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Book Review

Information Management for Voluntary & Community Organisations

Updated 22/9/03

Published by Directory of Social Change, April 2000. Order details.

This is a much larger subject than most people realise. 'Well done' to DSC and the authors (Paul Ticher and Mike Powell) for recognising the need and producing a usable book covering much of the ground. It gives a wide-ranging explanation of the issues and practical solutions, ranging from negotiating keeping a central office diary via basic Data Protection and legal matters to use of technology to share information, with a well selected but short list of further sources. They summarise the principles they use under four main headings thus:

"Information Management needs to be:

  • people-oriented
  • defined
  • dynamic and
  • realistic"

They do well on distinguishing management from control, "supporting and enabling staff to manage information well". I also liked their section describing the importance of the correct type and style of training. The fact that introducing new info systems is part of change management, and that IM in general cant been seen as a discrete activity separate from general management, is perhaps implied more than it is spelt out, but the necessary pointers are there. The only thing which stops this being a useful reference book, to pick up when a particular problem crops up, is the lack of an index. To benefit properly from this book you are going to have to work your way through it.

That said, the book misses out or glosses over
- the frequent need for critical analysis of information received (seeing through the tricks or shortcuts of biased or lazy information providers),
- the importance of 'environmental scanning' and possibly market research in building a knowledge base for planning future directions,
- how critical communication techniques can be in not losing vital data in collecting or passing on information.

Obviously something had to be left out in this size of book, which focuses much more on the organisational approach to sharing and appropriate use of information as well as the practical paperhandling and IT considerations. More worryingly they dismiss Knowledge Management in a few lines as not being relevant to most voluntary organisations, implying that it is all about reducing staff skill and numbers. How good is an office manual if it doesnt include some element of extracting and collating knowledge otherwise locked up in an individual? It may only be the larger voluntary organisations which can really benefit from the technology and techniques in this area at the moment, but surely there is great potential for the future.

Sections not mentioned so far include: Focusing on the information you need; Storing information; Exchanging information wth other organisations; Getting help; Staying legal; Using computers effectively (including email, setting up and using web sites); A Managers Overview.

Overall, given experiences of how voluntary organisations struggle to cope with information of all types, the book is a must have for most!

J. Howes, July 2000