Ana Neves writes on CTOUCH at Social Now 2018

Once upon a conference: applying knowledge management concepts to creating the best learning experience

When I say Social Now is a unique conference I can just imagine people’s eyes rolling, dismissing my words as an exaggeration, typical of marketing spiel. But I do not use those words lightly. I am yet to find a conference with a similar format, one which I put together to provide maximum learning to all participants.

In two recent blog posts for the Major Projects Knowledge Hub, I explain why I felt the need for a different type of conference and how the conference’s concept draws from my experience in knowledge management (KM). Following are the highlights from those two posts.

I was flying home after spending a couple of days at a conference. I had sat through too many platitudes and a few easy rounds of buzzword bingo. In 2012, Social Now was born, and so was Cablinc, the fictitious company that offers context for the conference sessions.

Cablinc is a company with pains very similar to those of most organisations: too many meetings, too many emails, difficulties in accessing information on previous projects, an even bigger struggle to learn from those past projects, little collaboration and knowledge sharing between junior and senior colleagues, no proper records of the rationale behind project decision-making, remote workers who feel disengaged, etc. Sounds familiar?


5 unique points of Social Now to overcome main flaws of traditional conferences

The fictitious company

Yes, Cablinc is not a real company. But it feels real and, focusing on one company, makes it easier to offer practical recommendations which can easily be borrowed by participants to apply at their own organisations. No more platitudes!

Some of the team members at Cablinc

A set of characters with memorable names contributes to create a shared language and a common ground for debate

Tools in action

Tools are demonstrated live as day-in-the-life narratives of Cablinc’s employees. The focus is smarter work processes rather than on features. Processes which, once more, participants can try at their own organisations even if supported by different tools.

The hard questions

During the conference, three professionals from real companies wear the hat of Cablinc’s management team. They ask the hard questions that matter. The bluntness and first-hand experience of this panel cuts through the stage gloss and helps participants see things for what they really are.

It’s real

It’s hard to imagine professionals from real companies going up on stage to share their missteps, to talk about their nice looking intranets which nobody uses, or about the lack of support from top management. Therefore, the old, tired format of “how it was before > what we have done > the rosy reality > lessons learned > next steps” no longer works. At Social Now, people from real companies tell a day in their life or describe a certain work process.

Peer Assist

We’re having a peer assist. This facilitated format will take peers from real companies through the process of offering advice to Cablinc on a new intranet project. The underlying objective is to share lessons detached from notions of success or failure. The recommendations of the peers will form the “what to do” and “what to avoid” during the project so that the new intranet is widely used and achieves the established objectives.


How KM and learning concepts shape Social Now’s design

Stories are inherently non-adversarial, unveil and transfer knowledge and behaviours, create shared meaning and understanding, inspire action, and offer shared language and context for learning and understanding. Besides, stories stick in your mind much better than bullet points and (supposedly) clever arguments.

Thinking of this, I created a fictitious company called Cablinc. I created a set of characters, Cablinc’s team, and a plot. Through her blog, Anne McLear, one of the characters, shares the ups and downs of life at Cablinc, thus revealing the business challenges.

Anne McLear’s personal blog reveals episodes of life at Cablinc

During the conference, the talks offer practical guidance for Cablinc to address those challenges or tell day-in-the-life narratives of work at Cablinc. These narratives, supported by different enterprise social tools, are a way of seeing tools in action, focusing on work processes and smarter ways of working rather than on features.

Recommendations grounded on a specific company – Cablinc – are more tangible, more concrete.

The characters’ names are memorable and relate to their role. Together with the plot, the characters create a shared language and a common ground for debate. Participants embrace the plot and embody the characters as a comfortable way of asking questions.

Many of Cablinc’s challenges have to do with knowledge and information. People at Cablinc complain about too many emails, the fact that it is hard to locate lessons learned from previous projects, the time it takes to onboard new colleagues, how hard it is to learn from more experienced colleagues, etc. Talks at Social Now will recreate the narrative, telling a day at work with new work processes that overcome or reduce these knowledge-related issues.

This year, for the first time, we will conduct a peer assist on stage. A peer assist is essentially a facilitated meeting where outside peers help with a particular challenge. This well known KM tool will be used to help Cablinc as it prepares to kick off their new intranet project. Peers from real organisations will offer experienced-based recommendations on what needs to be put in place to guarantee that the new intranet is a success.

Cablinc has a story that triggers other stories, better versions of the original one. Social Now offers a stage to those new stories; to inspire participants into creating improved work stories at their own organisations. And I guarantee you: no participant leaves Social Now without a great story to tell!