the infographic has statistics relating to LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube and Google+ there seems to be no recognition that social media encompasses an ever increasing number of tools such as Skype, Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote, Scoop.it, Ning and Delicious, all of which offer ways of finding and sharing information to create personal knowledge networks.  Integrated into the workplace and the workflow they can deliver huge productivity gains.

While it may be wise to advise ‘extreme caution’ in using information from, say, Facebook for employment related decisions, HR departments, we assume, have always been careful to check the provenance of information regardless of the medium through which it is obtained. Good old fashioned references, for example, have long been treated with caution.

The report includes an interesting and useful roundup of case law from around the world, including the case of an Apple employee who was dismissed for using Facebook to make derogatory comments about Apple products.  An employment tribunal had to grapple with the balance between, on the one hand, the employee’s right to privacy and freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights  and, on the other, the protection of business interests. The tribunal ruled that the employee could not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over comments made online because of the ease with which such comments could be forwarded to others outwith his control. The tribunal also felt that Apple’s restriction on freedom of expression was justified and proportionate in the context of protecting its reputation.

All of which reminds us that existing laws apply in the online world. Social media is really just the web and the web is here to stay.  If people are to learn how to use web-based communication media within existing law and within existing terms of employment they have to be allowed and encouraged to use these media.

Focusing too much on Facebook may risk missing the big issue which is that improving digital literacy in the workplace will improve workforce competence in using the web for communicating, building networks and personal knowledge management.

What the report is really asking is whether businesses are allowing their staff to be effective communicators and learners and have they adapted their policies to reflect these new ways of working?

Why can’t you access stuff on the web?

Since starting this blog about eighteen months ago I’ve mentioned many reports and studies that advocate digital participation, digital inclusion, digital literacy, digital by default, digital future and so on. Despite these official and authoritative arguments for better access to the web in the workplace, the workforce remains are blocked from using the most basic of web services, Doodle meeting scheduler for example. So, we at IRISS created this webpage containing key quotations from these reports which you can use to support your case for better access to the web.

We also asked for stories about blocked access and this one, from a local authority communications officer (yes, communications!), makes depressing reading

Getting information out to the many hundreds of staff across my department is difficult as a lot of web content is blocked. There are regular complaints made about the lack of communication between staff at headquarters and staff at remote sites, but despite this, information continues to be sent via ‘traditional’ methods (i.e newsletters in the post, filtered down through senior management). As the ICT policy for the local authority is managed at corporate level, departmental staff feel helpless to take any action against a policy that is so centrally engrained in the process of ‘how we do things’. 

I would love to work towards changing this, but am unsure of how to start without seeming to be causing problems or complaining.

This is not the first time we’ve heard people express concern about being seen as troublemakers. So where do we start?  People ‘at the top’ will have to take a lead.  ICT professionals, as mentioned a previous post, have been urged by Socitm – the Society of Information Technology Management – to ‘get into the digital vanguard’ by positioning themselves as leaders in promoting digital services.  Making people feel like troublemakers for trying be more efficient by using modern communication methods does not sit well with being in the vanguard.

Maybe a better dialogue between ICT professionals and front line professionals about what digital services and digital participation actually means in practice would help.



ICT professionals to ‘get into digital vanguard’

ICT professionals should be positioning themselves as leaders in promoting digital services.  So says Socitm, the Society of Information Technology Management, in its latest briefing.   We have to hope that Socitim members understand that in practice this means allowing ordinary members of the workforce to do simple things like participate in a Ning discussion forum, watch a video or add a ‘read later’ button to their browser.

We also have to hope this report has more impact than the 2010 briefing on why ICT managers should take the lead on social media. As noted frequently in this blog, ICT professionals do not seem to have taken much heed of this earlier rallying call. If they don’t take the lead, warns Socitm, ‘the risk is much greater that others will decide the future direction of ICT in their organisation‘.  Which would be a shame because ICT managers are, or should be, well placed to support others. They do have the skills and knowledge to help identify and therefore avoid real risks.

