Friday, 23 December 2011

Resilient Community Notice Boards

Samples from fictional Resilient Community (RC) notice boards.

The Avenue Transition Club
Hon. Sec. Margo Leadbetter
  • The Pony Club has been doing a great job supplying vegetable patches with manure. Well done girls!
  • I now chair the CO2 Cap and Trade Working Group for The Avenue. We will be visiting each of you soon to calculate your footprint. Make sure you have your gas and electric bills to hand. Please check that you are using a 'green' electricity supplier who generates all their electricity from windfarms.
  • The Floral Arts Club will be hosting a lecture on 'Permaculture in the Classic Herbaceous Border'. I do hope you can attend this exciting event.
  • The PTA is hosting a debate where the motion is "Does the internet have a role to play in schools?", at 7:30 on Friday in the school hall.
  • Does anyone know an expert on beekeeping? Some people in The Avenue would like to start keeping bees and are keen to learn.
  • An expansion of our "resilience capability" takes place on Thursday when there will be a Raku kiln evening at the Vicarage.
  • The Music Society will be performing 'Iolanthe' this year. Audition dates will be announced in due course.
The Show of Hands RC
'Red Diesel' Terry
  • Congratulations to Amy for winning the District under-10's Sharpshooter tournament. Well done to all who took part.
  • Nancy at the forge has had 10,000 downloads for her open source design for a turnip chopper. Congratulations girl. She has updated her rotavator design; people wanting upgrade packs should tweet to let her know.
  • The Khan Academy hub has now been moved to the Church Hall. Get stuck in.
  • This month, Jethro is selling his tomatoes to support Betty's funeral fund. Buy lots and make chutney for a good cause.
  • The webinar from Tora Bora has been fixed for Thursday evening. The topic is "How we learned from the British, Russian and American empires, but still retained our identity".
  • There will be a debate in the hackerspace next Friday on "Tofu has no place in a paleo diet". BYOB.
  • Will the boys using the drone to watch the girls' hockey matches restrict themselves to CCTV. The IR sensor breaches privacy in that situation.
  • First aiders wanting to attend the classes on combat trauma should sign up this week please.
  • The "new" Lister engine is now up and running on cooking oil. Well done girls!
  • The HMRC informer has now been identified. The workshops on darknet currencies will resume next Wednesday.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Quotes of the year; smart buildings, drones, and Europe

  The quotes of the year all came in a bunch just recently. They cover intelligent buildings, automation, and Europe.

The best quote of the year comes from an event I missed due to family commitments (the CIBSE/IBG Intelligent Cities Seminar at the Science Museum), in the opening address by Professor Derek Clements-Croome:
"The building, its services systems and work all contribute to the well-being of people within an organisation. Workplaces need to be shaped for the individual as well as for the corporate culture. Likewise cities affect individuals and communities. Health, well-being and comfort are all important. Intelligent buildings that make up cities have a vital role to play in helping to achieve this by providing environmental systems that support the productive, creative, intellectual and spiritual capacities of people. Yesterday's environments supported mechanisation and extended our capacity to produce goods and products; emergent environments should extend the human capacity to create ideas, visions and inventions.
Intelligent buildings have generally been defined in terms of their technologies, rather than in terms of the goals of the organisations which occupy them. When the user is subservient to the technologies, this usually leads to situations where the technology is inappropriate for the user's needs, which can adversely affect productivity and costs. Besides the building can become too complicated to operate. Intelligent buildings and cities are more than just the technologies they use".

Engineering and hubris do not sit well together. The most irksome example of this has just arrived in IEEE Spectrum. An article by Philip E. Ross advocates unmanned airliners on the basis of the success of military drones. This, just as the Iranians capture a US drone to add to their collection, the  toll of crashing drones continues to rise, and the debate over their civilian casualties refuses to go away. The offending quote is ""Although military robots have proved their flying chops, commercial versions must clear a higher bar". The late great "H" managed to have official MoD documents changed to read "so-called unmanned systems", which is the reality.

The most telling quote appeared recently courtesy of PhraseExpress, which picks quotes from my collection at random to put in the email signature. It was:
Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not so costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance for survival. There may be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no chance of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.” – Winston Churchill

Friday, 9 December 2011

Resilience and global trade

The Ayrshire coast is known for its palm trees. However, banana plants are hard to find, so even committed supporters of local produce have to eat imported bananas. Some parts of the resilience movement seem to have a real down on global trade, and I am not sure why. This antipathy seems to go without question as an unstated assumption, and I haven't found a coherent analysis. Having had the pleasure of working in the shipping community for some years I am aware of a) just how little it costs to move bananas from the Caribbean to Scotland  and b) just how old world trade is. Growing bananas in the warm and transporting them by reefer seems a 'good thing' to me. Why does the resilience movement think it a 'bad thing'? Is it:
  1. Old Western currencies are going to devalue massively and we will not be able to compete with Brazilians in the banana market, so get used to it now. (However, they will buy our tatties because they are so cheap).
  2. Energy costs will spiral upwards and shipping costs will become unaffordable. I can remember life before central heating, but if energy costs reach this level, there will be serious problems.
  3. The banana producing and transporting industrial complex is part of the old order crony corporatism and we don't want anything to do with it. Courses in banana ethics available online.
  4. Scotland is going to become a world leader in banana production, as soon as we have sorted out trams, windmills and bridges. Hold your banana order till then. Scotland exporting bananas to the world will be a 'good thing' unlike other countries exporting things to Scotland, which is of course a 'bad thing'.
  5. We just want to cut down on trade, with no rationale to it. Tatties taste like bananas if you close your eyes. Just get on with it. Yes, we know the history of protectionism is awful, but this is localism, so it is different (huh?).
  6. Any day now, you will be able to 3D print bananas locally, so hold your order till then. Costs of printer cartridges from Taiwan TBD.
There may be some moral merit in 3, depending on your morality, but it would be difficult in practice to be absolutist about it. I cannot see any merit in the other possibilities.
So - what are the criteria for buying local vs. global? Presumably they go beyond short-term economics, but what are they?
(For the literal minded, the McBanana story above is an illustration of a general problem}.

