Books - Tools for
passing knowledge onward
In my work as a technical
expert, I have often been asked to accept new assignments, offices or
posts which I have not previously filled, for which I have had little
way of preparatory time. Sometimes the task at hand has never been done
and then I am on my own to sort out how best to organise the people and
material resources which have been granted to me by the powers that be.
More often, though, I find myself stepping into an office
or post from which someone else has just been, or is just about to be,
out to a new assignment. If we are both lucky, there will be some
between us, and we can sit down and work through all the things I need
and all the procedures that have been established by the people who
before me. That's a grand and comforting thing indeed.
But I don’t always have the luxury of crossover time.
Sometimes I sit down at my new desk and find a pile of papers and
message slips, all of which need my urgent care and attention. I face
What should I do
Where are the things I need to
And who can help
me do it?
Over the past twenty years or so, I have more and more
often found a 'Continuity Book' sitting on top of that proverbial desk,
for me to read its pages and learn what I should be doing. It will be a
different book in every different office, at every different desk. What
books all have in common is that they will have been written by someone
that very job before me, who had to puzzle out the answers to those
If you go off and do a search of the Web, you will find
very little mention of Continuity Books; I suppose that this is mostly
they are unique to each office, and there are no 'one version fits all'
Continuity Books. Indeed, unless you are sharing a role or
several other people, any Continuity Book which you read (or you
write) will be written by a single person and intended for a readership
consisting of a single person. There's a fairly good chance, in fact,
author of one of these books will never cross paths with its eventual
-- that in itself should be a sobering thought.
So, above all, write clearly. Don’t hint at things, be
coy about them, or talk around them. Use plain and simple words, verbs
action, the basic language that would be shared by two friends who
A Continuity Book doesn't need to be a big, long,
exhaustive document. It should, however, be easily rearranged, and be
to expansion or contraction as the needs and duties of its readers
loose-leaf binder makes a perfect starting point. Toss in a few tabbed
that the reader can find his or her way around, and you are off to the
Sometimes a person has more than one set of duties and
responsibilities. In that case, there should be more than one
and each one should be clearly labelled with the office to which it
the industrial world, maybe the books are labelled "Lathe Operator"
and "Blacksmith". In the military world, they might say "Public
Affairs Officer" and "Environment, Health and Safety Officer."
In a coven the books might be "Maiden" and "Summoner." What
all of these books have in common is that they contain relevant
that will help the reader perform the tasks to which they refer. That
information might include telephone numbers, equipment servicing
lists of spare parts, or something as basic as a description of what
kept in which desk drawer.
Why wait for
Spring? Do it now!
When I was younger, the
Canadian government sponsored a Winter Works programme, whose core
was to exhort people to commission tradespeople and construction
build and repair things during the winter months, which were usually
periods in the construction industry. So, several times a day, the
play a catchy little jingle that ended with the catch-hrase, "Why wait
Spring? Do it now!"
And so you should, when it comes to putting together a
Continuity Book. If one does not exist for the role which you fill
group, start one when you first accept that role. If a book already
you!), then keep it actively updated; add new things as they are
correct the information that was already there. Don’t wait for Spring
wait until your last week in that role, and find yourself hurriedly
bring a Continuity Book up to date for your successor.
Besides avoiding a time crunch, the very actions of
compiling or updating a Continuity Book will help you better understand
role which you have been given to perform. Working with the book may
to the insights that will lead to improved ways of doing things, or
new shortcuts around long-established blockages.
Use the darned
Put your Continuity Book
together (or re-arrange it -- that's why the loose-leaf binder is
such a way that the book can actually be useful. The best test of
whether you yourself will use it. That might mean that the book should
and portable -- perhaps a small loose-leaf book, of the sort that
people used to use before small computers became fashionable. I still
trusty Filofax books -- little leather binders with re-arrangeable
and lots of useful information that she herself wrote, or copied from
sources. Maybe you won't want a set of trigonometric tables, but maybe
calendar of moon phases for the next two years might be handy. Perhaps,
are arranging outdoor rituals, a chart of the likelihood of rain or
snow in any
season of the year would be useful. Witches might want to have recipes
cookies, or incenses, or the like.
You will know that you have succeeded, when you start
using the Continuity Book for refreshing your memory on a daily basis.
Furthermore, the book that you have made, revised and used yourself is
which is more likely to be useful to your successor. That was the goal
very beginning, right?