For example, Aberdeen City Council is the subject of an investigation by the Information Commissioner following the alleged loss of data after an employee in the social work department allegedly used an unsecure computer network when working from home. Correctly this is a matter of concern but we must differentiate between this kind of risk and the imagined risks of adding a ‘read later’ button to a browser or joining a Ning-hosted community (both of which activities are currently disallowed by default in certain public bodies).

User education will help minimise risk.  Blocking won’t. Instead, as Socitm warns, it will lead to ICT policies being developed without the valued input from ICT professionals.

If you are affected by restrictive ICT polices why not join Scotland’s Digital Dialogue, a discussion forum hosted by the Scottish Government with the aim of raising the level of digital participation, which is ‘essential to ensure everyone is able to benefit from the digital age‘?

Why our mindset has to change

How do you make a business case for access to streaming media in the workplace? Here’s how – it’s quite simple.

Mindreel is a database of just over 100 films from the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival which are available free of charge and many of which may be downloaded for educational use. It has attracted some 10,000 visits  from 7,000 people since last Autumn.  It’s not overstating the case to say this is a world class resource from a world class festival of which Scotland can be proud.

Sometimes people ask if the films are available on DVD. Some are but this is really a matter for the film-maker or distributor. Recently we were asked by someone in a local authority about buying multiple copies of a film on DVD to give to people attending a course. This seems quite logical as some of the people attending would not have access to a computer or the web at work.

But let’s think about this. The films are available free of charge on the web, so why not tackle the problem – the absence of web access – rather than consider paying hundreds or possibly thousands of pounds for hard copies? Blockbuster video rental stores have disappeared as consumers switch on to video on demand. This is the new fast way: we have to start thinking digital, not least because it saves money.

There is another value in directing people to Mindreel.They might browse and find more films worth watching. To paraphrase: give someone a film on DVD and your feed the mind once; send them to Mindreel and they may feed their mind forever.

So how we change the way we think and creature a culture that embraces the web? Scotland Digital Future. Supporting the Transition to a World-leading Digital Economy points the way:

The starting point… has to be a commitment to develop the digital capabilities of staff across the Scottish public sector. Organisations should be encouraged to join and participate in the work of Scotland’s Digital Participation Charter to encourage the development of digital literacy across their entire workforce. This should be supported by the development of workplaces and IT policies that enhance access to and familiarity of digital technology.

It couldn’t be clearer. Business case made.

Guidance on using social media to inform, engage and consult

The Scottish Health Council (part of Healthcare Improvement Scotland) has just published a set of helpful guidelines which include lots of case studies (including one from IRISS) on the use of social media. The guidelines are aimed at NHS Boards who are seeking to use social media during periods of major service change –

specifically the Scottish Government’s requirements to inform, engage and consult people in developing health and community care services (CEL (2010) 04).

It suggests ways in which social media and online technologies may complement traditional methods of informing, engaging and consulting people when planning and carrying out NHS service changes. It includes examples of how technology is currently being used for two-way dialogue with patients, carers and communities, and also discusses general considerations when using social media.

This well written report provides yet more support for opening up access to social media in the workplace.  How can you have two way dialogue if your workforce doesn’t have full and unfettered access to the web?

Digital participation, creativity, innovation and … blocked access

Devon County Council is holding a Create/Innovate month in June, which involves a programme of activities and events associated with experimentation, discovery, play, learning and reflection. The aim behind Create/Innovate is to raise awareness of creativity, innovation and service design within the council. It also aims to promote and foster an internal climate of creativity. All staff will be encouraged to participate throughout the month in a variety of ways from engaging in policy to watching videos of international speakers.

Devon council has an enlightened approach to the web, recognising that talk of digital participation is meaningless if your staff are blocked from using web-based resources such as video from streaming media services such as YouTube. Yet that is exactly what happens throughout the Scottish public sector.  Recently we ran a workshop on social media for a government agency and requested access to certain types of website (video streaming etc). Here is the response from the Scottish Government’s systems management team:

The web service…  is a very limited and popular resource, not only the fixed bandwidth we have available but also the resources available to manage, monitor and police its use. Currently we do not offer media streaming from YouTube…
…micro managing individual staff access to individual internet sites and resources would be a complicated and time consuming task, therefore this is very much an exception rather than the norm.’

