Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Thoughts on GovCamp Scotland 2011

Zach Tumin provided more than enough inspiration for the day. He seemed to be a real person (unlike some other US inspiring speakers) and gave thoughtful answers to questions. I hope he meets Karyn McCluskey on his visit to Scotland, to supplement his comments about Bill Bratton.

Colin Adams from Edinburgh University gave us our aim, which is an empowered society. The success he has with  "come to Edinburgh University and don't get a job" reminded me of this post 2.5 million looking for a job in the UK - while a billion Chinese look to start a business.  Astonishingly, one of the speakers said "workforce", a word I hadn't heard since the 1970's, and certainly of no relevance to the 21st Century.
Craig Turpie of StormID had very sensible words on citizen-centred government services.Alison McLaughlin, from Sopra Group seemed to say that she delivered systems when they had no idea of the context of use. If true, I hope she does this in her own time.

Some of the major false assumptions in public service delivery were stated as though they were universal truths, including 'economies of scale' and 'shared services'. Some of us haven't been following John Seddon!There also seemed to be the risk that structural reform would be seen as a priority rather than a distraction.

It may be that changing the language would help. "Service delivery" encourages a producer-driven inside-out view of the world. "Collaboration" implies a number of people working towards a shared goal. I am sure that there is much collaboration informally at the front line, but it probably happens in spite of 'the system' rather than because of it. I sensed that a good many speakers from the public sector had not recently walked a mile in their customer's shoes. The guy from WISE in the Public Sevice Delivery breakout (sorry, the  published information on speakers etc. is very limited and I didn't make a note of his name) highlighted the rarity of 'providers' actually listening to those they are charged with helping. I have seen the huge gulf between service providers and customers in the private sector. It is very easy to fool yourself into the false belief that you are doing a good job.

Demographic analysis is probably useful for electoral analysis. However, it is much less useful when developing personas for service delivery. Clay Christensen has explained this very nicely in his 'Milkshake Marketing'.  There was too much use of stereotypes of 'young people' and 'the elderly' for comfort.

Presumably from US Microsoft influence, there was much talk of 'leadership' and 'vision'. It would be a shame if Scotland were to be constrained by the artificial confines of US management-speak (particularly when it is not supported by evidence-based management). Some proper systems thinking, Cynefin-based sensemaking, etc. etc. would be much more effective.

I put in a question to the Public Service Delivery breakout, which was well discussed, for which many thanks. The question concerned bridging the divide between the producer-driven hierarchical, ordered, planned, targetted world of the public sector and the networled, emergent, collaborative, complex world outside. An interesting article on this topic is here, and the P2P Foundation has a well-thought academic item here.

So, lots of good intentions at the moment, and we know where they lead. I recently contributed to a book chapter on usability in government systems, and used quotes from reports of ten years ago, that would have made a big difference if they had been acted on. For example, Stevenson and Gibson wrote an excellent publication on user feedback in 2002. I would be very interested to know how things have progressed since, into the age of social media.

Scotland has a terrific community of usability professionals, both in academe and in practice. How do we engage with the good deeds associated with the Digital Participation Charter?

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