Dr David Haynes is Chair of ISKO UK and a member of the ISKO International Board. He is currently a research fellow at City, University of London undertaking research into risk and online safety. Before that he was an Information Scientist advising clients on information management issues ranging from national information policy to creating taxonomies and thesauri for research organizations.
David lectures on Information Management and Policy, part of the innovative CityLIS master’s programme offered by the Department of Library and Information Science at City, University of London. He is author of Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval which is now available in its second edition. The Synaptica team talked to David about his role as Chair of ISKO UK and the forthcoming Sixth Biennial ISKO UK Conference which takes place in July 2019.
Tell me about you, your background and work today.
DH: Originally, I completed a Chemistry degree, then an Information Science Masters with City, University of London. My career focused on information management beginning with industrial research as an Information Officer. I then moved into research and consultancy, and it’s this area where the majority of my career has been focused for over 30 years.
Developing taxonomies, controlled vocabularies and thesauri are the areas I really enjoy working. Getting involved with more general information governance issues as well as project management are constant themes. Lots of my project work has been located around the world including China, the Middle East, Nigeria, USA and Europe. It’s been a very interesting and rewarding career.
About 10 years ago I decided that I wanted to complete a PhD on information science and I returned to City, University of London as I had kept in contact since doing my Masters there. I completed it 5 years ago and now I am a Research Fellow funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering. This funding is for research but I enjoy teaching and the Academy kindly gave me permission to spend some of my time lecturing in Information Management on the CityLIS programme at the University.
The research aspect is a full-time commitment and the teaching is extra. I have two years of funding which started in December 2017 and ends in November 2019. My aim is to continue my academic career as I really enjoy it. I want to continue to progress up the academic ladder. If the right opportunity comes up, I will go for it either to continue my research or possibly seeking a permanent academic post.
What does your research focus on?
DH: The research is focused on issues related to information governance; it’s about how responsibility is allocated and how our information assets are looked after within an organisation. The research includes compliance with regulations – for example, GDPR. There is also responsibility for the security of information systems and this feeds back into Data Protection. Your customer database has to be secure to ensure information is not breached. We have all seen examples of organizations having to deal with this type of issue. Information governance covers this domain.
My specific research interest focuses on privacy, particularly online privacy. When people go online, they deliberately disclose information. If you want to buy something you need to share your name and address as well as payment details to complete the purchase. There are obviously security implications with this process so some kind of measures have to be in place so that there is a degree of safety. If you disclose your personal information, this may have implications for your own wellbeing as well as concerns about whether this information will be used appropriately.
For instance, in the USA there have been cases where the local police force appropriated information from Google to find out where individuals were located at a particular point in time. They may become suspects for a crime committed in those areas. My research looks at the basis on which people make decisions about whether or not to disclose personal information. I am also looking at their exposure to potential risk in doing so.
Social media is a powerful tool and people wouldn’t use it if there were not benefits. It’s also about trying to have safety awareness just as we have traffic awareness. We are trained from childhood to be aware of the road and follow certain rules. Maybe we need to take the same approach with our online behaviour.Do you use tools as part of your research work?
DH: There is a lot of overlap between knowledge organization and information governance, and my research looks at the interaction between the two. The Synaptica team kindly allowed me a trial access to the Graphite software tool to use as part of my research. It’s a very high-end system, incredibly feature rich. Prior to this I had not used specific ontology-based software. I looked at one of the freeware tools, but I haven’t used anything as sophisticated as Graphite.
It’s been an interesting learning curve to develop an ontology on risk. Part of the challenge is to understand the complexity of the relationship between the different concepts and the data structure. Understanding my own conceptualisation to a point where it can be presented as a formal structure, has been a challenge. I am developing a layered approach where you have an abstract model which then informs the more detailed model about particular scenarios.
On a ground level there are specific instances of scenarios when we know what happens if there is a particular kind of disclosure or breach. What are the consequences of this, and can we use the ontology to help us predict possible outcomes or identify appropriate mitigating actions? There is a lot of work to be done. This part of the research is likely to go beyond my current funding. I am hoping to convince the funders to support further work.
How did you get involved with ISKO?
DH: A lot of my work in the past has been about constructing taxonomies, advising on indexing and looking at metadata. I have written a book on metadata and I have an ongoing professional interest in the area. Being a long term member of ISKO provides access to an excellent community of individuals working in these areas, and people with whom you can have stimulating conversations about taxonomy and about knowledge organization. I find them a productive group to be involved with and not necessarily all like-minded. Members have a range of backgrounds and experience.
I was elected to the International Executive Board for ISKO at the International Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Initially I was involved in organizing a couple of meetings and gradually became more involved with the UK chapter. I found the group very supportive and innovative and eventually decided to stand for the UK committee and was elected chairperson in 2017.
