A Curator's Tools and To-Do List
Building a culture of open conversation

By Kelly Meeker / January 2012

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Going to a museum is an enhanced content-viewing experience; some of the work it takes to understand and appreciate art has already been done for you. That's the same confidence you feel when going to a good wine shop or bookstore. You know someone has reflected thoughtfully on the contents of those aisles, selected the best wines and books in a given category and done the research for you. And if you have questions, you can talk to someone who can answer them.

That's the magic of the curator: Putting in the work to find the content that matters and assembling objects, ideas, and media into an experience that is meaningful to the consumer. And it's not just art, wine, and books that need a good curator—information does as well.

In the enterprise context, large, complex organizations need curators to capture the ineffable institutional knowledge: Know-how that resides in individual brains and not in the processes and DNA of the organization itself.

As information and data grows, the role of the learning and development department is evolving from content generation to content organization. Instead of interviewing a subject matter expert and using technical writing skills to create a presentation or lecture, the content organizer creates architectures and tools that everyone in the organization can use to share, record, discover and discuss information, ideas, and skills.

In this age of information the learning and development specialist is a curator—not with stacks of dusty books and a pocket full of magnifying glasses, but with technology tools and networks of informed colleagues. Creating a workflow for sorting through content, making sense of it internally, and sharing those tools and processes within an organization is happening in real time via the Internet.

Curating Institutional Knowledge

The first step to bringing order to the gobs of information in your organization is to create a culture of sharing and recording information in sharable places. This means individuals taking information out of their own post-it notes, clipboards, and brain recesses and putting it in a place where others can find it. Sharing information also means creating digital content that captures the traditional water-cooler conversations. Whether you're encouraging folks to blog about their workflows, develop checklists for common processes, or add their templates to an employee intranet, you're building sharing into your organization's work practices.

The second step is building a network of information streams to consume from extended networks of colleagues, peers, and experts. Start by developing your own networks; you need to become comfortable as a curator yourself before you can model this behavior for others. Reach through social networks (online and off), professional organizations, and simple searches to start finding the content that is the anchor of knowledge sharing networks.

How do you communicate these processes? This is a cultural shift, and will require both persuasion and leadership to inspire others. Start small, with targeted examples, and build from there. Work with smaller teams led by innovative and amenable leaders. Find examples of a networked workplace growing on its own. Write case studies, develop presentations, or make videos to share their success.

This could be an opportunity for one-on-one mentoring and/or reverse mentoring between newbies and employees who are comfortable using technology tools.

There are freely available tools for creating and consuming information, including:

  • Screenr and Mobile Devices. Use screen recording tools like Screenr and mobile devices to rapidly develop videos for widespread sharing.
  • Blogs. Build internal blogs to reduce the fear of sharing content in the culture of your organization. Blogs are inherently informal, reducing the anxiety associated with sharing writing.
  • Google Reader or other RSS readers. An RSS reader will allow you to bring in feeds of new content from blogs, websites, and news feeds. Using an RSS reader will ensure you can visit one spot to check for new content from all of your different information sorces.
  • Social networks. Find shared content via Facebook, Twitter, and Diigo—particularly from industry leaders and professional associations.
  • Instapaper. A tool for digitally printing out articles, posts, and content you find all over the Web into one repository for later reading. This can be a great way to mark something to read later, particularly offline.
  • ifttt. If This Then That (ifttt) is an almost magical tool for automating relationships between different Web services. You can create tasks in ifttt like, "If I post a photo to Instagram, then save it to my dropbox" or "If I star a post in Google Reader, send out a tweet with a link." This is like a second brain for saving, sharing, and organizing information.

Edit and Distribute

Now that you have ways to create, collect, and consume information, you need a process for editing, selecting, and distributing information back into your networks. This is not a one-way conversation—information needs context to become broadly useful, and context means a collaborative conversation. Connections are made when conversations occur in a public forum (online or off) and are available for anyone to contribute.

For example, my colleagues and I use a combination of Google Apps and a Google Sites intranet to create a socially collaborative workplace. Sometimes three or four of us at once will be working on a document, chatting in the comments, and building on each other's work. I can always find the most recent priorities and goals by consulting the collaborative resources we share in our intranet. Finally, we create a sort of "collective unconscious" by sharing news stories in Yammer (an enterprise social network) and chatting about developments in our community.

