This is the second post to emerge from the CLIG panel discussion. Aside from training during COVID-19, the panel discussion covered collection management, workload and working patterns, morale and motivation, as well as communication challenges. A member of the panel talked about the importance of information integrity, and how it is vital that we maintain the ‘information flow’.
The role of the library and information professional is to be an intermediary to help our end-users to get the right information to the right person, at the right time and at the right price. Part of this role is to act as a filter, which can be a challenge when we face a deluge of information! But first, what do we mean when we talk about information flow?
What is information flow?
One definition says, Information flow is the movement of information between people and systems. Efficient and secure information flows are a central factor in the performance of decision-making, processes and communications.
Peter Checkland defined information flows as the transfer between different components that make up a variety of systems.
The words “movement” and “transfer” in both of these descriptions emphasise the active nature of information flow. And often it’s not a neat and tidy one way process, but a messy and relentless stream. Combine this with a global infodemic, and the result is a real challenge for information professionals engaged in optimising information performance.
COVID-19 has created a legal twilight zone
This is not the first time that the legal industry has faced upheaval in the face of uncertainty. The 2008 recession triggered a transformation of legal service provision and it could be argued that it was a change for the better. Forbes wrote that “change [was] propelled by legal consumers...by entrepreneurs, business and technology experts focused on improving the ‘delivery of legal services,’ not legal experts/practitioners.”
They presciently concluded this 2019 article by stating that those who have “embraced digital transformation will fare far better than those that have not.” How right they were! We have recently seen rapid implementation and assimilation of technology to enable agile working practices so that businesses can keep going.
Unlike the recession, which was far more gradual, Jean O’Grady describes COVID-19 as an “earthquake that has forced law firms into a twilight zone between the past and their transformed future.” She remarks “a firm’s response and resiliency depended on where the organization fell along the spectrum of agility, infrastructure, digital knowledge, and collaboration tools.”
Points for discussion
Information professionals are experts in the agile roll out of digital knowledge infrastructure, and working collaboratively. Which leads me to the points raised at the panel discussion.
What is the point of industry forecasts in unpredictable times?
As I mentioned above, that article written in 2019 predicted another recession but no one could have anticipated when, where, how or why. But how can businesses plan for events as unthinkable as a pandemic? An E&Y report agrees that the COVID-19 crisis was impossible to predict with conventional wisdom and forecasting tools.
Everyone is talking about “learning from this experience”, however in this case, let’s hope management and leaders do. One panelist mentioned how valuable McKinsey and their coronavirus risk insights had been to keep abreast of developments. For instance, regarding business planning, they recently wrote,
Executives readily admit, for instance, that it is tough to write a deterministic return plan because of the likelihood of a resurgence, discoveries about how the virus is transmitted and whom it affects, the nature and duration of immunity, and continued changes in the quality and availability of testing and contact tracing. The best possible plan today is merely a strawman that will need near-continuous recalibration and change. (McKinsey)
New directions in library and information research
Leading on from organisational and business insights, one panelist reported that they were currently receiving fewer marketing and business development queries. In recent years, BD research has been a growth area for information departments. However during this crisis librarians have been fully occupied ensuring legal teams have the e-resources they need.
In another recent Jean O’Grady article she examines how law librarians have helped their firms meet the COVID-19 research challenges. The two main areas of assistance she identifies are (1) ensuring legal advisors have access to resources; (2) answering numerous enquiries arising from the emergence of “pandemic law and practice.”
Ultimately all the research - whether legal or not - being undertaken by information teams is related to the development of the business; after all, clients need actionable insights.
Information management and consistent messaging
The final discussion point combines the first two; business advisors need to keep their clients informed of the rapid changes. This means lawyers and others need a constant stream of primary material from government, health bodies and other relevant organisations. This is why library and information people are vital in facilitating a controlled and coherent information flow.
Once this information has reached the legal specialist, it has to be processed in a way that is useful to clients. Entire editorial teams have emerged to ensure content is proofed, edited, peer reviewed and published as rapidly as possible. Organisations must have a clear, consistent message to ensure credibility with (potential) clients.
Once it is publicly available organisations then have to decide whether to leave ‘as is’, or edit to reflect changed regulations/policy. This is a labour intensive process given the sheer volume of information. The creators of Lexblog have been examining the data, and say, pre COVID-19 they aggregated 150 to 200 posts daily. However since mid–March, incredibly the daily average has increased to upwards of 300.
Our professional and industry bodies are providing valuable opportunities to share knowledge, talk about all our recent experiences, and offer each other support. I’m looking forward to the next panel, the next conference, and the next discussion!
How are you managing your information flow? Will these events mean changes in the way you manage it in the future? What are your organisations doing to provide their clients with consistent, coherent knowledge?