Adam Smith (who was an influence on Ricardo) had this to say on localism / protectionism:
By means of glasses, hotbeds, and hotwalls, very good grapes can be raised in Scotland, and very good wine too can be made of them at about thirty times the expense for which at least equally good can be brought from foreign countries ... As long as the one country has those advantages, and the other wants them, it will always be more advantageous for the latter, rather to buy of the former than to make.” Adam Smith (1776)

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Personal Jottings on Unreasonable Learners at Holyrood 21st November 2011

These are personal jottings, rather than anything resembling notes of the meeting.
Firstly, its existence is welcome. I have been to meetings of this general type, so it seems there is a range of folk in Scotland trying to manage its emergent properties in a productive and worthwhile direction. It was a delight to meet a variety of systems thinkers with different backgrounds and interests but a shared interest in our future. Jim Mather did a great job of organising us, and it is a good sign to have such a senior person getting involved (and using his own software).
The line that policy makers should stop being architects and start being gardeners found resonance. From  my limited experience, that is a 'big ask'. We certainly need to expose policy makers and influencers to systems thinking, and not to restrict it to Vanguard's proprietary approach.

There were some false notes struck on the conditions for change, including unnecessary requirements for pervasive change, and for synchronous change. The use of attractors and safe-fail experiments set out by the Cognitive Edge community are much more tractable. With no disrespect to the meeting, there is also a massive need for facilitator training. Perhaps I have been spoiled working with the folk at Argenta-Europ, but good facilitator training would have huge returns if the participative emergence of a new Scotland isto proceed apace.

Explaining systems thinking is not easy and Gordon Hall gave a clear view on systems thinking for the context of the day. I will swipe his zapping of imaginal cells to keep caterpillars from turning into butterflies. Hopefully our clumping will reach critical mass. Minor nitpick; his selection of management theorists was good, but it would be nice if we could build on Tom Burns' legacy. There good points for action in the talk. Perhaps we need to spell these out more.

Guy Standing was excellent, and had a compelling narrative of our situation. 'Precariat' entered everyone's vocabulary. For an economist, he was remarkably good. I had the privilege to learn from Marie Jahoda, and we could learn from her legacy on positive mental health and the role of work (developed during the last depression) to improve our idea of where we want to go, rather than what we want to avoid. There is work on these lines in Scotland, though I don't know the folk. Some links on positive psychology here, here and here. Incidentally, the aim from GovCamp Scotland was 'an empowered society', which I like very much indeed (despite normally hating empowerment as a word).

The self-image that seemed to be valued was that of a Second Enlightenment. Values came out as important; perhaps we can find a way of using all the Immortal Memories next January as a catalyst. 'Follow the money' as a disruptor didn't seem to get much attention; much of the discussion on schools was very mild compared to say Ivan Illich  of 40 years ago.  Perhaps a series of "If xxx were teachers, they might ..." sessions e.g. geeks really would not understand why primary school language learning is not 1-to-1 over the web with children in other countries while doing something together (perhaps Rangers fans and Barca fans could teach each other's languages?).  xxx = social workers would yield different results, of course. Changing the language of benchmarks and metrics to 'feedback' might be helpful.

This isn't the place for a review of all the changes hitting education (Khan Academy etc.) but the Hive program looks interesting and it had a pop-up in London recently.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Gideon Kossoff on Transition Design

Gideon Kossoff gave a thoughtful talk on Transition Design last night at UWS. I wish I was going to the Shorelines Conference today but have other commitments. Hopefully it is a start towards local activity linked to Transition Scotland.

Gideon had a nice diagram of needs and satisfiers; some similarities with David Squire's diagram (.pdf) for seafarers. There was no discussion of spirituality. It seems to me very unclear that we can make the transition we need to in a secular society. Whether it be a Moon Goddess or a Sun God, history seems to say we need one (even if they don't need us). His domains of everyday life is a useful educational and analytical framework for 'what has been hollowed out'. Less of a guide to action, though.

The main weakness was his fondness for a rural idyll as a model. The case of Ladakh is a good example of why these are exactly the wrong model. Although lovely to look at from a distance, it was completely vulnerable to the forces that Transition Towns are claiming to counter. Perhaps the Transition Town movement needs the Smart Cities hackers almost as much as the techies need a social framework. Wherever we are headed, it is not "back" to anywhere.

He raised the question of how we would define and assess sustainability. A very good question indeed. Every system requires a viewpoint, and the viewpoint for local transitions is still to be formed.

Thankfully, the topic of power came up in the discussion. As a newcomer to Transition Towns, my impression is that they need some harder edge thinking about what to do and where they are headed. Rob Paterson is advocating food as a systempunkt, John Robb is mobilising Resilient Communities with miiu, links to all sorts of open source resources, and serious discussions of currency. Umair Haque is trying to paint the big picture for us. The P2P Foundation is developing a great set of resources. Cognitive Edge  is providing great tools to make sense of a complex world. Perhaps some safe-fail experiments with the Cynefin framework is a next step? Perhaps the very real problems of the Bellisle estate are as good a place to start as any, as a way of starting to build some Transition Designers locally.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Where to start improving usability?

