“It's Not Information Overload. It's Filter Failure” Clay Shirky
The ways and speed with which policy-makers have accessed information over the past two decades has proved a mixed blessing. While high speed internet, real time email, web content, twitter feeds and social media provide unprecedented access to vast amounts of policy data, this flood of information can drown those individuals in organizations who depend on or are responsible for keeping track of what is happening on environment and sustainable development issues around the world. And, with the proliferation of mobile devices and ubiquitous internet access, there is little respite from the barrage of information fighting for your attention. If you ask diplomats, bureaucrats, information managers and communicators about the challenges that they face at work, one of the most common complaints is about “information overload.”
However, as most modern knowledge management theorists will tell you, it is not the volume of the information that is at fault, but our ability to find and use the appropriate filters that eliminate the “noise” and leave only the “signal.” Today, these tools take many forms, such as complicated algorithms that mine data for nuggets of knowledge, social networks of friends and colleagues who recommend stories to read, and even individuals who can employ staff to comb through emails and websites, sifting out the important items.
During the last decade the individual or organization that plays the role of the “knowledge broker” has emerged as an important figure in the information management game. The knowledge broker is the trusted intermediary that filters and synthesizes large amounts of information, distilling it into concise, readable “bite size” pieces and communicating them effectively to those who need to know.
IISD Reporting Services has always been a knowledge broker for policy-makers since we started publishing the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) in 1992, synthesizing down hours of negotiations into daily 2000-word summaries. Most recently we have moved into the area of knowledge management, with the generous support of the Government of Switzerland, and most recently from the European Commission and the United Arab Emirates (through the International Renewable Energy Agency). We have created a sophisticated content management system (CMS) and assembled a team of “Thematic Experts” who identify and summarize key events, publications, outcomes and projects in areas such as sustainable development, climate change, biodiversity, sustainable energy and Small Island Developing States. It is this curation network that is the most important factor in building a high-level filtering system for policy-makers. The Thematic Experts who serve as our curators are also the same writers who work at conferences, producing daily and summary issues of the ENB. As networked and informed participants at the center of these multilateral negotiations, we can trust that they know important content when they see it and can filter and synthesize only the most important items, which are added to our CMS and sent out through our publishing networks.
As a result of our work as Knowledge Brokers and our sophisticated curation process, the policy-makers who subscribe to our easy-to-read newsletters, such as the Climate Change Daily Feed, Sustainable Energy Update, Biodiversity Update and Sustainable Development Update, know that they are receiving news about only the most relevant, timely and noteworthy activities in each of these issue areas.
While information overload may be a malady for this decade, IISD continues its tradition as a one-stop- shop for intelligence, news and analysis that fosters informed policy formulation in critical areas that ultimately leads to improved human well-being.