Liia Lauri: "Exchanging information is not self-evident. Trust and understanding are required for it, as well as a feeling that there is a common goal."

In November, Liia Lauri from the School of Digital Technologies defended her doctoral dissertation on „Information Culture and Coping with Information Overload: The Case of Estonian Higher Education Institutions." Read more in the interview.

Liia Lauri seisab tahvli ees

Liia Lauri’s academic work has been mainly in the field of information sciences in Tallinn University – she finished her Bachelor’s, Master’s and now her doctorate in that. At the same time, she has also been working at the Estonian Quality Agency for Higher and Vocational Education for a number of years, one of the objectives of which is to offer an international view on the development of higher education institution.

How did you choose this research topic?

My doctoral thesis topic was borne out of both – an interest in the development of higher education institutions as well as the organisation’s information processes. I have always been captivated by the invisible. The way information is created from data, and especially how information morphs into knowledge or wisdom. They are often concealed but still very important processes from the standpoint of organisations functioning as well as just being human. An organisation’s information culture is something that affects the organisation’s efficacy and performance but is usually hidden from us. This means having to research the values and attitudes related to information exchange between humans, which cannot be directly monitored or asked.


What is the most typical obstacle in contemporary organisations that hinders the exchange of information?

Many people believe that buying and implementing information systems guarantees that information will move quickly and support the organisation’s efforts wherever required. Another common opinion is that people exchange necessary information and experiences with one another whenever required, and they do that in an open way. In actuality, something quite different may be a definitive factor when exchanging information. Exchanging information is not self-evident. Trust and understanding are required for it, as well as a feeling that there is a common goal, which also means sharing objectives and a mission. In order for the organisation’s existing information, wisdom and experiences to support the success of the organisation, it must be led just as any other important resource in the organisation.


What are your suggestions for people struggling with an over-abundance of information? What strategies do you personally use?

It is sensible to develop your own personal principles at a personal level. Establish your priorities at any given time and know when it’s time to focus on one thing or another. This will allow you to feel on top of the situation. Additionally, in a contemporary working environment, developing digital competence can be the thing to help you feel in control of things.


What differences did you spot in the information cultures of Estonia’s higher education institutions?

Based on the research, Estonia’s higher education institutions have three types of information culture. First: integrated information culture, which means frequent information exchange within an academic entity. Second: open information culture, oriented towards active, diverse and broad exchange of information. Third: informal information culture, focused on sharing and utilising information informally. 

An integrated information culture is a so-called ‘clan culture’, focused on human relationships and following agreed upon rules, which depends on committed and content employees for efficiency. An organisation that has an integrated information culture is focused on internal communication within the organisation. Conditions for communication, involvement and commitment are favourable. An open information culture involves active information behaviour, communication with the other entities within the higher education institution and also with other institutions.

Curiously, the integrated information culture is connected to increased job satisfaction and satisfaction with management. However, representatives of open information culture use information sources more frequently and could therefore be pioneers of innovation as they are more critical of themselves as well as their managers. A strong informality component also means there is a greater readiness to leave the current job. This may explain how when academics have a wider field of cooperation and interaction, they are often also more self-critical. Another possible explanation has to do with the management of the organisation. As the integrated information culture is more common in vocational higher education institutes, it is possible that the more homogeneous, formal and stable organisational structure offers its members a reliable and safe environment, facilitates the sharing of objectives and sustains motivation, which is the basis for satisfaction at work and with management.


How can we change Tallinn University’s information culture to make information exchange more effective?

One possibility is to determine the issues that are most important at a given time for the university or an entity and that require a framework for the exchange of information – regular meetings among employees, utilising a certain software solution, bringing in experts from the outside, involving a few information specialists, etc. For example, our research entitled “Success of mandatory distance learning in higher education institutions in Spring 2020” (“Toimetulekust sunnitud kaugõppega kõrgkoolides 2020. aasta kevadel”) demonstrated that the regular exchange of information and experiences between the so-called ‘support teams’ consisting of teachers, educational technologists, educational designers, etc. was essential.

The second suggestion encompasses digital competence and developing information literacy at a broader scale in higher education institutions. The research indicated that an important aspect in dealing with an over-abundance of information is both personal digital competency as well as support from the organisation in the development of personal competence. As a consequence, it is necessary to agree on what competence is and on what is expected from a teacher, leader, support worker and university student. How can we accomplish this? The higher education institution should ideally support your personal endeavours.


Writing a doctoral thesis is a huge task and definitely needs constant self-motivation. What methods did you use to achieve a successful final result?

I was primarily inspired by the discussions I had with my advisors who often held different points of view. I am forever grateful to professor Sirje Virkus and professor Mati Heidmets for that. I firmly believe that this is the basis for academic discussion – different points of view and beliefs, the boldness to think, doubt and make mistakes.


Please tell us about a book that you have recently read and would recommend to others. Why would you recommend it?

One recent fantastic read was Haruki Murakami’s bookMen Without Women. In his own simple and contemplative way, Murakami narrates a story of human relationships that are complex and strange while also being so ordinary. I wholeheartedly recommend this book for the upcoming bleak winter evenings.

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