Do we need to better explain what we do?

Last week I was presenting the results of some user testing and prototype design to a group of executives, including senior IT and marketing people.

The session went pretty well (it should have done, the work is robust and very high quality). At the end, the assembled group were pressed for comments. Two of them stuck in my craw:

“Can we be confident the site will work on my blackberry?”

– Hmm, multi-platform, multi-browser delivery of content. Well I’d never thought of that…..

“Is the site future proofed so it will do things like podcasts”.

– Aargh!

I left wondering, how much is it our responsibility to educate our colleagues about our role as webbies in understanding the various technologies, methods of delivery etc rather than just been seen as electronic publishers? And how much is it their responsibility to ensure they are up to date with changes in their working environment?

I’d love to invest a large chunk of my time in bringing people up to speed on the evolving world of digital communications, but I do have a day job too which makes this diffcult in a world of ever tightening budgets and pressures on headcount.

Is it wrong of me to expect others to invest their own time in improving their knowledge? After all, they have busy professional lives too. Methinks I need to divert some of my energies to some internal training….

  1. Jeremy – I think part of the answer is a Personal Digital Coach; I’ve been talking with Lloyd and Nick Booth about this recently.

  2. Don’t get me started on awareness raising! But the issue is more fundamental than being up-to-date on technologies et al. There is the huge cultural hurdle. The new Live-Wiki-Open Source-P2P-crowd sourcing et al world demands they forget more or less everything they have been told about marketing, business, teams and communication. They have to be willing to question their own job titles and career paths. There is a lot at stake. I too have faced questions like the ones you smiled and nodded at. But I think they hide deeper worries and problems that, yes, they should be working through but maybe we need to be doing some webtherapy, so they can Get It.

  3. I don’t suppose you fancy having a go at this, across departments, as part of this: ? I’ve emailed you!

  4. I think you have just encapsulated the problem about media literacy and the adaption of new technologies in general.
    You who know don’t see it as part of your job to explain. The real digital divide is between the keepers of the Knowledge and the Users.
    It’s not surprising that the public find new media so intimidating and therefore don’t use it well for political or social engagement purposes if the designers take your attitude…
    Of course, it also requires a massive effort on the media literacy side and most organisations would rather build groovy websites than teach anyone how to use them.

  5. Charlie

    I disagree. i don’t think the public do find new media intimidating, otherwise they wouldn’t be using it in such huge numbers. Thing is, they are using commercial sites which have to work hard to keep their audiences in a competitive environment.

    the dynamics are simply different in government.

    what I would say to jeremy’s point is that they’re not prepped to listen IME. It IS their job to do some work here but I don’t think that message is getting through. Also IME, a lot of them are already using the web, they just don’t translate that knowledge to work and see things from a customer’s perspective. That’s the nature of being a bureaucrat.

    • alex
    • May 16th, 2008

    I disagree with Charlie’s comment above as it seems a trifle patronising and rather critical of people who are trying to bring about change. People don’t necessarily understand climate change either, but they are trying to buy cleaner cars or wash at 30 degrees.

    This notion of responsibility for self, family, community or career means that in a fast-changing world, folk ought to try to be aware of what is going on.

    Web 2 is not a term that people will necessarily relate to, unless they play, like us, on blogs and other applications.

    Keeping your skills up to date, working on relationships ( human and digital ) might be more relevant.

    Paul has got it spot on. Public sector workers will appreciate being able to buy their car tax from DVLA, but at the same time will not necessarily like sites like patientopinion where people express their views about the state of the local
    NHS hospital.

    To suggest as Charlie does that the designers are arrogant is not persuasive. E-mail is readily adopted by people ; we did not have to teach them. Amazon and Tesco as well. I think my children learnt how to play most of their games on their own as well ( from the age of four or five -ish). These games were called puzzles, cards and more recently War of the World, Rome 42 AD etc.

    The world will whizz by and 50% of UK citizens will see the future ; 50% will not

  6. Hey Charlie, t5hanks for your thoughts. I certainly do think its part of my job to explain, and spend a lot of time doing so. But my issue this time is that it was an internal discussion with people who *should* know better.
    I’m very conscious of our users and how they interact and engage with us online (which was partly the purpose of this project). My surprise was the general lack of knowledge amongst those I didn’t think I had to explain to.
    (P.s. not a designer either).

  7. Hi Jeremy
    I didn’t mean to sound intemperate – I had probably been having problems setting the DVD again….
    Alex is quite right – the real miracle of new media is that within under a decade so many people are doing it for themselves and also that so many organisations have attempted to go online and create spaces where interaction can happen. The fact that there are still problems shouldn’t surprise us.
    We all get frustrated (including you!) but I guess people are not programmed for change, it is a social skill to learn to adapt.

    • Usedtobecivil
    • May 25th, 2008

    I’m a retired and an ex-government manager – and part of my remit covered IT services.

    It seem’s quite simple to me – part of the government’s job is to communicate with the public. To do that effectively it needs to understand how the public wants to receive information and how it digests information.

    That’s ALL the public – from those who are never ever going to receive any information electronically no matter how many e-government initiatives are dreamt up through to those who using the betas for everything they do. Different groups adapt to changes in communication at different rates – and it’s a big challenge – but it’s a challenge for the government and NOT the public.

    The challenge for government communicators and IT professionals is to
    – stay aware of the communication needs and preferences of all parts of the community.
    – remember to communicate in LANGUAGE which people can understand.

    I commented this week on a consultation paper about involving local communities which was written in total government speak. I despair at times whether those responsible for communication will ever understand that not everybody reads they way they write!

    Bottom line – it doesn’t matter what sort of technology you use if you forget how to speak in language which people understand.

  8. @Charlie. No offence taken, those DVD players can be right buggers.

  9. @usedtobecivil. Thanks for stopping by, very useful thoughts. By the way, love the name.

  10. Nanchang says : I absolutely agree with this !

    • Michelle Lyons
    • May 30th, 2008

    @usedtobecivil. I agree that government needs to improve the way in which it communicates with the public and involves them in the policy process. Here at DIUS (Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) I’m working with the innovation policy team to explore how they can work with the public to deliver the Innovation Nation White Paper ( The specific focus of this activity is to engage with online communities that are discussing innovation related issues. This is no mean feat given the subject area but the team is committed to this approach. Presently, the team are being trained on how to use various communication channels using conversational language.

    I believe a strategic approach to internal training that involves communications, press office, IT and policy teams is critical to the cultural change that is referred to in previous posts. Justin Kerr-Stevens (IT), Steph Gray (Social Media Manager) and myself (Community Manager within a policy team) are trying to co-ordinate a departmental training package that highlights engagement as a core function for all officials by which the internet is a medium for this activity.

  11. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Vying

  1. May 16th, 2008
  2. May 21st, 2008

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