At a minimum, the Continuity
Book should contain critical reference data that could not be easily
anywhere else. Such data might comprise: mailing lists, or telephone
lists; savings account numbers, the addresses of the credit unions or
themselves. Don’t forget deposit slips. If you are passing along large
files, an index or table of contents to the files would be helpful to
successor. I once 'inherited' 16 rolls of microfilm and a viewing
no index as to what was on the microfilm. After much bother, when I
particular assignment there was an index to pass along to my
What equipment do you need
to do your work? Where is it kept? Who fixes or maintains it? What
parts are interchangeable (and which ones, catastrophically, aren't?).
practical example: where in your kitchen do you keep all the things
need to bake bread?
If you have any specialized equipment, as, for
example, a group that runs a festival might have a button-making
machine, you'll want to include instructions for how to operate and
maintain it, as well as information about where to get supplies.
Keep track of the maintenance status of key pieces of
equipment. If there is a long lead time for ordering and receiving
make sure that your successor is aware of it.
Lists of other
Particularly in the case of
complicated assignments, there may be no easy way to cram all the
into one book. Consider making a reference list, that points to the ten
books which you found so frequently handy. Perhaps there are lists of
websites that are worth passing along to your successor -- be sure to
references, since in that way you give your successor a fair chance of
able to find websites by means of Web archives.
Write down, on one page if
you can, a description of what you do, and how much of your time you
doing it. That will be a helpful reminder to your successor, especially
there are time-management issues.
For complex jobs, consider lists of essential tasks, or
flow charts showing how tasks relate to each other. Don’t forget to
of who the people are with whom you regularly must talk, or work
Make sure that you have provided contact information for them.
If paperwork is part of your assignment, keep some
examples of completed forms. Keep some blank forms, too, in case they
to get (or the agency in question cannot or will not supply them any
Write down vendor lists, and keep notes about prices. If
you have to pay the rent for a rehearsal space, who do you pay it to,
form, and how much is the rent? Unscrupulous people have been known to
advantage of transitions between office-holders to change the terms of
or their amount, to their own advantage.
If you must perform the same
actions each year (for example, putting on a gathering), then
will be certain times and seasons by which, or during which, certain
must be done. Write those times and seasons down in terms of a
perhaps as so many weeks before the event will happen. Enclose, if you
set of calendars for the five years ahead of your year. This will make
easier for you, and your successor, to conduct longer-range planning.
Keep an archive
A gathering's Continuity Book
contains copies of previous years' programme guidebooks,
artwork, and other historic items such as menus for the meal plan of a
what did and didn’t go well. If you can leave your own set of memories
successors, they may find them helpful and inspiring.
Keep track of what you have
learned about your office -- that includes successes as well as
there was a problem, how did you solve it? That's particularly
it comes to recalcitrant things such as computers, or insurance
Make it easy to
Although your goal is to
write down all the useful references for your own ongoing use (and your
successor's use, too), you will surely find that some of the
to be updated from time to time.
Although you can make these revisions in handwriting or
with a typewriter (both being ways that I keep my Filofax book up to
may well find it easier to keep a master copy of the Continuity Book as
computer file, and thus do the updates with a word-processing
long as you have kept each key item of information on a separate page,
becomes easy to update the Continuity Book by revising and printing out
If you are going to use a computer in this way, be sure
to save the data in a form that it can be read, and worked with, by the
computer that your successor is likely to be using. Don't forget the
incompatible software versions -- maybe your successor will be using
software on a smaller, less-capable computer. Various Pagan
organizations have, over
the years, had no end of trouble caused by incompatible computer
storage media. How many of us can still read Appleworks
data off a 5¼-inch floppy-disk?
Table of contents
Although the table of
contents should be the first page in the Continuity Book, it will be
one of the
last pages that you write, since it has to point to where everything is
book. If you try to assemble the table of contents by hand, you can
save a lot
of mindless bother by 'chunking it' out. Perhaps it will look like this:
of Passage……………Orange Tab
and Resources……Blue Tab
updated by Felicitas Ravensnout on July 5th, 1990
If you are using a
word-processing programme to compile (and then subsequently print out)
then it is much easier to make a detailed index, complete with page
that is what you want.
Towards the end of your term
of office, make notes of the actions that are ongoing, all the projects
you have started but which your successor will be finishing. I have
section of established Continuity Books to be the most fascinating of
Consider adding your own notes about how you dealt with the challenges
opportunities which your predecessor left for you to inherit.
Bear in mind that there is no standard format or set
template for a Continuity Book. If you make and maintain it in a way
useful to you, and then you pass it onwards, you will have given a
to your successor.
Let’s get started!
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