  "Where do I start?" Is an important question for an organization wanting to use the cluster of Human Centred Design (HCD) / Service Design / User Experience (UX). The answer is to 'start from where you are'.
The usability champion can find out what sort of a challenge she faces very quickly using the Principles of HCD. How is the organization doing as regards:
  • A clear and explicit understanding of users, tasks and environments.
  • The involvement of users throughout design and development.
  • Iteration.
  • Designing for the user experience.
  • User centred evaluation.
  • Multi- disciplinary skills and perspectives.
However, this does not tell her where to start making changes at an organizational level. There are basically three options for improving usability at an organizational level.

Option 1 - evidence of outcomes

If the organization has services or products in the market, then get some evidence of real use 'on the ground'. The form of evidence depends on the audience. Wasted money and effort (in design or support) will appeal to the suits. Video works for designers. Top tip; be tactful. I showed video of users in despair trying to use a new, expensive, hi-tech product - to the complete surprise of the design team. I could have been more tactful in my presentation. It was cr1p that needed to be dropped immediately, but if you want to continue working with the team, there are ways of saying it...

Option 2 - Link design and customer development

If you are at the stage of 'the great leap forward'. Then you are effectively in a lean start-up (even if you are in a government department). Steve Blank has some great material on customer development. Use customer development to drive the business viewpoint and HCD to drive the design viewpoint. The two ought to work together perfectly.

Option 3 - Process Improvement

If things aren't really that bad (and this needs a big dose of personal honesty, because it is usually the case that things are that bad), then build on what works with Process Improvement using the Usability Maturity Model (ISO TR 18529:2000 Human-centred lifecycle process descriptions).  Improvement activities can be prioritized into an achievable plan based on business priorities.

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?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Attempting quantitative decision making

Information provision to support car buying is poor to misleading. Most of the models and guides to cost of ownership are inadequate. One of them included petrol at 71 pence per litre. I wish! The nearest to usable or useful is the one at Parkers, but that didn't meet my modest needs. What needs to go into a cost model?
Insurance; not an issue for me, but for young male drivers, insurance costs must dominate. Maybe the meerkats can help, but the car-buying sites and magazines didn't address this. It is a topic that either needs doing really well or not at all. There are two schemes for insurance groups; 1-20 and 1-50, It would help if everyone made it clear which they are using.
Cost of money (between purchase and re-sale); the banker's huge cut between lending and borrowing makes a big difference. If you are borrowing to buy a car, then the cost of money will be an important factor. If you are using savings, then the derisory interest rates on offer is all you are losing. Hard to put in a generic model.
Maintenance and repair costs; the big issue here is non-engine electronics, and the journalists have not got a handle on these yet. Mechanical reliability is almost a given for most sensible makes (certainly all those on my shortlist). The Which? survey showed non-engine electronics as being reported betwen 20% - 40% for cars 4-8 years old, including well-rated cars. Lots of pain and expense there, also lots of uncertainty and difficulty in modelling.
Road tax; for motorway driving, the ultra-low road tax options seem inadequate, so I was resigned to paying more than the £30 specials.
Fuel costs: Fuel has gone up so much lately, it is hard to have a mental model of the benefits of fuel efficiency. Journalists tend to talk in dramatic terms about the topic. Needs some detail in the modelling - especially expectations of future prices. Taking annual mileage of 6,000 and petrol at 133 pence per litre, I got the following. A car at 38 mpg (book figure for the Subaru) will cost about £950 p.a. in fuel. A car at 50 mpg (Honda Jazz perhaps) will cost about £725 p.a.; a range of £225 p.a. - not the dominant factor it is made out to be. Getting estimates of real fuel usage is hard, as the book figures are probably gamed. People on the web report getting 44 mpg for a Nissan Note on a long run. All estimates compounded by the inevitable confusion between odometer distances (10% over-reading) and actual mileages.

All in all, running the numbers on buying a car is not as easy as might be expected. The published guides are misleading by and large.
We called in at the Subaru dealer when shopping nearby. I had not been in an Impreza before, so needed to check the reality. My wife said "It's a very nice car". Foul weather mobility (to help with ageing parents) is going to cost say £150 in fuel and £70 in road tax. Sold.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Heuristic decision making

I am currently digesting Gigerenzer's 'heuristics that make us smart', letting my 'tortoise mind' (Guy Claxton) catch up with my reading. Gigerenzer has done the analysis to show that in situations of limited information, our heuristics (often derided as cognitive biases) actually work better than mathematical optimisation. So, I have been updating my knowledge of qualitative decision support to see how to apply smart heuristics.

Car purchase decisions are the classic examples used for decision analysis, decision support tools. Most such tools are based on Multi-Attribute Utility (MAU) theory. An example of a largely qualitative approach to car buying using bcisive is here. As it happens, I am pondering how to replace my Toyota Yaris Verso. Toyota stopped making them, otherwise it would be a non-decision as I love it to bits.

This post is an examination of a qualititative approach to choosing a replacement. I am currently exploring the ecology of the decision, which sounds much better (and more accurate) than 'thematic vagabonding'.

There is considerable irreducible uncertainty in my requirements. It would be difficult to quantify the uncertainty in the requirements, even with tools such as Analytica. There are some requirements that - if they materialise - must be achieved, but I cannot say whether or not they will materialise. It is easy in this situation to confound likelihood with desirability, and to turn unlikely into Nice To Have. In military acquisition, this can lead to buying kit that nearly fits in a Hercules. Think Defence has a good discussion on this in the context of FRES Scout (near the end of the post) "...because at 30 tonnes plus it is neither strategically mobile as a 15 to 20 tonne vehicle would be, or as survivable as a Challenger 2".The problems of 'design by committee'.
In a qualitative approach, the possibility and cost of a work around can be accommodated.

