Children are the best teachers…

One of the many joys of having young children is that they can teach you so much – how to enjoy simple moments, how to express yourself through dance and how to skip along to just about anything. One of the most interesting areas my children teach me most in is about how human behaviour has changed around the use of technology.

The look on my sons (7 & 5) faces tells me so much when I try to explain that when I was their age, or even a bit older – I had to wait over an hour to “hopefully” load a computer game called manic miner on the ZX Spectrum.  For them it seems to take “forever” to wait for Angry Birds or in fact any game that shows the words “loading” on the screen before you can play it….Oh and the fact trying to explain that I had to use a “cassette tape” to load the game is even more amazing…You’d think I was almost from another planet.

I personally notice this more when my children interact with my mother – not that my mother is technologically ignorant, but I do notice the difference in the language my children use and the expectation they have around specific devices or situations – e.g. every phone is assumed to have a touch screen and is connected to the internet.

A  recent example of when my children made me laugh as well as taught me a new perspective was when my youngest son Finley, who is 5 years old, came home from school one day and walked up to me as said:

“You know on the computer at school, the screen you go to, to ask questions and find things, that is called google” he then did a little dance and then turned back to me with a big smile and said “google, that is a funny word isn’t it” and continued his little dance accompanied by a very infectious giggle.

One thing I don’t think I’ve ever done is actually think about the word google…listening to my son, got me thinking that actually it is a funny word, but up until then it had only ever meant “search” to me….

Another example was when my oldest son Ewan, who is 7, started telling me some very interesting and quite detailed facts about sharks, whales and other sea creatures.  When I asked him if he had found these out via google or the internet, he replied “No Daddy, I didn’t use the computer, I read it in my Ultimate Book of Knowledge”. This made me chuckle at first, I must never assume anything, also it was naive of me to think that the only place children learn is the internet – books, yes real printed books, play a very important role in the development of children (as my school colleagues and library colleagues would testify)…As a parent, I have to let my children help me understand where the balance is…

Sometimes we have to remember that not everyone see’s the world as we do and that we stand a better chance of communicating with people if we start to appreciate the world as they see it and understand how particular things could play a role in that world.

As I say to my children often, everyday is a school day.

Joined up to Mashed up

Joined Up Government  – what does that really mean?  I know what it implies, that we are all disconnected and need something to bring us together…

In it’s most basic format and in the web context, i would say that it includes a “deep link” from my site directly to content or services in another site, instead of there homepage. We will all recognise that as common sense, wouldn’t we?

As part of the work i am doing in my council to redevelop and redesign the public facing website – i have proposed a new website framework moving us toward a “mashed-up” future.  Joined up will still play a role, but in a different context. Deep links will no longer mean the same thing and it will be moving us toward a platform that can deliver the content you want directly to your personalised web front end or in my example the council’s web framework (or homepage)

OR we could open the applications/content/services up to 3rd parties who would also be able to deliver them into personalised web front ends or their websites

My view is that, i need to ensure that my councils online services and information is accessible and deliverable in as many formats and medium as possible.  I also need to ensure that we are efficient and effective and provide a professional service.

Joining up with other councils creates a relationship and a reliance that is not always supported or sustainable. It also creates a forced structure on how we should join up information and services, putting increasing pressure on us to get these links right in the first place.  WHY? because we want our citizens to have a great online experience……that does however assume that i know what these citizens are after, each and every single one of them.

When i last checked our web stats (we use Google), we had just under 300,000 visits for May and 305,000 visits for June (not bad for public sector websites), so who are these people and what do they all want to do on the site.

This was causing my head to turn around and i have always been puzzled as to the real validity of web stats, but i see the value and i saw an opportunity.

Don’t build a single website to meet all of the individual expectations, provide a platform for all of individuals to create their own experience and providing our services and information are useful and usable and good or even great online experience.

This is how people seem to be using social networks to create an individual view. The public sector can learn a huge amount from this approach.

We first have to get past the need to deliver non -critical information to our citizens but information we are judged on in terms of communications, performance and reputation. Still some work to do, but we have started the journey none the less.