Last week I travelled to Turku to spend some time with colleagues at Åbo Akademi University. This was my first visit to Finland since my appointment last February as Docent in Information Studies within the Faculty of Social Sciences, Business and Economics at the University.
I participated in three activities during my visit. First on Monday 4th December I joined Professor Gunilla Widén in a supervision meeting with our PhD student Ming (Vincent) Zhan. On the same day I also attended a meeting to review a manuscript draft of a paper on information sharing in the workplace authored by Jannica Heinström, Farhan Ahmad, Isto Huvila and Stefan Ek.
The next day was devoted to a workshop on workplace information literacy. Here I was the opening speaker. My presentation was entitled ‘Information literacy in a volunteer workplace: the case of hyperlocal government in Scotland’. I addressed the question ‘What are the practices of elected, unpaid community councillors in Scotland as they exploit information channels for democratic engagement with citizens?’ with reference to the findings of the Information Literacy for Democratic Engagement (IL-DEM) project. My colleagues Peter Cruickshank and Bruce Ryan and I completed this project early in 2017, supported with funding from the CILIP Information Literacy Group. The slides for my presentation are available on SlideShare and below.
I started the presentation by providing some contextual information about the volunteer workforce that is the focus of the IL-DEM project: the 10,000 or so community councillors who serve as volunteer elected representatives on community councils across the 32 Scottish local authorities. Those of us based in the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University have a track record of work with community councillors. For example, the Community Council Finder tool hosted by the Improvement Service was developed by Bruce and Peter.
The information practices of community councillors are of interest to information literacy researchers because the main function of their role relates to information provision. In addition, there are known challenges that this volunteer workforce faces in terms of information seeking and use that are worthy of investigation. Such challenges include, for example: no/limited/outdated information skills; the mixed information environment in which community councillors operate; and the degree of ambiguity over their roles. By undertaking the IL-DEM project we hoped to learn more about the information practices of representatives at hyperlocal level, their training, and any wider impacts of their levels of information literacy on hyperlocal democracy.
We addressed the research questions of the IL-DEM project through the analysis of interview data gathered from 19 community councillors, supplemented with some desk research. We used the SCONUL model of Information Literacy to inform our interview questions, and Activity Theory to structure our analysis of the data. The main findings of this work are as follows:
- Community councillors learn about their roles primarily through materials supplied by local authorities
- The information sharing role of community councillors is bi-directional
- Local authorities are the primary information source for community councillors – although not all their information needs can be met
- The use of social media by community councillors to access information is patchy
- Community councillors pay high attention to the provenance and authority of information to be disseminated to citizens
- Community councillors deploy many channels for dissemination – both digital and non-digital – although the impact of these channels is not evaluated
- Community councillors exhibit information skills gaps, particularly in respect of social media
- Public library support for community council work is barely visible, and community councillors are unaware of public libraries as a resource for their work
From these findings we identified that limited skills in, and deployment of, social media by community councillors is at odds with the expectations of citizens who regularly access information online. A second finding of significance is the low profile of public library services as strong supporters of community council work. Thus as an output of our study we have made a series of recommendations as related to: (1) training of community councillors; (2) the perception of information skills as part of the community councillor role; (3) the place of public library services in hyperlocal democracy.
I concluded my talk by making reference to two papers generated from the project:
Hall, H., Cruickshank, P. & Ryan, B. (2018 in press). Practices of community representatives in exploiting information channels for citizen democratic engagement. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. [Full text of journal paper available]
Hall, H., Cruickshank, P. & Ryan, B. (2017 in press). Exploring information literacy through the lens of Activity Theory. In: Proceedings of the 5th European Conference on Information Literacy (ECIL2017). New York: Springer. [Slides of conference paper available; full text of conference paper available]
The next person to speak at the workshop was my PhD student Lyndsey Jenkins, whose visit to Finland was funded by a grant from the John Campbell Trust. Lyndsey gave a presentation on her ESRC-funded doctoral research. She introduced innovation and workplace learning as the main concepts of her study, and the applicability of Social Cognitive Theory to the research. Lyndsey’s slides are available on SlideShare and below.
Jenkins, L., Hall, H., & Raeside, R. (2018 in press). Applications and applicability of Social Cognitive Theory in Information Science research. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. [Abstract available; full text of journal manuscript available.]
During the rest of the workshop we considered the elements of The impact of information literacy in the digital workplace project (DiWIL), which is led by Professor Gunilla Widén and funded for four years by the Academy of Finland. Gunilla explained that the aims of this project are to identify types and levels of information literacy in the workplace, and develop tools for its measurement. It comprises four sub-projects on:
- Management and leadership styles as related to workplace information literacy
- Information literacy skills across generations of workers
- Connections between information literacy, and the well-being and productivity of workers
- The role of workplace information literacy in multinational workplaces
Thereafter members of the project team gave updates on aspects of the project that each is leading. Fahran Ahmad spoke about the research on management and leadership styles, with reference to transformational leadership and leadership styles that go beyond simply ensuring that employees get the job done (e.g. development of capabilities in workers such as absorptive capacity); Shahrokh Nikou explained the development of a model to explain generational differences in information literacy; Jannica Heinström and Eeva-Liisa Eskola outlined their work on the exploitation of OECD Survey of Adult Skills secondary data sets (PIAAC) to identify links between information literacy skills, well-bring and productivity; and Jose Teixeira discussed his work on how information literacy supports virtual team members working remote from one another, and the extent to which information literacy might be considered a competitive tool. We also learnt from Muhaimin Karim about the huge quantity of literature relevant to the themes of the workplace information literacy and its measurement: around 1800 papers have been identified, including 103 review articles.
At the conclusion of the workshop participants headed downstairs to join other colleagues at Åbo Akademi University to raise a glass in honour of Finnish independence from Russia, the centenary of which was the next day on Wednesday 6th December 2017.
A selection of photographs from the visit is available in the slideshow below. For further information about the activities at Turku on Monday 4th and Tuesday 5th December please see the relevant entries in Lyndsey Jenkins’ Diary of a student visitor to Finland – week 1 on Lyndsey’s blog at http://lyndseyjenkins.org.