My exploration to date has used Which? magazine, Autotrader, Parker's, Top Gear, and Honest John. These vary in their 'authority' (likelihood of being accurate) and their transparancy (ability to apply the review to my situation). It would be easier to apply the Which? reviews if I could work out what was behind their conclusions and I had access to the user narrative fragments. Perhaps they need to move to Sensemaker.

As regards options; the first step appears to be one of elimination - removing potential purchases that I would regret. Some rules emerged from a bottom-up examination of options. The possibility of 'the exception that proves the rule' needs to be considered. There is considerable irreducible uncertainty in the assessment of options - particularly as regards the reliability of non-engine electronics (some cars with good Which? scores have a 1 in 3 chance of a failure when they are 4 years old!). John Robb's wiki is starting a section on resilient autos, but a) they are US vehicles and b) their likely running costs look above my comfort zone. Even in number-intensive military tactical decisions, there is still a need for a compelling narrative, which may be based on the elimination of alternatives.

Elimination gets me down to a short list of cars to sit in at local dealers. In the exploration to date, I have found myself using frequency sampling. For example, the Honda Jazz comes up very often very favourably and never comes up unfavourably, turning it into a reference point or benchmark. The next stage of the process may look quite different to the story so far. We'll have to see.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Keyboard ergonomics

An elderly user operating a keyboard, with no gel-filled wrist rest, and absolutely no lumbar support. Bound to affect performance. Watch the video and decide for yourself.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Tests, marketing, user reviews, and user-centred innovation

This post examines user testing, marketing claims, and user reviews for a specific product. In part, it demonstrates the power of user reviews, but it also identifies the need for a more coherent approach "your stovepipes are showing".
The product in this case study is the Philips Sonicare Airfloss.

The marketing claims are mostly "the science bit" with reference to user trials, presentation of technical data, and a claim to authority from 'dental professionals'. How much is such a claim to authority worth these days? A lot less than it used to be, I'll wager.

The blurb also has a real genuine quote from the Philips marketing manager. Wow.

Given Philips' long-standing leadership role in Human Centred Design, I am probably not the only one to squirm at being told it has an 'ergonomically designed handle'; doubtless it sounded fine to the copywriter.

Test data is available in a sixteen page booklet (pdf).
Compared to just an electric toothbrush, or just a manual toothbrush, it was found to be more effective.
A survey of 'irregular flossers' found that they used it (very hard to get the full story from the booklet, and Dave Snowden's concerns about surveys are probably justified in this case).
Some technical tests indicated it didn't cause damage.

Some 'ease of use' tests found it was easier to use, gentler, and gave better access at the back of the mouth than traditional floss. Again, their sample of 'irregular flossers' seemed to have big variation in baseline practice. The numbers and graphs are impressive. All very scientific-looking. However, some way short of pukka usability test data, and very impersonal.

There are 16 user reviews at Amazon UK from members of the Amazon Vine programme (an Amazon initiative to have a set of lead users).

The reviews are generally favourable. See below.

The reviews score over the marketing and test data in a number of ways:
- The reviewers give their specific circumstances, so the reader can relate to them (or not). Brian Shackel said that "ergonomics is part of the price we pay for being unique", and understanding people's specific context of use is invaluable.
- The issues and criteria of importance to the users are discussed e.g. replacement nozzles, perceived effectiveness compared to conventional floss (NOT discussed in the manufacturer's test booklet).
Supposing the test users had been given the opportunity to give and exchange their views in a public(ish) forum; this would give the design team, the marketeers, the potential customers, much better insight into the value-in-use and the Quality In Use.

The approach to product design and marketing is at the good end of current practice. The product itself looks good and I may well buy one. It will be the stories of user experiences that persuade me, not the numbers. Larry Phillips (no relation!) put it very succinctly "You don't run experiments Brian, you help people make decisions".

The gaps between marketing, Human Centred Design, and user-centred innovation need to be bridged and fast. This means people need to get out of their comfort zones e.g. the 'ease of use' testers need to read some evaluation research, and to understand the role of storytelling. If Philips really want to do user-centred innovation, then they need to think about why Amazon has the lead users.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Crowdsourcing electronic maps

Still room for improvement, on my experience.

Google maps had all the streets in our area wrong. In September 2009 I went through a laborious process to advise Tele-Atlas of this. The other day (just 620 days later), I received an acknowledgement that they had acted on it. Click to enlarge.

A less than inspired piece of customer experience, I think you'll agree.

The Reference ID states they have acted on it.

However, a look at Google maps with a 2011 tele-atlas copyright shows no change.

Multimaps (now Bing) still has it right.

(Openstreetmap doesn't have any of the streets as yet - perhaps I should have spent my time helping that). This looks like a suitable application for 'gamification'.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Risk assessment - taking the red pill

The simplicity of the basic 3 x 3 risk matrix gives it considerable appeal to operators at the sharp end, managers and regulators. Indeed, considerable effort goes into Tayloristic management and tailored regulation to produce simple work situations that can legitimately use such as basic approach to assess and act on risks. People away from the sharp end need a richer language - better social objects - to characterize risks, and to define strategies for dealing with them. This post notes some alternatives to the matrix. First, though, the matrix for those that are unfamiliar with it.

The IACS Guide to Risk Assessment in Ship Operations (pdf) gives a typical example:

Astonishingly, the US Dept. of Homeland Security thinks that Human System Integration risks for maritime security can be characterized by the matrix. (Malone et al., 'Human Performance in Maritime Security', HPAS 2010)

Flynn et al set out three types of risk. The matrix relates to their Type 1 risk: "While there will be a margin of uncertainty attached to an assessed risk, that margin is statistical and reflects the sample size and the variance in the two key variables. The assessment itself is grounded in evidence already available and furnishes a "rational expectation" that applies so long as the conditions on which our current knowledge rests remain unaltered."

