UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

IWMW 2013: Web Managers In A Double Bind

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 Jul 2013

Reflections on the Plenary Talks at IWMW 2013

Summary of Dai Griffiths' talk at IWMW 2013

Sketch note of Dai Griffith’s talk by Kevin Mears (@mearso)

In a recent post I described how “The Job’s Not Over Till The Paperwork’s Complete” and summarised the ways in which the digital resources associated with last week’s IWMW 2013 event are being aggregated. As well as the curation of event tweets which is currently being carried out using Storify (e.g. see the Storify summary of the first day) the Lanyrd entry for IWMW 2013 is also being used to provide links to speakers’ slides, curated session tweets and, where possible, notes provided by event participants.

The first trip report we came across was written by the City University London Web Team; a report which began: “there are a lot memories and a lot to describe to my fellow colleagues and those who couldn’t attend“. Indeed, many memories and lots of interesting content which will be of relevant to many working in institutional Web teams. We would therefore encourage anyone who has written a report about the event to ensure that it is made publicly available and to provide a link to the report from the Lanyrd page (you can add links from the bottom of the Lanyrd Coverage page).

The Open Agenda on the Opening Day

Rather than attempt to summarise all of the talks I intend to reflect on some of the significant themes which were discussed at the event.

The opening plenary talk was given by Cable Green, Director of Global Leaning at Creative Commons. In the talk on “Open Education: The Business & Policy Case for OER” Cable explained how Creative Commons licences can provide a stable legal framework for permitting reuse of content and the importance of such licences in helping to support the aim of global leaning for everyone.

In the second talk, on “Mozilla, Open Badges and a Learning Standard for Web Literacy“, Doug Belshaw introduced the idea of open badges to, gauging from the comments on Twitter, an audience which is intrigued by open badges and their potential relevance for both personal use and to support departmental activities.

The IWMW 2013 event opened with talks which promoted the benefits of open practices. On the final day of the event several of the speakers responded to issues which had been raised earlier (which highlighted the benefits of having a flexible approach to processing speakers’ slides). For me the two most inspirational talks were “The University in a Bind” by Dai Griffiths and “The Delicious Discomfort Of Not Knowing: How to Lead Effectively Through Uncertainty” by Neil Denny.

Dai Griffiths, Professor at the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton described how the institutional Web is situated at the “not-so-calm centre of a hurricane”. Within current economic uncertainties institutions are also in a “double bind” – described in Wikipedia as “an emotionally distressing dilemma in communication in which an individual (or group) receives two or more conflicting messages, in which one message negates the other“. Dai provided a number of examples of this ‘double bind’ such as the pressures on researchers in the run-up to the REF to publish in high impact journals whilst also expecting researchers to ensure that their research publications are available in open access journals.

This reminded me of the double-bind which institutional Web managers found themselves in just over a year ago after the ‘cookie’ law came into being: institutions must (a) conform with the law and ensure that visitors to institutional Web sites opt-in to use of cookie or (b) providing clean and simple user interfaces to resources which minimise barriers to use of services (especially if accessed on a range of devices).

Sidhu's KIS statisticsAnother example of an institutional double bind relates to a plenary talk given at IWMW 2012. At last year’s event Andrew Oakley, Head of Software Development at the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) spoke about Key Information Set Data, information which the government requires institutions to provide. But this year Ranjit Sidhu, towards the end of his talk entitled “9am, 16th August, 2012: ‘What the fcuk just happened then?’” informed the audience that “Less than 1 visitor per university per day click the UniStats [KIS] widget“. Again the tension if between (a) implementing systems which are legally required and (b) ensuring that we allocate scarce resources in a cost-effective way.

Or as Bart Simpson put it: “You’re damned if you do; you’re damned if you don’t“.

double bindHow are we to respond to having to implement incompatible goals, with decreasing resources? In the final talk at the event Neil Denny spoke about “The Delicious Discomfort Of Not Knowing: How to Lead Effectively Through Uncertainty“. Neil was another speaker who updated his slides in response to the issues which had been raised during the event. It occurred to me that Neil could have updated the title of his talk so that it explained “How To Lead Effectively Through Insanity” as suggested by Dai Griffiths is the slide illustrated.

I will conclude this post by using the summary of Neil’s talk which my colleague Marieke Guy has just posted with the title “The Delicious Discomfort of IWMW13“:

His message was about how we need to be comfortable with uncertainty and find strategies for surviving at the edge of our comfort zone. We can survive by listening to others and adopting the attitude of an artisan (trying new things). His talk really touched a nerve. All of us from UKOLN are going through big change, but change is good, if you don’t change…you stand still. I have to admit I actually love that point when change can happen and I’ve actively strived towards it. It’s at that point that all possibilities still exist.

I agree – survival will require being able to listen to others and being receptive to change. The challenge for me will be to explore sustainability options for future IWMW events. In a future post I will summarise plans to do this.

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