Six hours, three sentences for Libraries Tasmania

This September, I spent a day with senior leaders from Libraries Tasmania as part of my Australia/New Zealand workshop tour.

Accompanied by Aussie consultant Brendan Fitzgerald, my task was to help over 20 senior managers to agree an overarching mission statement that reflected an existing strategic plan, plus the full scope of an organisation encompassing archives, a museum, the State Library of Tasmania, and an island-wide public library service.

We set the scene for the mission statement with a series of iterative tasks exploring plausible futures that the organisation might face – and ways of responding if those futures came to pass.

By the end of the day, we had built enough common ground for the workshop participants to agree a wording which framed and articulated their service’s mission in an accessible yet inspiring way: three compelling sentences that could only be found after a solid day of future-facing inquiry.

Libraries Tasmania’s Executive Director Liz Jack wrote:

Throughout the day, Matt kept things moving while still being emotionally intelligent enough to notice when people were feeling uncomfortable, respectfully encouraging them to articulate what they were feeling and thinking.

Comments from participants included the following:

  • Matt captured the context of Libraries Tasmania very well and his in depth
    knowledge and experience of other libraries internationally added value to the
    sessions
  • Matt kept us on track and had a great ability to read the room
  • A great find!
  • Best facilitator seen in a long time; a good understanding of both strategic
    planning and the library field
  • Matt is one of the best. Clever listening and guidance and good subtle questioning of assumptions . . . a paradigm changer and questioner
  • The fact that there was an outcome was a significant improvement to any
    other vision/mission related workshop I have engaged in . . . It could not get
    much better.

Matt’s work has set us up with a mission statement that everyone has embraced and now owns, and the discussion and ideas he generated have laid a solid foundation for future planning and visioning work with the entire organisation.

You can read more at this site’s testimonials page.

Strategy and Impact Workshops for LIANZA Aotearoa New Zealand

Last week, I ran two workshops for New Zealand culture and information professionals with the support of Australia’s Brendan Fitzgerald.

The sessions, hosted at the National Library in Wellington by the Aotearoa New Zealand library association LIANZA, explored foresight, strategy, and next-generation measures of impact. We sought to give Kiwi culture & information professionals the tools to examine the future and make judicious strategic decisions, then investigate new ways to measure and demonstrate the difference their actions make in the world.

One participant said:

​​The tools from the strategic session were the most immediately useful to me – I liked how they broke a large process down into smaller steps from which concrete directions came organically and iteratively. I also liked the argument that while evidence-based research is good, there is no evidence from the future, and the stress on the fact that there is more than one possible future.

It was good to have people from outside your immediate context test your assumption, and to do the same for others… I made a coffee date with someone who is already a second-degree connection in my network who I have been meaning to connect more closely with (bonus: they’re from a different GLAM field to me, so that was a plus for LIANZA making it open to multiple sectors).

You can read more at the Libraries Aotearoa website.

New South Wales Strategy & Leadership Workshops

“It was important to us that our participants would gain a greater understanding of how to think about the changes and needs in their own communities and would learn some tools or techniques that they could continue to apply and revisit… essentially building both an awareness of trend monitoring but also the capability to respond with creative local strategies. The feedback from participants throughout the workshops and afterwards has been really positive with many commenting on how they would be able to use what they’d learned straight away with their teams.”

The feedback has arrived from the two day-long strategy workshops which I ran for the State Library of New South Wales this month. The sessions were designed to equip attendees with practical foresight, planning, and advocacy tools; I delivered them together with Brendan Fitzgerald as observer/respondent to the day’s activities.

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, although of course there’s still much to learn as we explore ways to put sophisticated foresight tools like scenario planning in the hands of information professionals at all ranks, from communities large and small.

“Great approach to strategy and the tools make sense – Worth it.”

“A totally engaging and thought provoking day. A fantastic opportunity to interact with colleagues across NSW libraries and even though we come from very different situations, large and small libraries, the challenges we face have common ground.”

