Resources on organisational memory
October 20, 2013 7:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for resources, anecdotes and best practice around how organisations remember, especially public sector organisations. If you can point me to strategies so that information doesn't get lost, research about what works, case studies about what can happen when they don't remember what's been done in the past, that would be great.

I've looked at the Wikipedia entry on organisational memory and also two academic papers online: Considering an Organization's Memory (1998) and Learning from the past: a review of the organisational memory literature (2003, PDF). Suggestions for better search terms also welcome.

Asking anonymously because I'm looking at this as part of project connected to my job and don't want colleagues to see my MF history.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, this may be too elementary for you, but do you know about the software used in Development/Advancement, Raiser's Edge by Blackbaud? This package allows you to research and track donors and prospects, build profiles for them, keep track of every interaction you've had with them down to where they sat at an event five years ago, etc. For starters.

Where I work, we also have an institutional archive that keeps all printed collateral, including flyers/rack cards/event posters. We also log attendance, write annual program summaries and record strategy from year to year.
posted by Miko at 7:27 PM on October 20, 2013

Anecdotal, but where I work we do a few things.

We've tried the knowledge capture thing where everyone keeps a "desk guide" of how to do what they do routinely. That works if someone gets hit by a bus or something, but doesn't really capture the "ooh, don't do that. That never works" stuff.

We keep a "production notes" kind of system where anyone can put in the system any problems they had doing a certain job. Theoretically, when someone wants to do the same job later (which should eventually be every job; there are no new jobs) they can look up tips for how to do it better. The problem with that is, if nobody uses it, there's nothing to see. And if too many people put too much in there, it's such a pita to look stuff up nobody bothers.

We also have a list of certain events that we call "incidents" that require reporting to oversight agencies. The nice thing about incidents (for this purpose) is that they have to be written up as a report with root causes. The investigations are pretty thorough. The incident reports get sent to all the other locations and everyone keeps a file. Reading incident reports is a good way to keep reminded of "what not to do," not in the specific result, but in all the little contributing factors that made the result happen. You have to set the criteria for "incident" pretty high, though. It needs to be manageable to read the last couple of years' worth.

The thing that works the best, though, is to keep some old-timers around. There is just no technical substitute for the guy that grumbles during the pre-job brief, "doesn't sound like a good idea to me. Why, I remember back in '72 we tried that and..."
Keep that guy and listen to him.
posted by ctmf at 10:49 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

What ctmf said about "old timers" x1000. There's no culture (even corporate) without elders.
posted by aesop at 5:54 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

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