Heads of Knowledge Q&A (6) Fiona Parkinson

For our sixth interview we meet Fiona Parkinson who is Head of Knowledge Management at BLM.


  1. How did you end up as Head of Knowledge? Was there a key factor/turning point in your ending up in this role?

It was more of a gradual evolution.  My career has been focused on information and knowledge management, FionaPphotoalways with an emphasis on ensuring people have access to the knowledge they need to do their jobs successfully.  I’ve worked in energy, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, accountancy and professional services as well as in the legal sector.

The biggest change was in the 1990s when the emphasis on Knowledge Management as a business imperative allowed us the opportunity to take a more central role, making a difference across the whole organisation.

  1. What job did you envision having when you were young?

When I was a little girl, I wanted to run a cats’ home!

  1. If you could have any job in the world, with no limitations (salary, location, hours etc) what would you do?

I like the motivation and behavioural side of KM – what makes people collaborate and how can we build on that?  If I could combine that with more time travelling and experiencing different people and cultures, that would be perfect!

  1. Describe your firm in three words.

Expert, professional, customer-focused.

  1. What is the hardest thing about your role?

I suspect it’s the same in every KM role, especially when people are recording time by the hour; the lack of time people have to step out of their day to day work to contribute to seeking and sharing knowledge, to improve what we do.

  1. What is the best thing about your role?

The people in my team and in BLM generally.  They are some of most friendly, supportive and professional colleagues I’ve ever worked with.

  1. What is the biggest change that you’ve witnessed during your career in Knowledge?

The ability for end users to be able to access so much for themselves now whenever and wherever they are.  But along with that the expectation that we should have access to trusted, managed information automatically via a “google” type search.

  1. What three things are you focusing on for the next three years?

Ensuring our lawyers remain technically competent, innovation, better KM technology.

  1. What do you think is the most exciting new development coming in Knowledge work/KM?

The big area we are all watching is artificial intelligence.  We will see how this develops in 2017!

  1. What advice do you have for aspiring Heads of Knowledge?

Your role is so important!  In a law firm, knowledge is your product and you are at the forefront of maximising the benefits from it.  Keep continuing to focus on this and to communicate the value your lawyers and customers will see from the firm’s commitment to KM.


Thanks Fiona – and you are so right – KM is such an important support to fee earning and has great potential to maximise benefits.

If you want to read the next interview, follow the blog using the button at the top right or sign up for the busy-person’s summary.

If you are a Head of Knowledge, get in touch to share your story (or nominate your boss!).

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5 questions to get your experts database working

With so much information generally available, it is increasingly important to know who is an expert in what knowledge within your organisation.

Most law firms have had some form of “White Pages” (an internal address book, adapted to an organisation’s individual needs) for a while now, but how well is yours working? Are you getting the most from the knowledge that already exists within your organisation?


5 questions to ask to start improving your internal experts database.