For Flynn, "Type 2 is associated with taking decisions, when the consequences lie in the future and may turn out to be different than expected. Here the uncertainty is not merely statistical and current knowledge is not sufficient to be a guide: we are on the verge of the unknown. For instance, there is a dilemma for business that current market demand may alter should fashion change or should failure of supply raise price. In this context, organisations employ risk management, in order to have contingency plans."
The obvious framework to "help people make sense of the world so that they may act in it" (Dave Snowden) is the Cynefin framework.

There are risk-specific resources that could be used in concert with Cynefin.
The International Risk Governance Council distsinguishes four risk types in its white paper on risk governance (pdf):
- Simple risk problems.
- Complex risk problems.
- Risk problems due to high unresolved uncertainty.
- Risk problems due to interpretative and normative ambiguity.

The German Advisory Council on Global Change published a report (pdf) with what might be considered risk archetypes. These are discussed by Ortwinn Renn and colleagues in an article here, addressing complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity and ripple effects.

These archetypes from Greek mythology provide rich social objects to discuss risk. Well worth reading (and using). Click on the graphic to see it properly.

Flynn's Type 3 risk "is about neither rational expectations nor contingency plans to deal with the unexpected, but about what people perceive to be assured threats. Many governments today are claiming that "global terrorism" is an assured threat. Regardless of the probability of a hazardous act of terrorism and whether we have contingency plans for dealing with the unexpected, terrorism will, they claim, inevitably occur at some time and in some place that could be unknown. The obverse of "assured threat" is the Panglossian view that that "all is for the best in the best of possible worlds""

Charles Perrow has proposed that we (as society) set limits on consequence size, regardless of probability in 'The Next Catastrophe'. Lee Clarke, in 'Worst Cases' has proposed that society take extremely unlikely worst cases seriously.

How do we deal with people who have taken the blue pill and insist on using the matrix? Difficult. There is an unfortunate precedent in the rise and fall of management accounting described by Johnson & Kaplan in 'Relevance Lost' . However, for those of us who have taken the red pill, there are some well-supported approaches that help us cope with complexity.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Design fail or user error?

Two packaging fails, or is it two user errors by me?

First, some vitamin C tablets from Boots. Orange and white packaging. I assumed they were orange flavour.

Silly me. Obvious really, they were blackcurrant.

Two tins of paint next to each other on the shelf at B&Q. The right colour. I picked them up.

Painting started with two people, each with a tin, at opposite ends of the room. Paint didn't quite look right in the middle. Aha! One silk, one matt (see - at the bottom of the tin. Obvious really). Is this user error? Could B&Q have put the silk on the shelf above the matt?

Could Dulux have put all the information I needed on the label? Or is it me?

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Risks for engineers

The Engineering Council recently published guidance on risk.

The Working Group has packed a great deal of wisdom into eight pages. Proposing sensible wisdom as formal guidance to engineers constitutes a major change from risk management as currently practised in many places. If the outcome is successful implementation of the guidance, then that will represent real progress. However, the publication represents a major step that is itself fraught with risk and unintended consequences. This post examines some of them.

Delightfully, it includes the word 'ergonomics', for which many thanks are due to Reg Sell. The particular wording "consider the role that ergonomics can play in mitigating the risk of human error" is a compromise many ergonomists would accept only with considerable reluctance, since it reflects an outdated and negative view of how accidents happen (e.g. see Sidney Dekker's writings). The clause also highlights the difficulties of writing well-intentioned guidance, since there are many sectors of engineering with mandatory (or effectively mandatory) requirements to use (rather than consider) ergonomics. In my experience of talking to engineeers, most of them are blissfully unaware of their obligations e.g. under the Machinery Safety directive.

My reading of the scope of the guidance is that it goes well beyond engineering competence thresholds such as E3, C3. Indeed, asking a technically-based engineer to meet these guidelines seems well beyond reasonable for the engineer, for her employer, or for society. It is hard to see 'addressing human, organizational and cultural perspectives' as an engineering competence or responsibility [such perspectives are already in BS31100:2008. It is not obvious why they have been put on the engineer's desk]. Given the engineer also appears to be responsible for monitoring the Twitter feed (as part of principle 6), she is going to be a busy girl. A footnote saying THESE GUIDELINES CAN BE MET ONLY WITH THE FULL INVOLVEMENT OF HUMAN SCIENCES IN A MULTI-DISCIPLINARY TEAM would probably be enough. Or is this supposed to be a move to post-normal engineering (cf. post-normal science)?

There is the risk that the existence of these guidelines, in the absence of more specific material on implementation, puts the responsible engineer at risk in a post-accident situation. How is an engineer supposed to reconcile an obligation to ALARP with John Adams' evidence-based rants and Lord Young's idea of common sense? 'Challenging'. Courtroom hindsight will leave plenty of room for debate e.g. when are procedures 'over-elaborate'?

High-level management gets a mention - just. Governance does not. The word 'business' does not., nor does anything to do with finance. The references to open reporting and culture are fine, but these are often unlikely to be within the purview of an engineer - for example, one looking at a $100M shortfall in maintenance on a petro-chemical plant. What support is the Engineering Council going to give in such situations? My reading of the guidance is that it is putting the engineer in harms' way, rather than out of it. How are Vince Weldon situations to be addressed?

