Web age

July 26, 2011

The earlier posts on service usage (particularly e-service) and the web obviously struck home in a few cases by the number of re-Tweets, thank you all). I’d already started digging a little deeper, academically speaking, since despite the number of pages in them both the Fujitsu and the Race Online 2012 reports were a little lightweight.

The first call is to a near-classic (2003) paper entitled “User Frustration with Technology in the Workplace“, which as it says is more about office applications than strictly public-facing web pages, but surely the same rules apply, except in spade-loads? In the experiment reported in the paper users were found to waste more than 42% of their time when trying to use a computer. Some of this would be down to hardware and software failures, but that just adds to the frustration of anyone needing to use a web site, and is equally likely! The paper concluded that interface design was a major problem and resolving it required user involvement. A big issue was also found with unclear wording, regardless of user population and from my own experience I know (and I’ve done it myself) digital illiteracy compounds this – spellcheckers and even grammar checkers should be employed as a default, and the wording checked by someone unfamiliar with the operation being described. The paper also points to card-sorting or other methods of prototyping, along with the long-extant guidelines on error messages.

A more recent (2011), and publicly available paper is by Arthur G. Money, Lorna Lines, Senaka Fernando and Anthony D. Elliman and comes out of Brunel University. “e-Government online forms: design guidelines for older adults in Europe” reports research done for the European Commission. Since this is a research project for the EC a nifty acronym has been developed – DIADEM (how much of the three years did that take?) but the 23 DIADEM guidelines will have a general applicability without the necessity of an application, since they provide a useful checklist for developers.

Whilst there is a drive to develop websites taking into consideration the cognitive changes that occur with ageing, and whilst this may potentially have a specific bearing in some cases, there is going to be no harm in using these guidelines to encourage all ability users to use e-forms and web sites.

Getting on

July 6, 2011

Race Online 2012 has just published a new 38 page report with the title “Getting On – A Manifesto for Older People in a Networked Nation“. Working in a community with an older demographic, the report came at the right time for me to circulate amongst the service managers who need to design web pages with that in mind.

The report identifies the clear benefits for older citizens in use of the Internet enabling them to save money and effort by picking and choosing online when shopping, and reducing the need to travel. A lot of the content is repeated and I lost track of the number of mentions of the 5.7 million people who are offline, but on the positive side there figures such as that 10% of Internet users in the UK are over 65 and that they actually spend longer on the Internet than any other age group.

The report has also split the older population into three groups – ‘traditionalists’, ‘hesitators’ and ‘highly supported’, with the unfortunate recognition that the traditionalists at 43% are probably going to present the greatest challenge to get online.

Whilst the government is obviously keen to get as many people using self-service as possible, the carrot is that the technology also extends into life-long learning along with increased independence and well-being by the use of the communication tools.

The technicist manifesto

July 15, 2010

The 12 July 2010, with a bit of a fanfare at 10 Downing Street, saw the launch of  ‘Manifesto for a Networked Nation’, the current output of Martha Lane-Fox’s Race Online 2012.

Initial thoughts are that although the pdf is only 2Mb, the maps on its central pages may make many a printer unhappy, as may the variety of colours and sizes of fonts affect anybody lacking a taste for concrete poetry. I’m also concerned that a document claiming support for accessibility and inclusivity (sections 9.1 and 9.2) dares use such a mix colour and seriffed fonts as to be almost psychedelic. On top of the visual abuse, I could also challenge some of the English language abuse within the text, but I’m off to a bad start already…

OK, my sympathies are with the intent of the report and getting more people online. However, whilst getting them to use government services online may save government some money and buying  goods may save the user some money, along with demonstrating the skills they’ve developed, what are the benefits?

The Internet has massive benefits as a medium of communications, I rarely get a pen out and write a letter these day, when a quick email suffices. Information (of all sorts, including the bad, sad and dangerous to know) is at my fingertips. However, I would anticipate that it’s still may not be everybody’s garden of earthly delight and some will always need a mediated guide through some of its hazards. The dangers of phishing, viruses and incorrect information are probably far too advanced for many potential users, as can be seen by the numbers caught out in the assorted scams that plague netizens.

I would also question at a time of cuts, redundancies and uncertainty how MLF expects local authorities, charities and others to now launch out and support a government initiative when they are struggling with maintaining services? OK, we believe from Socitm research that 80% of councils restrict their employees’ access to the Internet but someone needs to convince them this is not risking the other pieces of government guidance such as child protection and access to the government secure intranet (the document has frequent mentions of the DWP – home of Government Connect!)

Now for another moan. In large print the report on page 14 states, talking about the Internet, that “it was an Oxford graduate who created this significant invention”. I presume this refers to Tim Berners-Lee inventor of the World Wide Web, whilst I was always under the impression that we could blame the Internet on Vint Cerf, a graduate of Stanford. I wonder if the information was sourced upon some of the dodgy data on the Internet?

To broaden the thinking and possibly add some robustness to the debate, I’d like to present a couple of quotations –

In an interview Oscar A. Ornati, Professor of Manpower Management at New York University (quoted in Deming 1986, p.198) states that:

“We have forgotten that the function of government is more equity oriented than efficiency oriented. The notion that we must be “efficient” in the same way in both sectors is fallacious. For government, efficiency must be subsumed to equity. If we do not keep equity in the forefront of the public sector, we will destroy our society. It is unfortunate that we tend to lavish so much praise on management specialists who laud the techniques of private sector management in the public sector.”

Deming, W. E. (1986). Out of the Crisis, M.I.T. Press.

 In a joint Parliamentary and industry report, EURIM (2008, p.2) confirms this:

“It is too crude an approach to seek savings simply by replacing face-to-face services with Internet access to services that might engage more time-poor citizens. Many of those in most need (at least 20% of the overall population and a majority of the elderly) are physically unable to use a conventional screen and keyboard, even if they wished to.”

EURIM (2008) “How to Achieve Citizen-Centric Service Delivery: Let the People Speak.” EURIM Transformational Government Dialogues 8, http://www.eurim.org.uk/activities/dialogues/TGD_IntegratedReport.pdf.

Digital participation

March 2, 2010

Following on from the UK’s Digital Britain White Paper is the National Plan for Digital Participation announced today. At 61 pages or 121 paragraphs it’s not a quick read but is fairly condensed and over half of it is annexes.

Without delaying for analysis I did a quick search to see if  “participation” meant anything to do with “democracy”, having seen a lot of the e-government agenda emphasising the golden age of citizen involvement through the Internet. Fortunately this report does not try and pull that one out of the hat and instead is largely around getting the digitally-disposessed online, with which I can’t argue.

I now look forward to the slightly oddly named Race Online 2012 challenge, which no doubt every local authority will be taking some part in?

Digital conclusion

October 20, 2009

I found out quite by accident, on Tuesday 20th October 2009 at the Local CIO Council at the Cabinet Office,  that the long forecast PWC/Martha Lane-Fox report on Digital Inclusion had hit the same tables we were sat around on the day before, and after a bit of digging here it is on the Race Online 2012 web site.

A quick glance and no surprises, and I can’t same I’m impressed!