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APEN 2001 International Conference

Toowoomba, 4th-5th October 2001

Report No:


Title of Topic:

Understanding Information Concepts: a Need to “Raise the Bar”

Name of Leader:

Darren Schmidt

Names of Participants:

Alison Spencer, Graham White, Peter Holden, Peter Tonello, Wendy McLeish, Tonia Grundy, Michelle Rowlings, Andrew Craig, Sue Heisswolf, Fiona Johnson, Denise Belsell, Roger Johnson, Kathryn Galea, Lucia Boxelaar

Main points of discussion

  • Extension, as a purposeful activity, is becoming more “output heavy”.
  • Due to institutional demands for information “volume”, the format and content and purpose of information is often not appropriate or obscured. There is little chance for empathetic dealings with end users.
  • There are two types of information: research “push” and client “pull”. Organisations vacillate between the needs of both. There’s a feeling that research “push” information dominates attention.
  • Primary creators of information are becoming scarce. Fewer people have the mix of technical ability and communication skills to be able to consistently produce timely, relevant information products.
  • “Information” officers are frequently relegated to dog’s body status. Producing information is widely understood by “the system” to be the last and softest stage in the organisational communication process. Info people are the easiest to blame when “communication” or “information” doesn’t work/doesn’t hit its target.
  • Often, information doesn’t work because the concepts aren’t widely understood. Group decided there was a need to lift the bar and broaden our collective understanding of communication concepts in order to argue our case better, explain why certain information products/strategies won’t work, and ascribe more meaning and purpose to what is emerging as a specialist field.

Major outcomes (what have you achieved from this discussion; how can this make a difference; what else do you need to do?)

  • This discussion “wouldn’t have happened three years ago”, according to one participant, so people are already thinking more broadly about information as a topic unto itself.
  • Curiosity about alternative information theories has been piqued, and the group agreed that participants were individually responsible for following up their own enquiries.
  • Some references were provided, main one being Burrell and Morgan’s “Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis” – a great primer. Another is Steve Littlejohn’s “Theories of human communication”. Good starting points with comprehensive bibliographies for follow up reading.
  • Training is available for improving communication skills at most levels.
  • Stay aware and listen for new ideas; don’t assume that everyone shares the same definition of “information”.
  • Join an online community for discussing information concepts (eg, Society of Editors, Professional Communicators) … there are loads more.
  • Practitioners in the “information age” will be expected to be confident with information concepts: accept responsibility to broaden theory and skills and listen to people who have been in the information economy for some time.

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