“Great day – Matt a very charismatic presenter and Brendan really well grounded in the realities of Library services. Great to have the opportunity to work with other Libraries and some novel approaches to workshopping!”

“Not what I expected at all. I thought it was going to be a talkfest and I was wondering how I will stay alert after lunch!!But we had short breaks, started on time and were kept connected to our table group and sent around the room to interact with the other groups in the room.”

“It was a wonderful day with practical hands-on information heard and learnt through application. I was very pleased I was able to participate in this. Thank you for hosting this event and bringing someone with Matt’s resume to Sydney for us to all learn from and be inspired.”

“This seminar was one of the most engaging, informative and stimulating professional development activities I have attended. I would have willingly attended the 2nd session.”

“The most valuable and thought-provoking professional development opportunity I have ever attended.”

State Library of Victoria Interview with Peter Miller

I joined multimedia artist Peter Miller a.k.a. Scribbletronics to talk about his work creating art from the digitised collections at the State Library of Victoria.

Our conversation ranged across questions of serendipity and creativity, empathy and respect for historical figures whose images we use, and the sheer delight of experimenting with visual art in the archive.

You can watch the full interview on YouTube.

ASPAC 2019: Australia on the front lines of human crisis

Is Australia on the front lines of the 21st century human crisis?

Societies and cultures live there which have, for thousands of years, considered that the land itself has spirit and agency.

On the same land, Australia has built prosperity from the extractive industries, using technology to remove resources from the ground in a way which has global impact.

How can these values be reconciled? What part do science and technology centres have to play in the debate about our sustainable future?

My keynote for the ASPAC 2019 science and technology centres conference was covered in the Brisbane Times.

#NotEnoughSciFi: Writing Futures with Jasper Fforde at the Brisbane Writers Festival

The British novelist Jasper Fforde joined attendees of the Brisbane Writers Festival in Queensland, Australia to explore the creation of plausible, intriguing imaginary worlds in a half-day workshop.

Fforde is known for eclectic genre-bending novels including the Thursday Next series, which follow the exploits of a woman who is able to cross the boundary between literature and her reality.

I was interested to see if Fforde’s work could be useful for strategists and foresight professionals trying to craft evocative visions of the futures we might inhabit. Although his stories tend to be set in wild and comic universes, his workshop had more than a few nuggets of wisdom for people trying to imagine futures they could strategically act on.

Read more

This is Wack: Fun, wise, and practical strategic foresight

If you’ve been following my exploration of strategy and foresight tools, especially scenario planning and the Value-Creating Systems approach, you might have seen or heard me talking about Pierre Wack.

This French business executive brought a philosophical approach influenced by Sufi mysticism into the oil industry, and changed the way businesses look at the future by pioneering the use of scenarios at Royal Dutch Shell. As the Economist put it, “So successful was he that the Anglo-Dutch oil giant was able to anticipate not just one Arab-induced oil shock during [the 1970s], but two.

Following Wack’s retirement from industry, he taught at Harvard Business School and contributed to the development of South Africa’s post-apartheid future through scenario planning.

The Saïd Business School’s Oxford Futures Library includes Wack’s archive, and they’ve posted a video of one of his 1980s lectures online.

The video quality isn’t great, but the lecture is easy to follow and it remains an elegant, relevant, and compelling articulation of how scenarios benefit any organisation that wants to think about its future.

You can watch the full 55-minute video above or watch Wack’s lecture directly on Vimeo. I’ve included some bullet points and intepretation from my viewing below – to whet your appetite for the full lecture, or to offer you a summary. (Just remember, as Wack might say, there are no short cuts to wisdom).