Being part of the group keeps you in touch with what’s going on in the sector, individual’s involvement, their work and their research. It’s a way of keeping up to date and being connected to an international community. As we are planning the 2019 conference programme it’s fantastic that we have international speakers from China, Scandinavia, Brazil and the USA. People from all over the world are coming together in July in London.
How much commitment is involved?
DH: I aim to segregate my work. I spend an hour or two on ISKO business before I start a normal day’s work and then reserve the evenings for meetings. I am not alone in putting in the hours. It’s a great group effort, very enjoyable, and as Chair I appreciate the enormous amount of effort people put in.
Organizing the Biennial Conference is a major endeavour for the organizing team. This year our main theme is the Human Position in an Artificial World. Keynote speakers confirmed include Jem Rayfield from Ontotext on Knowledge Organization and AI and Neil Maiden, Cass Business School on creativity and AI. The event will also include an exhibition space, networking and discussion groups. We are proud to have joined forces with the IKO Case Study Café at its first European event with a practical focus on knowledge management in organizations. We also work closely with our sponsors who support the conference to ensure a dynamic event with shared valuable experiences.
The Conference provides an occasion to meet and connect with interesting people and explore new ideas. It’s also a chance to find out what people are working on and their approach. It can be an eye opening experience. There are some good minds out there and it’s great to have a chance to interact with diverse participants. You can’t separate the two; people and ideas. People are interesting because they have stimulating ideas. The conversations that you have with them are thought-provoking. The two elements work together.
Tell us about other ISKO UK events?
DH: We had an interesting half-day meeting in April on metadata, taxonomy and retrieval. We heard from four very experienced speakers from different sectors. They had different backgrounds and perspectives but were outlining how you make information more accessible, discoverable, searchable using knowledge organization techniques ranging from metadata management to taxonomies and ontology creation. It’s important to provide a variety of events, different formats and times. Not everyone can get away during the day or in the evening to attend events and benefit from the interaction.
We also host a regular monthly meetup. Themes include creativity, ontology development, AI and metadata. We aim to cover a lot of themes that we will look in more detail at the conference. Often following the evening meetups we will continue the conversation with a drink or meal afterwards. It leads to extended conversations and the merging of ideas. It’s an element I enjoy.
Why should people join ISKO UK?
DH: The principal benefit is the networking opportunities and the interaction with others who have an interest in knowledge organization in all its forms. There is an international community open to all national ISKO members with discounts on specific events around the world. Membership is international in scope and mindset. It is too easy to focus on the here and now or your particular sector. We need to stretch ourselves and tap into different resources through online tools, publications, and recordings of meetings as well as the academic journal, Knowledge Organization.
What do you consider are the main challenges for the Knowledge Organization sector?
DH: People’s minds are concentrated on the degree to which KO will be automated. We have seen some successes with automation but will humans still be required to develop vocabularies? The debate is about people’s involvement and creativity in forming the taxonomy, and to what extent will tools used be automated. If you are building an ontology you can do it in a number of ways. You can do it in a conceptual way; what are the concepts in that area and how do you organise them so that you can start to infer things about the nature of risk in the arena? Alternatively, you could say here is a data set and use a machine learning system to investigate it. Can the system develop its own rules? These rules may not necessarily be obvious to a human observer. The question is how effective are they? How do we measure their effectiveness?
What advice do you share with your students?
DH: One of the first things I advise students is to look at their own experiences. Talk to fellow students. Talk to one another and put your own experience into the context of what you are learning. Collectively you may know a great deal more about the subject than one lecturer standing on a podium.
What I enjoy about teaching is that there is such a variety of different backgrounds represented by the students. Some are experienced and come with a great deal of knowledge. Others are specialist and are looking to broaden their scope. Others are relatively inexperienced; they may be newly graduated or working for a few years in an information-related field. They are looking to formalise their experience and qualifications. They also want to find out what they can do in that field. You get lots of questions about what my future role in the profession could be and the possibilities. What can I do with the skills I am learning on this course? Which direction can I choose: digital resource management, information governance or as a data protection officer working in a large organization? There is a whole range of roles which are more digitally based and move beyond the traditional academic life. With the CityLIS course we are keen to explore these developing options.
ISKO also gives student grants, which are open to non-members. If you are a student studying an information related course you can apply for a grant to attend an ISKO event. We will be giving a grant to a student for this year’s UK conference.
Synaptica Insights is our popular series of interviews with customers, partners, influencers and colleagues. Synaptica, Ontotext and City, University of London are among the sponsors of the 2019 ISKO UK Conference.
Insight Update (March 2021): David Haynes is now based at School of Computing, Edinburgh Napier University. He recently published a presentation reflecting his ontology research and development using Graphite.demo-of-an-ontology-of-online-risk-2