Jan 23, 2011

Camp Life

My current situation is that I am in PNG, my laptop computer (which has my LIFE on it) has a fried power cord, and I'm sweating trying to survive the week, with all of the work on my plate, if I cannot find a replacement. In other words, I'm in deep trouble.

So, my answer to the problem? At the moment...ignore it!

I am in Moro right now at the Oil Search Limited (OSL) camp. For those of you who have never experienced this business of working in the oil and gas industry, in the field, I can tell you (and so can Leo!) that it is quite interesting, occasionally fun, rewarding work, but never ever glamorous. For example, Leo and I are sitting across the desk from each other, sharing a field office, a very dusty and dirty field office. We occasionally have to yell at each other because the Vertol and Chinook helicopters, located just outside our building, can be deafening. Three times a day, starting at 6am, there are Dash-8 planes landing just out front. Occasionally there are Hueys (helicopters), Twin Otters (planes), and even the monstrous and amazingly loud Hercules C-130 on occasion.

At meal times, we slog over (this is the rainy season) to the mess hall, along with the rest of the camp inhabitants, to eat. Note: The meals are typically delicious affairs with plenty of choices! After our work is complete, at the end of the day, another slog gets us back to our rooms for a much-needed shower and much-anticipated sleep.

Married couples are not often housed here and are certainly not planned for. So, Leo is in the G barracks while I am in B. The rooms are tiny affairs with a bed, desk, wardrobe, and corner sink. Oh, there is also an aircon, which is needed in the daytime, as well as blankets, which are needed at night. The rooms are old, dingy, plain, and ugly, but also comfortable, cleaned daily, and meet our requirements. Bathrooms are typically shared between two rooms, although some of the quarters only have access to a shared bathroom down the hall. They consist of a shower, with hot water (my favourite!) and a toilet.

The rooms are lined up side-by-side and across from another bank of rooms with an open, but covered, walkway between them. Each room has an aircon, a window to the outside (with curtains that, inevitably don't actually reach all the way across the window), a door to the shower area, and a door to the walkway. The walkway door typically has a screened section that you can open in order to get some flow-through ventilation.

My work schedule has me up at 4:15 in order to get to breakfast by 5:00. This allows me to get to the office and get ready for the daily Safety/Communication meeting at 6:00. This meeting is almost always conducted in pidgin, except for my part, and Leo's part, which must be translated. The meeting always starts with a prayer, something typical at meetings among nationals in this country. It's actually quite a cool tradition.

After the meeting, every day is different; always different. Finishing up at the end of the day usually occurs around 7pm for Leo, but I'm a bit of a night owl, so I typically go later (although that means I sometimes have to sleep in and skip breakfast). Last night, for example, I finished up at 11:30pm. The good thing is that the walk from the office to the mess hall or the barracks takes about 5 minutes. The bad thing is that it was pouring down when I headed 'home' last night so the 5 minute walk left me drenched. (Yes, I had an umbrella.)

Jan 15, 2011

Research Musings

Note: This is a copy of my posting for one of my classes, Research Methods.

When preparing my previous posting I thought of something else I wanted to share but decided it was a bit off-topic. So, I'm sharing it here.

I have discovered something over the past couple of semesters that continues to surprise me on so many levels. Feeling a bit out-of-place in the program considering my work background and future goals, starting back in my first May Seminar I started to embrace, rather than struggle against, the other activities in the program. That's when I discovered it...that surprising thing that continues to amaze me. I discovered that I can find commonalities in the most unusual places.

For example, I was paired with Rhonda Stanton in our "speed dating" exercise where we shared out backgrounds and research interests with small groups of people over and over again. The more I heard her talk about her interests in generational differences in the workplace, the more I realised that our interests have a lot in common...a lot more than I would have guessed. She is seeking definitions of the different groups that are useful in preparing them to work together, effectively, in the workplace. I am seeking definitions of a workforce with diversities of another kind, but still looking for things useful in preparing them to work together, effectively, in the workplace. The more I heard her talk about her concerns, questions, and ideas the more I realised that some of those were so very similar to mine. Could it really be that Rhonda and I are sharing thoughts and ideas from such diverse projects that could help us both in our own pursuits? I could go on and on with this one example, but won't.

I have tried the same technique in my readings as well. (Note: I have always been somewhat aware of what I am calling here a "technique" but have only recently begun to pursue it more formally, more consistently, more contientiously.) Before I begin a reading, I think about what things I am pursing in my own work and what questions I need to be answering. As I begin to read, I try to frame what I am reading in two ways. And yes, this is a challenging technique in that I am constantly pursing two trains of thought as I read...that which was intended by the author, and that which is reframed to my own situation. For example, when I began reading Johnson's "User-Centered Technology", from the very beginning I thought about this user-centeredness in my own work. As I tried to understand Johnson's views about allowing the user to be a part of the design and implementation of effective instruction and training for computer manuals, I tried to reframe the ideas as if he were talking about creating standard operating procedures (SOPs) for truckers in PNG. As I read, I find myself embracing and discarding arguments presented framed in this new context, but better than that, I found myself actually considering them thoughtfully. Is it really possible to design SOPs that are focused on the training needs of the organisation rather than established to prove to outsiders (ExxonMobil, OSL, etc.) that we are capable and organised? Is it really possible to allow the users to determine what is useful, adequate, proper, correct, etc? Can I really convince the rest of the organisation that writing top-down procedures is counter-productive and that writing them from the inside-out, not only from a users' perspective (something I adopt when I try to "put myself in their place") but rather from the actual users themselves is where we really need to be going? When I reframed the reading in this new context, I found I could not put the book down! (I am almost finished with it now and getting ready to start again from the beginning.)