At a more mundane level, the principles should toll the death knell of the clerical approach to tending risk management databases. Given the scale of vested interest behind such an approach, engineers trying to end the atomised treatment of risk registers will need some serious back-up, and it is not obvious that the standards and regulations cited will do that.

The list of useful references is a single page, and I am sure there is a long wish-list on the cutting-room floor. My wish-list item would have been IRGC material - in particular, their Risk Governance (.pdf). Firstly, what is being asked for in the Engineering Council guidance is more at the level of governance than management. Secondly, the IRGC knowledge characterisation of types of risk problems seems very powerful, and could be readily implemented using the Cynefin framework.

The document is a missed opportunity to support lost opportunity risk and innovation. It would not really have helped the Nokia smartphone team in 2004 when their anticipation of the iPhone was turned down. The 'safe' option of high-level management doing nothing needs to be changed. This is discussed at the Argenta blog here.

Finally, it is as well to remember that “The Engineering Method is the use of heuristics to cause the best change in a poorly understood situation within the available resources”. Billy V. Koen

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Government and the web - Order and Complexity

Events at Fukushima have highlighted the interface between government bureaucracy and web-enabled networks. Alexis Madrigal has raised the question of trust and access to information, pointing out that crowdsourced data could act as a useful resource. He has highlighted the Kickstarter project for crowdsourced radiation monitoring

In the same time-frame but a different context, Alberto Cottica's resignation post talks of the difficult interface between bureaucracies and networks.

"Kublai’s story seems to be representative of a tough problem in public policy: administrations find it hard to manage the interface with the online communities they collaborate with – even if they originate them ." He talks of the mismatch between Weber bureaucracies and web-based networks.

This mismatch is usefully seen within the Cynefin framework as the need to move between the complicated domain and the complex domain.

Lee Clarke discusses the interface in 'Worst Cases'. He doesn't use Cynefin, but the mapping is pretty clear:
"Concentrated, high-technology systems are more prone to catastrophic failures than others. Charles Perrow's book 'Normal Accidents' shows that many of our most dangerous technologies actually require centralized organizations to function properly. Nuclear power plants, for example, simply can't be run by anything other than a highly secretive bureaucracy that's utterly dependent on expert knowledge. That's fine when everything is going well, but when things start to go badly people in highly centralized organizations have a hard time recovering from cascading failures, they have a hard time learning from their mistakes, and society has a hard time looking inside of them to regulate them properly.
An estimated five hundred thousand people left Manhattan on 9/11 in one of the largest water-borne evacuations in history. How did that happen? Barges, fishing boats, pleasure boats, ferries, all manner of watercraft carried people to safety. It wasn't driven by an official plan. No one was in charge. Ordinary people, though terrified, boarded the vessels in an orderly way.As a rescue system, it was flexible, decentralized, and massively effective.
What does this mean we ought to do? It means we should eschew the centralization of disaster resources in large bureaucracies. Such centralization actually increases vulnerabilities, because centralization is more likely to create systems that don't fail gracefully. It means officials should see the public as an asset in disaster planning and response, rather than as a hindrance. People can generally handle bad news if they believe they are being dealt with honestly and with fealty. It means that local citizens groups should be involved in setting policies. Above all, it means that important choices should be made in a more open and transparent manner. This will necessarily entail inefficiencies and irrationalities, but that is of little consequence in the larger scheme of things.
I'm recommending that we foster preemptive resilience. "

Amanda Ripley has stressed the value of some training for the ordinary citizen rather than putting all training effort into specialist emergency services.

Another viewpoint, compatible with Cynefin, is the Competing Values Framework. Value Based gives a good summary .

Competing values and reforming public management (.pdf) by the Work Foundation introduces the Competing Values Framework (with some unnecessary modification) in a public management context and has a helpful discussion of UK public sector reforms using the framework.
The government-network interface is between the inward-looking control oriented Internal Process values and the outward-looking adhocracy of Open Systems. These fundamentally different value sets are at the root of issues around 'Big Society' and much else.

Several of the Fukushima resources have been built using social networking technology aimed at supporting people during a crisis. For example, a general site for people developing crisis-related internet resources is and Google have developed . Example sites related to crowdsourcing Fukushima-related information include:

Optimistic update: There have always been government hierarchies with operating procedures that can cope with complexity. For example.

If you think that reporting during incidents should be left to 'professionals' and crowdsourcing might be irresponsible, try this.

Second optimistic update: the story of safecast is well worth reading.

Patrice Cloutier has a good piece called Capability Based Planning: the Canadian perspective and my reaction.

Great graphic from Gerald Baron. (Click on it to see it properly).

And last of all as usual, the end-user. Chief Bill Boyd has an excellent blog.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Ergonomics and intelligent lighting in intelligent buildings

I went to the Masterclass held by the Society of Light and Lighting yesterday. Really very very good; six good speakers, with several outstanding. Do try to catch one of the remaining events.

Lots on LED technology of course.

The design driver is reducing energy use. One aspect of this is matching the provision of light and lighting to user needs, including not putting light where and when it is not needed. New technology is allowing people to do smarter things with luminaires, offering new ways to place light and dark.

Smarter control is coming, offering all sorts of benefits, if the user need can be understood and converted to control signals. This change brings all the problems of modern digital control systems with it. New user interfaces and interaction possibilities. There may be issues with maintainer skill requirements. There will be many types of user who will need something close to 'walk up and use', or who may bring expectations from different buildings with them. The number of user types is quite long (e.g. for energy audits, for checking emergency lighting, for refurbishment planning, as well as living and working in the building). Maintaining ease of use through-life may prove challenging. The role of the integrator is set to grow. The aspirations of the builder and the owner will continue to have potential conflicts - possibly more so. Post-occupancy evaluation will become more complex, and of course the internet will change interaction between users and other stakeholders.

