It’s easy to run an ‘open research department’

Share your bookmarks - what goes around comes around...

I thought I’d write a post pulling together some advice I’ve been giving to a few of my clients recently on how a good research department can be built within a small organisation that doesn’t really have the resources to manage one under normal circumstanes.

Firstly, if you’ve got information and data, making it widely available and notifying people who are likely to use it is important.

If you do this, they may start sharing things with you as well. This has a number of upsides:

  1. You’re more likely to see the issues that you’re going to have to deal with in advance. Often, an announced ‘consultation’ is an exercise in rubber stamping. Being a conversational hub that’s generating a lot of chatter around an issue you care about can give you more influence than simply replying to questions you’ve been asked.
  2. You can sometimes save duplication of effort – by building a conversation around an issue you care about, others often do some of the donkey-work for you. It also helps you gather information in advance of emergencies where a quick briefing is needed
  3. Do it well and you can be a more dominant player in the coalitions of interest around your policy areas.

There are a few ways-and-means of doing this. A social-bookmarking tool is essential to this for a number of reasons.

Firstly – obviously – it’s really easy for you to add things to it. If you choose the right tool, you may even be able to get others with a similar set of interests to help you maintain it. Or, if that doesn’t work, you can track work they do with their social book-marks and use it to help you with the completeness of your own. There are a range of strategies using RSS feeds and a range of follow-tools (I use Google Reader, Summify and along with other people’s bookmarks on Pinboard or Delicious – I even mine the things people share with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter!)

Secondly, a social bookmarking tool has a good search function and will get you over the problem of classification systems. With more rigid systems, you may not think to look for my links to good information on Patents under my general Copyright heading. OK, this shows a poor choice of naming-conventions on my part, but we’re all guilty of that sometimes, aren’t we? Are you looking for my feed of information on Copyright? Social bookmarking tools use multiple tagging systems – and the even allow others to go in and add their own.

Thirdly, a social bookmarking tool can be hacked around. With a rudimentary knowledge of RSS and mailing apps, you can set it to email everything tagged in certain ways to particular colleagues – automatically keeping them informed of what you’ve seen and done lately. This keeps your resource in their peripheral vision and encourages them to use it (and even contribute?) more. In some cases, I urge my clients to embed RSS feeds from their social bookmarking apps into their own websites or intranets. All of this interaction makes your bookmarks better.

The more people in your circle that are bookmarking things – the better. If you have a good network and a bit of respect within it, it may even be worth encouraging a lot of people to start sharing things they find. Personally, I’d choose Google Reader for this – it’s simple and unpretentious – but there are other options.

The management of a good social bookmark tool can be integrated into your day. I follow a couple of hundred RSS feeds and share the best ones with my friends – mainly using my iPhone on my daily commute. It’s as simple as that.

An important thing to remember (I find) is that a lot of your colleagues may not feel easy with social networking. Some are just annoyed by the whole concept. For these people, they never need to see any of the processes that you use to provide their briefings. Using email creatively and well means that – every now and then – they get a helpful message from you saying “just thought I’d pull together a few links that I’ve seen that you may find useful.” And that’s it – after all – no-one likes a smart arse alec

And lastly, a simple blog such as Posterous is good for quickly blogging anything else that you see offline – either a picture, a printed briefing or just some thoughts of your own. Follow the feed from your own blog and bookmark it along with the best of the good stuff.

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