I was nominated to be on the committee that wrote the CILIP Manifesto by the then CDG President, Maria Cotera. The committee (called a Task and Finish Group in CILIP-ese) also contained CDG members Emma Illingworth and Sarah Ison, along with 4 other CILIP members, 1 CILIP trustee, Biddy Fisher (then vice President, now President of CILIP) and Guy Daines (CILIP’s professional advisor); the group was chaired by Peter Beauchamp. The manifesto was published last week and I thought it worth recording my thoughts on the process of writing it and being involved in a Task and Finish Group (also my thoughts on the overall product at the end.)
The inital meeting of the group was the most interesting and the most challenging in that we had to start from nothing and begin to construct the whole thing – aims, format, content, publication strategy. Although the headline aim of the project was to influence political parties in the run up to the general election, and ideally get some library related promises included in their manifestos, it was also agreed that a secondary, and very important aim, should be to produce a document which sums up the ambitions of the profession, and which can be widely quoted as indicative of what we as a professional group aspire to do. It was agreed that the list of our ‘wants’ should demonstrate the value that the profession has to offer – it should not be a list of demands that would each cost the government large quantities of money. Rather, the priorities should show how, if the government were to agree to them, our profession could enhance services provided by the government and assist in the achievement of other strategic aims.
It was agreed that we should end up with a short list of aims that we could tick off if and when they were achieved. As we started suggesting ideas, it became apparent that a lot of the ideas were really values. We decided that a statement of the profession’s values would also add to the document’s impact, particularly in respect of its secondary aim. We left that meeting having each been assigned a general area to write-up into a punchy aim, and we would also each write some background information and collect a bibliography of useful sources.
Monica Anderton and I were given the area of information management to explore. I interpreted this area to involve mainly talk of information assurance, and in particularly how the role of information professionals in guaranteeing good information management had been demonstrated as crucial by the data loss scandals of 2008 (e.g. when HMRC lost several million people’s child benefit details). The document I wrote focussed on this idea almost exclusively, and so had to be quite radically altered when it became clear that the other dimension of this aim was to be the role that government could play in advancing good practice of info management to the private sector, and also the extent to which government could learn from the private sector. Our part of the document went through about four drafts.
All the material was compiled before our second meeting by Guy and Peter. The format for this meeting was far more rigid, and we went through each of the bullet points in detail. The info management bullet point still required more work, so Monica and I were tasked with refining it further. We also had to search for further material for our bibliography because it did not yet reflect the private sector dimension of the priority. After re-submitting our refined documents, they were then re-compiled by Guy and Peter. We got to comment on drafts of the final product and we got to see advance electronic copies of what the actual document would look like.
The Task and Finish process is the main way that individual ideas get acted upon by CILIP – they are the main way that activists get to influence the day-to-day running of CILIP, so it was very interesting to see how they worked from the inside. My observations on the process are below:
- Although this is a process that is run by the members of CILIP, the CILIP administration still plays a large part in it. Perhaps it was the nature of this group, but Guy Daines’ input was considerable, both as secretary to the meetings and as the person responsible for pulling the thing together (although Peter clearly played a significant role in this part of the process). This was not a major problem in my view since he is a professional expert on LIS matter, and so his views were extremely valuable. But it did come as a surprise to see the extent of his influence in a member-led activity.
- It’s important not to get precious over your own content. This applies to all group working, but particularly when working with complete strangers, and when you have had very little face-to-face time to thrash out ideas, so have do not have an opportunity gain a feeling of ownership over the outcome of negotiations.
- When the brief for a project is so vague, it is key to get a sense of purpose early on, which then informs subsequent work. I think as a group we got distracted by the secondary aim (which I still think is arguably more important), and when I began to reflect on both aims, I found it difficult to combine them into a useful formulation of the info management priority.
- For me, one of the key benefits of being part of this thing was meeting the other people involved. Emma and Sarah are great to work with (I had already met them at the 2009 NP conference, but never worked closely with them) and Maria is always an inspiring colleague, but it was good to see Guy doing his thing (Professional Advisor to CILIP is a role I had no idea about before this), and to learn from Peter’s chairing skills. Biddy Fisher is a calm and effective presence – it is a genuine pleasure to work with her.
My thoughts on the actual finished product are mixed. Considering the well documented complexity of defining the library and information profession, let alone finding a series of aims that unite all members of it, I think the content of the Manifesto is quite successful. It covers a wide range of topics, and although there are obvious omissions (e.g. open access), what is included are widely held aims that speak for a large portion of LIS professionals. The actual publication its self is more disappointing. I think the enormous ‘SIX’ on the front is distracting, and although I appreciate the difficulty of distilling complex ideas, there is still a great deal of text inside. I also think that perhaps the project should have been brought forward several months (if you accept that the main purpose was actually to influence the contents of Party manifestos), since the Parties will have finished taking submissions on policy for their manifestos some time ago.