Regulation is prominent on the scene, with the attendant unintended consequences. As a fast-moving technical field, it is developing an alphabet soup. Lighting Energy Numeric Indicator (LENI) BS EN 15193 is likely to be important. Standards are developing, notably Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) IEC 62386.

There is a crying need for some standardisation of user interface conventions. Sectors that considered corporate design 'style' to be more important than user needs and lived to regret it include telecomms and road vehicles. Clearly, over-standardisation will kill innovation, which would be terrible at this point, but there must be a number of basics that could be standardised to support walk up and use. Perhaps some sort of consensus could be allowed to emerge with semi-formal support using wikis etc.

Many other sectors have 'gone digital' before buildings. Most of these have assumed that 'good engineering practice' and common sense will see them through the change. By and large, this has not proved to be the case, and ergonomics has been brought in late to cope with failures in design or operation. It would be heartening to see the intelligent building community employing Human-Centred Design (HCD) in a structured fashion without having to do it the hard way. I would not presume to explain the principles of HCD to Frank Gehry, but there will be many occasions when specialist input may prove cost-effective.

Update: This customisable floor plan switch is the sort of thing becoming both possible and necessary.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Making CAD become Computer Aided Design

CAD could become Computer Aided Design and support decision-making without too much trouble these days. However, it has to stop being Computer Aggravated Draughting dominated by the manufacturing viewpoint, which might present difficulties to some of the long-standing legacy CAD systems. Stakeholder viewpoints should be just that.
It is well-established that the way information is presented affects decision-making. Current CAD systems do not help most of the important decisions. Lets look at some examples, using a simple model of a ship's engine room with 2 x diesels, a control console, nominal box-shaped ballast water treatment, nominal emissions treatment on the exhausts. The model is extracted from a ship model, 'Imperva', by Lazy J, for which many thanks. Click on the pictures for embigment.

First, everything in a CAD model looks neat, perfect, finished. This could be fixed quite simply so that we know what is mature and what is still at sketch design.

Colour is traditionally used for system codes to reflect the organization of detailed design. This structuring principle may be irrelevant to a design review. The figure below uses colour and texture to indicate the maturity of the design to focus the decisions being made. The emission control is still pretty flakey, and is not ready for review. The engines have been decided, and are pretty much cast in stone. Both are in low-attensity colours. The items under review are the control system and the ballast water treatment.

Now to disrupt object-world thinking (Bucciarelli), converting the model to something like a cartogram. This is breaking 'attribute dependencies'.

Here, the size of the object does not represent how much space it takes up. It represents how much budget it takes up. The colour represents cost risk. The salience of the ballast water treatment box and the control system have increased, reflecting their importance to the customer's wallet. 'Distorting' size in this way seems heretical, but I think that is just habit. Proportional scaling should be entirely feasible. The design team might not like it; In my experience, spaces such as this are designed on a volumetric basis. Get the big bits in, add the middling size bits, then shove in all the little bits you can. The CAD model supports that viewpoint and does not ,say, challenge space / cost trade-off.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

High-Tech Winter Ergonomics

Positive user experience report on high-tech ergonomics for the winter.

Even though there are still weather concerns from Piers Corbyn, I am putting the snow-clearing kit back in the shed. I tried some high-technology aids during the cold spell. They worked well. This is my personal experience report, rather than a scientific ergonomic analysis.

First up, d3o - an amazing material. I bought a pair of 'total impact shorts' for each of us. I did not fall on the ice for test purposes, but subjectively, the d3o looks like it would give real protection in a fall on the pavement. I'll be buying a hat for next winter. Hip protection for the elderly could do wonders for A&E, if we can avoid risk compensation.

Next, shoes for crews. I have two pairs; a formal pair for meetings and a pair of trainers for pottering round the village. Subjective impressions support the data of very good slip resistance. Trying them on sheet ice and frozen snow, they were better than Vibram soles and much better than ordinary shoes. The nature of the sole made me wonder about their wear resistance. Too soon for a definitive judgment, but there are no signs of rapid wear to date. The local council now seems to use grit rather than salt, and the grit gathers in the soles. The shoes brought in lots of ice and grit; not a problem if you take them off at the door.

Lastly, the Uniqlo heattech base layers seemed to add real warmth and are remarkably cheap.

Please add your own winter ergonomics in the comments. We have plenty of cold winters to come.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

A way ahead for the Nuclear Renaissance?

Anne Lauvergeon’s recent lecture at the Royal Academy of Engineering included a 'call for a more streamlined approach to nuclear new-build safety regulation in Europe, labelling the need to meet different criteria in 27 separate licensing regimes an “exhausting exercise”'. She said: “It seems to be a national affirmation of authority. It would be easier for them to establish common rules.” Even if Europe adopted a common set of rules, this is still a regional matter in what is now a global industry'.

The current situation presents difficulties for the regulator as well as the builder. For example, NUREG/CR-6947 'Human Factors Considerations with Respect to Emerging Technology in Nuclear Power Plants' includes the following:
"The “Plant Design and Construction” topic is a relatively new consideration. With the rapid advance of technology, a more focused approach to this aspect of the design process, especially in minimizing human errors that impact aspects such as software design and plant construction, may be warranted. Our results also have implications for the NRC’s current HFE-related regulations and design review guidance documents. There are at least three aspects of the current guidance that should be evaluated further:

  • First, the wording of the regulations and guidance often reflects LWR technology. However, non-light water reactors are viable candidates for near-term deployment, as well as longer-term Generation IV designs. Thus, changes will be needed to address non-LWR designs.