This is not a one-way infrastructure, where only one voice collects and directs information in outbound manner, but a collaborative network infrastructure where everyone can contribute and weave information and ideas together. There's usually inspiration to be found where you encounter the unexpected. There are hundreds of tools for organizing and sharing information. Your tools could include:

  • Diigo A social bookmarking tool for organizing links to websites and sharing them.
  • Evernote. A note taking and media organizing tool. Share multimedia notebooks, with photos, videos, audio notes, text, and clipped webpages. Use tags to mix and match content.
  • Intranets or Wikis. Build cooperative collections of content that anyone can edit. Use tags and search to make resources easy to find.
  • Pinterest. This hot new website is a network designed to share images (and links)—an amazing tool for organizing and sharing visual content.
  • Internal social networks. Yammer, Jive, SocialCast, Ning, and Bloomfire are all examples of social networks designed for internal sharing. This is the ease and feel of Facebook applied to enterprise networks.
  • e-mail (if you must). An old standby, if all else fails.

Facilitate

Ultimately, the content that you create, collect, and share is only as useful as the network and conversation that grows up around it. To that end, one of the greatest roles for learning and development specialists is as a facilitator. Inviting targeted voices into specific conversations, tidying content architectures, and ensuring folks know how to use tools and feel welcomed to participate are all essential roles that someone must fill within complex and large organizations.

As you build and grow conversation around curated content, here are some tips on ways you can help your colleagues dive in:

  • Be the icebreaker. Whether in person or online, people can be shy. It's difficult to reach out and ask an acquaintance for help or mentorship. You can bridge that gap.
  • Set a productive example. Become the paragon of community-building virtue. Share information, create curated resources, and evangelize about your technology tools within your organization. Don't wait for people to come to you.
  • Moderate. Get conversations started, reignite languishing ones, and mediate any conflicts or disagreements.
  • Tag. Have a plan for organizing and tagging content so that people can find what is relevant to them easily.
  • Listen. You may be an expert on many of the questions being discussed in your community, but that doesn't mean you have to pounce on every opportunity to demonstrate your brilliance. If you answer every question, you'll end up stifling opportunities for others to become leaders themselves.
  • Recruit. Become the evangelist for your community—encourage others to participate in activities and conversations. Highlight examples of existing valuable conversations to entice others to participate.
  • Thank. No one will ever say you thanked them too much.

Finally, remember that you are not alone. Your peers and colleagues are grappling with information management and improving efficiency every day. Get tips and ideas from reading this magazine and seek out other knowledge wranglers all over the world:

About the Author

Kelly Meeker is the community manager at OpenSesame, the elearning content marketplace. Where she creates, curates, and shares with the learning and development community. Find her on her blog at Unlocked: The OpenSesame Blog, on Twitter (@OpenSesame) or at kelly.meeker@opensesame.com.



Comments

  • Tue, 06 Aug 2013
    Post by Enterprise Social Network

    This is a great post! The sharing of knowledge only helps each other to be more productive, that is why Enterprise Social Networking is a great addition to any company as this new tool allows employees to be more productive.

  • Fri, 02 Mar 2012
    Post by Kelly Meeker

    Thanks so much for your suggestions! I've enjoyed both Diigo and Delicious - although I haven't tried Scoopit yet. I'll take a look. I've also been using Pinterest in my personal life to keep track of recipes I want to make, but I haven't tried it at work yet. It's a great suggestion!

    My primary curation system is Evernote - not as good for sharing, but has so many tagging and organization features that I really feel like I can do anything with it.

  • Sun, 26 Feb 2012
    Post by maureen greenbaum

    I have been using scoop.it as a curation tool. A mixture of diigo and Piniterest - one image and lots of text including links Freemium model - a few free topic, pay for more. It posts to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr too.

  • Wed, 08 Feb 2012
    Post by Thomas Ho

    I'm so glad you listed Diigo FIRST in your list. It is MY first choice as well with advantages that go far beyond curation:

    http://go.thomasho.co/CS5548

    You can find MY eLearning Diigo bookmarks at:

    http://LearnStream.co