  • “To create, rather than just preserve, value, a firm must discover the forces at work in its social, technological, and economic world and move to make those forces work for it rather than against it” – Wack citing Richard Rummelt
  • Most of the time, forecasts are quite good. This is what makes them so dangerous: forecasts fail you just when you need them most. Forecasts fail to anticipate major changes and major shifts in the context in which you operate.
  • Scenarios are devices for ordering one’s perceptions about alternative environments in which one’s decisions might be played out.
  • Strategies derive from our mental model of the world. We plan, not in order to create a document full of forecasts, but to change the mental map of decisionmakers and make us take responsibility for our worldview. A scenario doesn’t need to be “proven right” as a prediction, it needs to usefully change your mental model.
  • You only need scenario planning when the speed of change of the business environment is faster than your own speed of reaction.
  • The most dangerous forecasters are those who have just been proven right, because most probably they were right for the wrong reason.
  • Usually there will be a “surprise-free scenario” – the future which management expects. Scenario planners should include this in their offer so that their presentations do not seem threatening. It is usually easy to show how fragile the surprise-free scenario is, however.
  • Scenario planning is not crystal ball gazing, it is about working out the implications of events which have already happened and are still emerging. If heavy rain falls at the upper part of the Ganges basin, then you’ll see the consequences in two days time downstream at Rishikesh; in three or four days at Allahabad; and then at Benares two days after that. You are recognising the future implications of events which have already occurred – and your focus should be on understanding the forces which drive the system.
  • Understanding these factors is key. At Shell, articulating the scenarios – the future visions or stories themselves – was a small proportion of the time spent with executives. Once the scenarios had been presented to leaders, the rest of the time focussed on understanding and exploring the factors.
  • Compared to number crunching, scenario planning is fun. It forces planners to take account of a wider context and a richer vision of what awaits them than a mere line on a graph.
  • Scenarios should permit you to exercise your judgment: if this future were to transpire, what would you do about it? Scenarios are intended to inform action, not just generate intellectual interest. They are focussed, reducing complexity, allowing you to be creative with the relevant information.

Read more about Pierre Wack and scenario planning at the Oxford Futures Library.

 

Library Island – työpajasta potkua palvelujen kehittämiseen

This October, I’ll be joining Finnish librarians, courtesy of the Finnish National Library Association and the city of Helsinki, for a one-day workshop on strategy, imagination, and resilience.

Oodi Central Library, Helsinki - Shared under a CC-BY-2.0 licence from Flickr user Ninara
Oodi Central Library, Helsinki – Shared under a CC-BY-2.0 licence from Flickr user Ninara

The participatory session will bring together library workers from across Finland to develop our capacity for strategic foresight and decision making.

  • What factors do we have to take into account when planning for our service and our community?
  • How do we anticipate trends and prepare for disruptions?
  • What can we do to challenge our assumptions, think differently, and act with confidence in an uncertain world?
  • What’s the best way to understand and articulate the value that Finnish libraries bring to our society?
  • How will our decisions shape the future of Finland’s libraries?

Read more over at the Finnish libraries website Kirjastot.

Show Me The Money? Thousand-Dollar Receipts and the Value of Public Libraries

Have you seen that library receipt which is doing the rounds on social media? What do you think of it?

Receipt showing that the user has saved hundreds of dollars by using their library, more than a thousand dollars over the past year, and more than seven thousand since they began using the library.

The receipt shows that the user in question supposedly saved thousands of dollars by going to the public library instead of the bookstore.

What message does this monetary value, printed on a library receipt, send out? Does it help or hinder attempts to show communities the wider value of library service?

Would a user who borrowed all those books really have spent all that money, and bought them all, if the library didn’t have them, or the library didn’t exist?

Do people make decisions & commitments about what to borrow in the same way that they do about what to buy?

The value is based on a hypothetical: what you would have had to pay, if the library didn’t exist, and you chose to buy all of those items instead of loaning them…so what is it evidence of exactly?

Dollar values speak to many people in an uncomplicated way, especially in times of austerity or economic difficulty, but what message are these numbers sending? Are public libraries only about transactions and items on shelves?

What other information could libraries be printing on library receipts instead of the retail value of books borrowed? What would be gained, and what would be lost?