  • Second, the regulations and guidance reflect current concepts of operation used in today's plants. For example, the current definition of crew member roles and responsibilities reflect the staffing approaches used in older, less automated plants. Another example is that safety monitoring reflects current approaches and LWR technology, such as in the safety parameter display system requirements. Some new plants may employ new concepts of operation and implement new technologies that may not fit the current review criteria.
  • Third, the HFE review process and its guidance may have to be modified to accommodate new design and evaluation approaches, such as the use of human performance modeling for HSI evaluation in place of data collected from actual operations crews. The current review guidance is based on a systems engineering process that itself is changing as new design and evaluation methods and tools become available."

Some of these difficulties may originate in the relatively isolated nature of the nuclear sector. Looking to what has become mainstream in other sectors may provide part of the way ahead. Using mainstream fashionable career-enhancing tools and methods helps to attract the 'A' team (to be seen most dramatically in software, where projects with outdated languages struggle to attract talent). Making greater use of Systems Engineering would help to meet the challenges of new designs.

The Case-Argument-Evidence diagram above hopefully conveys the logic. Process standards are based on ISO/IEC 15504:2004 Information technology – Process assessment. They support Process Improvement and Capability Evaluation. A process is not a mechanical thing. Jim Moore defined it as 'a collection of responsibilities', which emphasises the two important aspects; an owner and an outcome.

The relevant standards are:
[ISO 31000:2009 Risk management – Principles and guidelines. This is not a process standard but offers the ability to trade a wide range of risks and opportunities]
ISO/IEC 15288:2002 ‘System engineering – system lifecycle processes’ This is perhaps the key standard.
ISO TS 18152 ‘Ergonomics of human-system interaction – Specification for the process assessment of human-system issues'
ISO/IEC 12207:2008 'Systems and software engineering – Software life cycle processes'
ISO/IEC 20000 'Information technology – Service management'
ISO/IEC 15504 Part 10: Safety extension

The standards would need tailoring, and technical supporting material for the nuclear sector.

The nuclear renaissance poses a challenge and an opportunity. Moving to (mainstream) process standards would be difficult, but the alternatives do sound worse.

Update, in response to off-line questions and comments:
Are process standards really the mainstream? Yes. If you were to take the experience from the CMM and SPiCE communities it is massively bigger than the alternatives.
Quoting the defence sector isn't a recommendation as they can mess things up. Well, they don't get everything wrong, either.
Is HFI / HSI inherently reductionist? To be the subject of a later post, when I have read 'The Closed World', but I think the philosophical answer is yes, alas.
Are these standards just a minimum? No. Process assessment scales range from 'not at all' to 'Optimised'.
Do these standards have enough scope? Yes, for the process part of triangulating with performance and product characteristics.
Is there an umbrella HFE/HFI standard that will provide a comprehensive, integrated process? Coming. ISO 26800 Ergonomics - General approach, principles and concepts
How do we address the full use of operating experience? To be the subject of a separate post on the Argenta-Europ blog. Not a solved problem.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Usability, utility and value

A friend asked around for a simple usability rating scale for use by seafarers. We recommended John Brooke's Simple Usability Scale based on fond memories and its reputation. Fail. Didn't measure utility (e.g. the radar is easy to use but it has awful performance). Oops, sorry. This failure spurred me to develop rating scales for effectiveness, efficiency, safety and satisfaction for Quality In Use (QIUSS pdf). I realised that this does not include any consideration of value for money, however.
[For reference:
Usability is the extent to which a system, product or service can be used by the target population to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context.
Quality In Use is defined as: The degree to which a product used by specific users meets their needs to achieve specific goals with effectiveness, efficiency, safety and satisfaction in specific contexts of use.]

I found a very interesting set of exchanges between Graham Hill and Irene Ng on twitter. They were discussing value in a way that seemed relevant to HCD, so I butted in to see what I could learn. This post is where I have got to, in the hope of feedback to help me along.

I treat economics with the same suspicion as a Nigerian heiress. Systems economics ('The Origin of Wealth' by Eric D. Beinhocker) links value to entropy, which is a bit too grand for me. I struggled to find a useful connection with value-in-use or exchange value. As so often, the Austrian School came to my rescue with some clarity.

"Man chooses to use scarce means for various alternative ends. The ends that he chooses are the ones he values most highly, less urgent wants remain unsatisfied. The ends can be ranked on a scale of values, or scale of preferences. These scales differ for each person, both in their content and in their orders of preference; and they differ for the same individual at different times."

However, there are marketing phrases such as low-value customer, where the value is that to the supplier rather than the customer, so I am sure I 'm not there yet.

To summarize, usability or Quality In Use relate to the achievement of a worthwhile goal by a user (or customer) with an emphasis on the achievement. Value places the emphasis on the worthwhile as observed (rather than reported) - how much is achieving this goal worth in terms of time, effort, goats and blankets, or risk to self. Much of value seems to be the same as a usability goal in ISO 9241-speak.

For UX, HCD people and marketing, investment people to play nicely together, usability, utility and value need to be understood by all. Preferably we should be able to translate between them so far as can be done.

Is this right?

Update: Wim Rampen has started a three-part series on the future of marketing, including Service Dominant Logic and its approach to value-in-use, which argues that "value is created when a customer consumes or uses a product or service. Value therefore is not something you add in the process of manufacturing, nor is value something that is released when a product or service is sold.

Update: Don Norman has talked about the link: “’No, no, no!’” He added, lightly mocking product designers and usability experts everywhere. “’We don’t do that evil advertising stuff. We’re not doing evil marketing. We’re simply finding what people really want, and we’re providing it for them.’ Every six months, though, we provide new wants. Come on, what’s the distinction between that and what marketing does and what advertisers do?”