Information World Review‘s How do your clients deal with information complexity? article authors Bernice de Braal and Peter Newman say, “People deal with information complexity by either reducing that complexity or absorbing it. Knowing whether your clients are shrinkers or swallowers is a key insight for information professionals.“
Their interesting article is excerpted here:
“There is a consensus that the world has entered a knowledge era where information is power and rapid learning a necessary condition for success. The concept itself, though, is nothing new: the English philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon is credited with coining the phrase ‘knowledge is power’ in 1597 in his Meditationes Sacrae. And in business, knowledge is now widely regarded as a powerful source of competitive advantage.
But information tends to be complex and, as anybody who has worked in different types of libraries and information services knows, clients from different communities handle information, both simple and complex, in different ways. Someone from the business community, for example, will handle information differently to someone from the academic or medical community.
To be part of a community and to truly belong, you have to be able to understand and process information given to you by other members of that community. Such communities have been described as populations of data-processing agents. The way in which the community’s data-processing agents handle information is one of the community’s key cultural attributes, and different communities have evolved different strategies for handling the complexity of the information they deal with…
The strategic choice of whether to reduce or absorb complexity implies handling abstraction in different ways. Reducing complexity requires a highly structured world model. Crucially, alternative explanations are regarded as competing with each other. The community’s members search for the best explanat ion and the best abstraction, normally on a logical basis.
By contrast, absorbing complexity requires the community to accept co-existing contradictory explanations and so simultaneous alternative abstractions.
This may be second nature to information professionals, but not necessarily to their clients…
There are four distinct institutional types – markets, bureaucracies, fiefs and clans – associated with different types of informational complexity, necessitating different informational strategies. The four types distinguish between open information that is available to everyone and secret information that is accessible only by insiders.
Markets refer to institutions where information is highly codified and disseminated. Relationships are impersonal and everyone looks after their own interests. Market types are open. There are no barriers to entry and exit. Examples include the financial and commodities markets. Market types reduce informational complexity.
Bureaucracies refer to the use of secretive, codified information to achieve co-ordination; the approach is sometimes called hierarchical co-ordination. Bureaucracies are impersonal and secretive by nature. Efficient government agencies resemble bureaucracies, as they possess a strong capacity to structure, refine and make sense of information. Other examples include the military and large corporations. Bureaucracies reduce informational complexity.
Fiefs, unlike market types, are about personal power and charisma. Inf ormation is secret and uncodified. Knowledge resides with a few, making relationships hierarchical and personal. Fiefs are personal and secretive. An R &D department where one prominent scientist leads large projects, aided by assistants, could be a fief. Other examples include cartels and top management teams. Fiefs absorb informational complexity.
Clans are produced by open, uncodified and non-disseminated information. Clan types are personal and open. Examples include family businesses, the top tier of some bureaucracies, and some entrepreneurial startups. Clans absorb informational complexity…
Information complexity provides several key messages for information professionals.
First, information professionals have to understand and react to the needs of their clients, even if those clients do not fully appreciate the nature of their needs and what action is appropriate.
Second, in their roles as information professionals, librarians and information and knowledge managers need to be able to diagnose the strategy that their clients (and client communities) use to handle complex information: are they reductionists or absorptionists?
Third, information professionals may find they need to modify the way they organise their knowledge and their information services (especially their cataloguing and classification) to suit their clients’ reductionist or absorption strategies, and also the way that they present information to their clients.
The nature of the client community’s institutions give some insights into how they handle complex information…”