The week before, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced

Technology and access to high speed internet is a vital part of Scotland’s infrastructure, and that is why we are committed to delivering a world class digital infrastructure to the people of Scotland by 2020.

Well, the people of Scotland includes the workforce. A world class digital infrastructure needs a world class workforce competent and comfortable using web-based resources. The government is actually preventing its staff from becoming more innovative and cost effective by blocking access and spending time ‘policing’ rather than encouraging and supporting.  Arguably the workforce represents one of the biggest digitally excluded groups: they have bandwidth, they have computers, they have creativity. All they need is support, encouragement, and trust. The Society for Information Management thinks so too:

Social media will not go away. It is a logical application of web technology. It is increasing in use, and becoming the communications channel of choice for many, particularly for young people.

Failure to engage with the trend is tantamount to decrying the telephone at the end of the 19th century. The growth of social networking and publishing platforms, and the consumer participation that they generate forces organisations to re-evaluate business strategy.

Social media – why ICT management should lead their organisations to embrace it

If our aspirations for digital inclusion or participation are to be achieved, the Government has to set an example by encouraging a change in culture similar to what is happening in Devon and advocated by the Head of the Civil Service:

Most staff can be trusted to use these technologies appropriately if they are aware of the constraints and the risks. And appropriate line management intervention may, in some cases, be a better solution than tighter technical controls that hinder business use.

Social media and the employee voice

A very welcome report form Silverman Research for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) chimes well with the sentiments often expressed in this blog.

The report argues that, as a result of the relentless advance of social media, the employee voice is evolving rapidly. The greatest difference is the shifting patterns of communication, from being one-way or two-way to being multi-directional: social technologies are allowing new forms of collaboration that comprise mechanisms for making collective decisions.  The result is a new form of collective employee voice that is mobile, organised and intelligent.

The report concludes:

To date, much of the conversation [about social media] within organisations has been about the risks and threats (especially to employers) that may be associated with social media. However, the perils of an open approach to employee voice and the benefits of more traditional closed systems are often overrated. Moreover, there is little organisations can do to stem the rise of social media. Organisations should be designing their future in employee voice, before it designs them.

I don’t think there is much to add to that except to say read this report (only about 26 pages) and show it to people in your organisation who see more risk than opportunity.

Social media and employee voice: the current landscape


Digital participation – new enquiry

The Royal Society of Edinburgh is to run an enquiry into digital participation in Scotland, the aim being

to ensure that digital technologies help to narrow the social divide, rather than widen it, and that the opportunities for economic development presented by digital technologies can be realised across Scotland’.

The benefits of digital participation for individuals, communities, public bodies, businesses and voluntary organisations are, says the Society, well documented and it wants to take stock of the social, economic and cultural communities across Scotland that are not yet enjoying these benefits.

Well one community that is not yet enjoying these benefits is the public sector where digital participation is woefully inadequate, mainly because employees are generally discouraged or blocked from participating. Some examples:

  • Not allowed to install buttons on browser, for example to store useful web pages in Delicious or Instapaper
  • Not allowed to access streaming video from, eg, Vimeo
  • Not allowed to access Twitter or Facebook
In the many workshops on social media (aka digital participation) that we have run in recent years most people understand the benefits and are enthusiastic, but are daunted by the barriers erected by their organisation. We have made this point many times; requiring people to ask for permission to use Soundcloud, Youtube, Vimeo, Delicious etc. is disempowering.  If digital participation means anything it means removing  these institutional barriers.

On the other hand there is plenty evidence that the public in general do engage with social media. See for example our our own study from 2010 The Future for Personalisation? Service Users, Carers and Digital Engagement. And more recently a study (reported in this blog) from the Government Office for Science  found that people are becoming more engaged in online networks, are working out how to manage their online identities, and can switch seamlessly between multiple identities.

The big barrier to digital engagement, I would suggest, is the lack of trust that many employers show in their employees.  As  Detective Chief Constable Gordon Scobbie puts it
We trust you with a baton and with the right to take away someone’s liberty, I think we can trust you with a Twitter account.

If your employer’s internet access policies hinder your digital participation why not visit the enquiry site and make your views known?