  1. Is it actually an internal experts database? Does it help you discover “who is truly an expert in what?” or is it just teams, phone numbers and email addresses? If you needed a friendly colleague to help you with a complex technical problem, could you find the right person? If you needed to give a client a contact number of an expert on a Tuesday night at 9pm, could you find the right one? What about the different languages that people speak or the skills they have, but aren’t utilised in their current role? If you needed to pull together a team with unusual skills for a very technical project, could you find just the right people? If not, what needs to change in your database? Linked to that …
  2. Do you have a clear idea of all the different aspects of knowledge that you want to access? One great way to analyse what knowledge gets utilised in teams is to map out the common processes: when a commercial lease is negotiated and completed, what steps do your lawyers take; similarly when a clinical negligence claim is defended, what stages does it commonly pass through? Who is an expert in each of those stages? Another great way to understand the knowledge you need to access is knowledge mapping. Knowledge maps make great expertise finders for smaller teams with deep specialised knowledge. You could also analyse the knowledge used in a common transaction in terms of function (declarative/know about, procedural/know how, causal/know why, conditional/know when, and relational/know with) to help you identify what knowledge exists in the teams.
  3. Is the quality right? Who decides who counts as an expert? What is the process? You need a robust process for determining experts, or you will end up with a preponderance of confident and ambitious people  and miss all the quiet thoughtful experts. Also, is it updated? What is the process for keeping the data clean?
  4. Does it work for *your* organisation? Most businesses have their own quirks and idiosyncrasies. If you can make the database work for how you do things in your organisation, rather than try to fit your people to the available technology, it’ll be a lot more effective. Would a map-style database be better than a rolodex-style database? How often do your staff turnover? How agile does this database need to be? In practical terms, if you value your people via their chargeable hours and this is a non-chargeable task, are they likely to spend sufficient time on it? If not, how else could you approach the data gathering and input?
  5. Is it value for money? How are you going to measure the value that it offers your business and when will you know that it needs more investment? Simple quantitative measurements can help you keep an eye on usage, and leading measurements will give you early warning of potential problems, but a survey will give you rich data and stories about how clients were (or weren’t) well-served by getting access to the right expert, and will be a valuable source of ideas for continuous improvement.

How have you approached this challenge? I’d love to hear in the comments how you have approached creating a great experts database, or if you’ve enjoyed the post, please share.

What now?

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Being more innovative: snippet summary

It’s a tall order… being more “innovative”… but the legal world is changing and you need to keep up… easy to say … difficult to do.

If it’s on your agenda, hopefully this snippet summary will help:


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There is no wealth like knowledge …


Want to learn more? Now what?

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The idiot brain

I’m reading Dean Burnett’s “The Idiot Brain” at the moment (very interesting and worth a read).

One thing (of many) that struck me as relevant to KM and learning was from his chapter about memory and biases.

Apparently our brains don’t like to “criticise” our actions (by storing a negative memory) if they are fairly recent, but *can* criticise past events, as the ego is still happy because we’ve clearly grown and improved since the past event.

So how can this information help KMers?

I had two ideas.

Reflective learning and After Action Reviews are great ways for people to create and share knowledge from real-life experiences, but if they struggle to remember events in a way that could criticise their recent actions due to natural biases, how can we help them?

Firstly, for an AAR that needs to take place fairly soon after an event, we can take time and make sincere efforts to create a non-judgmental atmosphere, so that no one needs to feel criticised and everyone can feel they are on a non-judgmental journey of learning, with a focus on how much everyone has learned and changed. This is more easily done by having an outsider as facilitator, but you can follow the army advice about AARs to hold successful ones yourself (see article at the end).

Secondly, for effective personal reflective learning, we can concentrate on recording events and brief initial thoughts daily/weekly, but spend more time monthly/quarterly at looking for the learning points/criticising our actions/looking for gaps in our knowledge and also revisit old reflective learning diaries later on for new learning out of old experiences.

What do you think? Do you agree and if so, what other ideas do you have to improve our KM using this knowledge?

What now?

Read more here

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Also, think about coming along to a KM: The Works day, when we cover learning and reflective learning as well as all the KM basics.



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Learning at work week

For Learning at Work Week I chose 5 of my favourite learning resources to share with everyone, and I’ve been tweeting them at 10am, 2pm and 5.30pm.

For those of you who missed them, here they are:

  1. Reflective learning download and info
  2. After Action Learning for law firms
  3. 10 ideas to improve your technical training – Part 1 + Part 2
  4. 7 ways to learn
  5. 5 ways to learn through teaching

Did you do anything special for learning at work week? And what are your favourite learning resources?

Follow the blog using the button at the top right, or sign up for the monthly busy-person’s summary here.

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Knowledge must circulate …


Read more about my research into knowledge sharing antecedents here and learn how to your law firm could improve the amount of knowledge sharing which occurs.

Join a training event in London, Bristol or Birmingham or contact me about an in-house bespoke event.

Or simply sign up for the busy person’s monthly summary and keep yourself updated.

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