What is current awareness?

office block in the sunBeing well informed is essential in this connected and information saturated age. If you want a guaranteed competitive advantage, you need to read the right stuff. Five minutes spent on a curated collection of current awareness could be an excellent investment of your time. But what is current awareness, what does it include and how can it work for you?

Current awareness is nothing new; the concept has been around for a long time. Both consumers and providers have subjected it a lot of discussion over the past four decades. They have drawn distinctions between ‘current awareness’, ‘current awareness services’, and ‘current awareness systems’. But generally we define current awareness as the process of keeping up to date.

The right information

So much for historic definitions. I like the collection of points in the most recent BIALL Handbook of Legal Information Management. It states what a current awareness service should deliver:

  • [The] right information to the
  • Right user, at the
  • Right time, in the
  • Right format, covering the
  • Right sources, at the
  • Right cost, with the
  • Right amount of effort to keep users up to date.

This focus on the word ‘right’ is an essential part of current awareness provision. On the face of it, the provision of current awareness is easy to get right for you, the client. But I want to highlight what current awareness should contain. It might be helpful for recipients to understand what I am looking out for on their behalf.

The right information

As early as 1979 information expert David Kemp said that there was more to current awareness provision than imagined by users. He stated that there were four types of knowledge in the process.

  1. New theoretical ideas and hypotheses;
  2. New problems to be solved;
  3. New methods and techniques for solving old and new problems;
  4. New circumstances affecting what people do and how they may do it.

These four slot into the various parts of the BIALL definition but how does this work in practice? New information is only useful if it is the right information. Given that there are a multitude of bulletins and updates available, you have to be selective about what you receive.

Definitions like the one above are useful and I opt for the broadest one. I include the usual news sources, but flesh out the bare headlines with other material. This includes the following;

  • company information
  • legislation and consultation papers
  • high quality insight/opinion/thought leadership pieces
  • institutional, governmental and any press releases, from fee and free sources across the globe

Your input is vital

Finally when you tell me what is right, I can give you what is new. But remember current awareness isn’t just about what is happening in the news. Sometimes the right current awareness can be about taking an overview and making connections. Then you can make sensible assumptions about how you can apply your specialist knowledge to the best effect.

Be informed. But be informed in the right way.