I guess I am saying that you should not be surprised if I ask to team up with some of you on different projects when it seems our interests lie so far afield from each other. I guess I am engaged in a larger "experiment" here because I am beginning to find linkages and commonalities in the most unusual places, and I like it!

Research Ideas

Note: This is a copy of my posting for one of my classes, Research Methods.

Interested for more than 20 years in the idea of tacit knowledge transfer in industrial fields, namely oil, gas, and petrochemical, no matter what sideline studies I pursue, I find myself coming back to this topic again and again. Although I am not yet sure how to organise this semester's study, I am thinking of focusing on a project that I am currently directing in my company. (Note: in a small company like ours, "directing" means heading up as well as conducting, following-up on, and reporting. :-) I will start by explaining this current project, as opposed to explaining the research project, in the hopes that I will be able to focus my research in an area that supports and aids in what I am pursuing "in real life".

Our company is owned by a group of landowners in the Southern Highlands Province (SHP) of Papua New Guinea (PNG). This group of people, these Southern Highlanders, have a reputation, even here in PNG, for being aggressive and often warlike. In my dealings with them over the past year, I tend to view them, instead, as being a highly passionate people. I am currently pursuing a project of helping convert the workforce (currently 175 people) into a cohesive company that is guided by processes and procedures. This is in an attempt to garner some of the unique business opportunities that have developed here in PNG dealing with such companies as ExxonMobil, Oil Search Limited, Santos, and the like. My current project is in establishing some Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for use by a workforce composed of an extremely diverse population. Many of the workers do not speak English, and a number of them are illiterate. Most of them also grew up in the villages where everything from shoes to computers were of little use.

[Remember, I am describing my work project here as I have not yet developed the research project idea fully.] I would like to start with a survey of company personnel to establish an overall view of the literacy capabilities. I have already written five SOPs, my pilot group of artefacts, and have had them converted to Tok Pisin, the local pidgin English that is spoken, as a second language, by most of the national population. Next week, I will be sending these documents back to the field to be "tested" by the workforce. Not only am I looking for accuracy and correctness, but I am trying to answer a number of other questions.

  1. Do these procedures really add any value?
  2. Should the two translations be presented side-by-side or as separate documents?
  3. Is there real value in having the two translations?
  4. What processes can we use to ensure the illiterate members of the workforce receive and retain the necessary information?
  5. What direction should this project take me next?

I hope to be able to develop a research project out of this larger, more complex field project sometime over the next week. But I am VERY interested in the input any of you would like to provide!

Jan 3, 2011

Happy New Year

The rollover into the new year was largely uneventful for me as Leo is in Kutubu and I was here alone. Still, I'm not really worried that the quiet entrance of 2011 is any indication about the rest of the year. There is no way that this is going to be just another year on my calendar...2011 is going to involve a LOT of rock and roll!

It's Monday morning now, and although I worked most of the weekend as well, today is the first day of the work week in the new year. It is also the first day of my job in my new role. I am on the management team of Trans Wonderland Limited (TWL) and my job title is Projects and Systems Development Manager. Basically, I have two main paths of pursuits. On the "systems" side, I am continuing a project I started as a consultant of helping establish an organised base of processes, procedures, and tools (electronic and otherwise) that will enable TWL to become a global company rather than just another lanco (landowner company). On the "projects" side, I am responsible for vetting a number of new projects for the company. I have 4 of these on my plate already, all of them exciting ventures with great potential for us.

On the personal side, I'm enjoying having my hubby (Leo) here with me in PNG. He's working for the company as well, although he is only planning on a one-year commitment before he retires and moves back home. Still, that gives us a whole year together, and I'm looking forward to it being a great deal of fun for us.

I miss my family back home, there is no doubt about that. I worry about grandchildren and nieces growing up without knowing who I am, but I'm planning on making it up to them when I am finished here. I also try to drop in on them occasionally, using Skype, Facebook, email, etc. so they will at least have heard of me. :-)

And I'm getting ready for another semester at school, although I haven't actually finished the last one. I had some serious technical problems right at the end of the semester that kept me from finishing two major projects in one of my classes. I offered to re-take the class, but the instructor decided to give me an "Incomplete" for the course and give me another deadline for completing the two assignments. I am working feverishly to get them done now. I will be taking two classes this semester. One is called "Personal Agency" and is taught by Dr. Kemp. The other is "Field Methods of Research" and is being taught by Dr. Cargile-Cook. Although I have had the pleasure of meeting both professors, this is my first class under each of them. And although I am looking forward to the semester and the content of these classes, I am more than a little worried about being able to keep up, what with the technical restrictions/problems that frequently plague me. I am definitely going to give it my best shot, though.

The time has come for me to get to work, but I did want to pop in for a moment and post something here. I can't wait to see what kinds of exciting things 2011 has in store for me!