Please, tell me a story!

I am a voracious reader of fiction, capable of ploughing through a 400 page book in a day (if on my own and not doing anything else) and have a tendency to remember the content for a very long time. Research and academic texts* on the other hand have always been a struggle, the words running together as I try to transfer the knowledge from the densely filled page to my struggling-to-stay-awake brain.

This difficulty with factual works has had a detrimental effect on my ability to pursue academic recognition, making the writing of a simple assignment into a mountain of Snowdonian proportions.

Everyone I spoke to about the best way to approach research and academic text would recommend the well practiced dip-in method of searching the contents list to find what you wanted and briefly reading that part in isolation. And whilst I eventually taught myself to do this, it was never satisfying to my curiosity and failed to get information to stay in my head for longer than the time taken to finish the assignment.

However, this month brought a breakthrough. Last weekend I finished reading Black Box Thinking: Marginal Gains and the Secrets of High Performance by Matthew Syed which I managed to read cover-to-cover (ok, e-reader page to e-reader page) in a surprisingly short amount of time….for me! Not only did I read it with relative ease but also found it possible to quickly quote and paraphrase it to others in support of my viewpoint.

Which begs the question, why was this text different?

Was it because I find the subject interesting?

Maybe, but I am hugely passionate about Coaching and its benefits yet find it difficult to crack the sheen on many of the accusing spines looking down on me from the bookshelf.

Is it due to the fact that the findings support my own experience (talk about cognitive dissonance)?

Another good reason for sure, but I have at least four publications on leadership in my current line of sight that provide lots of support to my views on that subject and only one of them has been used extensively.

Wait! Of course! It’s the ‘density’ issue, after all it isn’t exactly a massive tome is it?

Possibly, but on my desk is a paperback with no more than 150 pages about another passion of mine (non-work) but I’m struggling to get past page 23.

Do you think it could be because it’s easy to see the real world application?

Interesting idea but, to be fair, most of the good books have case studies and anecdotes that enable us to visualise them in practice so I doubt it’s that.

The question of why this book was really troubling me so revisiting its pages the answer became clear and was something much more revealing about me and how I absorb information.

It’s a story!

The author managed to structure the content so that there is a clear progressive exploration of his findings. Whether by design or happy accident is unclear (I would like to believe it was a deliberate action) but he has managed to hit on the basic premise of a story; take the reader on a journey with a satisfying denouement.

Of course his writing style and use of language, carried over from the day job I’m sure, smooth the passage but in general it is the overall structure that seemed to engage and motivate me. Which in conjunction with the other reasons shown above made this a very accessible read for me.

In Learning and Development circles we talk about the importance of using stories to help people learn and I have read some works where individual sections follow this idea, but it seems to be rare for a whole publication to have an almost narrative flow.

Obviously, each to their own and I’m sure there will be some who find the work fails to engage them, or can not see the route I followed. But for me it worked and has managed to reignite my desire to read more factual texts and that can be no bad thing.

Also, it has reminded me to stop and think about the way we support people through learning and that embracing curation should not preclude us from considering the story we create.

So, this brings me back to my request: when you want me to learn.

Please, tell me a story!

* after a lengthy discussion with my academic and researcher colleagues we were still undecided as to whether Matthew’s book falls easily into either of these categories, but they will suffice for making my point……..maybe!

Image: Once upon a time – Steve Czajka

Creative Commons License
Please, tell me a story by David Wallace was written in London, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

#LocalGovCamp – lost in knowledge

“Un-conference?  What the hell is that?”

If I had that question once, I had it fifty times.  As I had never attended #LocalGovCamp, I found it pretty hard to explain: “err, group of people talk about something they want to talk about……….I think.”

So now I’ve been, how would I describe it? “err, group of people talk about something they want to talk about……….I know.” and to be honest, there’s very little more you can say, when trying to describe it to someone who hasn’t been.  To those of us who have attended, it’s many things: informative, surprising, affirming, confirming, epiphanic and re-invigorating (ooh, big words on a weekday.)

Which of the above are the most important?  It all depends on your needs.  The most important thing I needed, and found, is not shown above but it was there on the day – Community; in this era of Social technology emergence, it’s very easy for those of us with a belief in the positivity of Social Engagement through technology to become jaded and isolated.  I found the hours spent with others with a similar outlook, provided me with not only a recharged well of enthusiasm, but also a new group of ‘friends’ to seek ideas and support from.

“That’s all lovely and hand-holdy, but what the hell did you talk about for SEVEN hours?”

