Thursday, 19 February 2015

Experience atlases ...

Last night I came across the concept of the ‘experience atlas’.

It comes out of the HR world but despite taht it’s quite an interesting idea. People’s job titles often don’t reflect what they do, especially if they work in a fast moving field, and they’ve been in post for a few years.

A recruiter looking at someone’s resume might just look at the job titles and qualifications and take a very narrow view of someone’s experience and allow their pre-conceptions to guide them as to the usefulness of someone’s experience.

For example between 1984 and 1986 (I’m deliberately choosing an episode a long time ago as it doesn’t matter either way) I was employed as a ‘Computer Officer’ at a field research station.

Officially I looked after the computers, provided enduser support, some help with data management, data analysis,  liaised with the parent computer centre and bought things.

Nothing remarkable there, and I did do all of these things. But I also did a whole lot of other things.

For example, as I’d previously held a Medical Research Council studentship, and knew about ethics approvals and experimental protocols, I ended up managing botanical survey teams.


Well you had to have procedures in place about what to do if someone was chased by a bull or in a traffic accident while they were out doing their work, and that looks a hell of a lot like an ethics approval for experiments on human beings.

There were also rules and compliance requirements regarding rare plants, and indeed if the surveyors accidentally came in contact with rare animals.

I also did some work with insectivorous bats at the time - which again involved obtaining clearances and approvals, as bats are scheduled in the UK and only people holding an appropriate clearance can handle them.

For example, anyone can watch bats fly out of a medieval church, but if you want to catch tag and release some to track movement between colonies it’s got to be done by approved people with appropriate clearances - ie it takes you to a whole new level of management and paperwork.

And the medieval example is appropriate - wildlife people might have one view of the presence of the colony while heritage people might well have another view, and the local vicar usually just wanted to get on with his pastoral work and not have to deal with things, meaning that you could well end up trying to negotiate and reconcile matters between who we would now call stakeholders. And you can’t contribute usefully unless you know about what’s involved - so having an interest in history and archaeology was a plus.

Now, I don’t want to exaggerate what I did, but instead make the point that this is valuable experience that’s not reflected in my cv.

Likewise when you come to annual reviews, basing you next year’s kpi on your resume is often narrow and inappropriate - an experience atlas gives a broader view of someone’s competences and capabilities.

The downside of course is that they’re a pain to compile - too much information, but a structured format with defined questions to build up a portfolio might be a way forward ...

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