When the whiteboard was filled with subjects (35 in total – strange how ‘nap’ is the first one to jump to mind), I was like the proverbial child in the sweetshop “ooh, ooh, I want that one, and that one and, oh bum they’re on at the same time, etc…”.  The greatest benefit of this event, and its greatest problem (at least for an info-junkie like me) is the wealth of subjects and the inability to attend all of the sessions.  The advice from Andy Mabbett aka @pigsonthewing of finding a ‘buddy’ and agreeing to attend separate sessions and report back (, is a must; as is the knowledge that experienced bloggers will be posting about the majority of the sessions.  This said, I was still irritated that the sessions on Wordpress, Cloud Collaboration and Using Kindle for Communication all clashed with each other; this always leaves you with the burning question: Did I attend the right session?

“So, did you attend the right sessions?”

In short: Yes……….and no.  Of the five sessions I participated in, three were useful, and in the spirit of fairplay (and the fact that others did find those other two sessions useful) I will focus on those three (N.B.these are the session names as I recorded them and not necessarily the actual names):

Council Newspapers – RIP

A very interesting and provocative discussion around the perceived death of the Council Newspaper and what (if anything) is taking its place.  Will Perrin from Talk About Local lead the discussion, with details of the ‘Hyperlocal’ sites he and his colleagues had helped to set-up (using WordPress) in reaction to community need for ‘somewhere to talk local’.  The conversation around the need for communities to highlight issues (usually serviced by Local Government) as a kind of ‘name and shame’ prod to Public Sector services to complete the work (e.g. Graphiti removal, road repairs, streetlight repairs, etc..) provoked a heated discussion of the need for positive reflection of the Public Sector as opposed to the continuing negative depiction of an unconcerned behemoth.  The upshot of this discussion being the assertion that there is nothing preventing a Public Sector representative posting responses to these ‘highlights’ and showing where they are meeting the public need.

From a personal point of view, this session provoked a desire to zoom home and set-up a local website and start photographing ‘potholes’.  However, one of the things Will and co. had learnt from their experiences is the need for this type of Website to be administered by groups as opposed to individuals, thus ensuring continuity of provision.

Kindle – Any use?

This session, led by Peter Lancaster (@peteweb), from Warwickshire CC explored how, due to financial constraints, his Council had begun to explore using WordPress to provide information in blog form on their website (go have a look –  The session then went on to discuss the possibilities afforded, by enabling the use of multiple media devices (through Apps, etc…) to access the information on their website, for example, mobile phones, e-readers and the eponimous Kindle.  Looking at the website design from a customer need, rather than from the ‘what looks pretty and what do WE want to tell people’ point of view, allowed development of short information rich pages that could be easily formatted to read well on mobile devices.

Peter’s offer of providing the knowledge of how to do all this is very enticing and I will be leaping on our Communications Team to consider the same factors in the continued development of our external interaction with the Community.  This session also drove me to make the leap and start using WordPress for my future blogs.

What Happens when You Yammer?

Ok, time for some bias, this was the session I was the most excited to see appear on the whiteboard.  We are in the infancy of using Yammer (ok, there’s me and two friends on it – and to be honest they haven’t looked at it yet – ho hum) and I really need to know about the experience of other Councils.  Helen Reynolds (@helreynolds), from MonmouthshireCC and Bill O sorry I mean Tom Phillips (@tomsprints), from KentCC led a session discussing their Council’s experiences of using Yammer.  The discussion took in the experience of everyone in the group, little (yep, that was me), positive and negative and how the development of specific discussion groups were benefiting certain areas of Local Government. The negative experience of one council, should serve as a prompt to future users to think before they post; people were using the Yammer groups to request jobs from individuals, a big no-no (we already have emails and phones for that purpose).  The main purpose for this facility should remain collaboration and information sharing and the recognition that subjects will be born and die (and hibernate – to be awakened at a later date).  The other important factors that sometimes gets overlooked, but has emerged through experience, is the fact that conversations may start on-line but will eventually go off-line, likewise they may start off-line and continue on-line and finally they may start off-line, come on-line and go off-line to continue.  As long as there is acceptance of these truisms, the use of a discussion forum like Yammer can be very, very useful.

This session provided me with the impetus to continue with my plans for using our VLE based discussion forum and Yammer to increase/aide collaboration.

“If you were writing a report, what would your conclusion be?”

A very useful day, spent with great people, providing innovative and exciting ideas for the use of Social Technologies in the improvement of Community Engagement.  This type of event would benefit from being run over two days (obviously cost prohibitive) or at the very least becoming a bi-annual event.  The wealth of knowledge and skills, from Public Sector employees, in evidence at the sessions is, in some cases, underused by their employers.  More representatives from the Public Sector need to make use of this event and commit money/resources to integrating many of the findings.

This has been my twopenneth and may not reflect the opinions of any organisation I may be affiliated with.

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