Interesting elsewhere – 30 September 2013

Things which caught my eye elsewhere on the web

    Words
    At its heart, web design should be about words. Words don't come after the design is done. Words are the beginning, the core, the focus.

    Start with words.

    Nate Silver on Finding a Mentor, Teaching Yourself Statistics, and Not Settling in Your Career – Walter Frick – Harvard Business Review
    The thing that’s toughest to teach is the intuition for what are big questions to ask. That intellectual curiosity. That bullshit detector for lack of a better term, where you see a data set and you have at least a first approach on how much signal there is there. That can help to make you a lot more efficient.

    Are you motivated or getting something done? | Clear message
    At work we often see a lot of people and organisations re-tweet, write or in some way help to promote our policy engagement projects, but the numbers are rarely proportionate to the number of responses we receive or, if I’m honest, meaningful engagement. In the time it takes people to help promote a project, they could have contributed directly themselves, which would probably be more beneficial all round.

    danah boyd | apophenia » eyes on the street or creepy surveillance?
    Urban theorist Jane Jacobs used to argue that the safest societies are those where there are “eyes on the street.” What she meant by this was that healthy communities looked out for each other, were attentive to when others were hurting, and were generally present when things went haywire. How do we create eyes on the digital street? How do we do so in a way that’s not creepy?  When is proactive monitoring valuable for making a difference in teens’ lives?  How do we make sure that these same tools aren’t abused for more malicious purposes?

    Our blog | We Love Local Government – Tales from the NHS
    All of this could have been avoided if a little common sense had been demonstrated at any moment along the way. Instead, a lot of people were employed implementing a pointless process, lots of money was spent on temporary staff and more importantly the quality of care for the patients was damaged.

    If ever there was a situation that demonstrates why the NHS is seen as a failing bureaucracy this is it.

    Is this a reason some council and NHS scandals stay hidden for years? | Campaign4Change
    It appears that those who write board reports for public authorities feel an obligation to motivate and inspire, to leave the reader feeling good, to clothe bad news in layers of good news, omit it altogether or put it in the appendix hardly anyone reads.

    Is this one reason so many outsourcing and NHS scandals stay hidden for years?

    Matthew Butterick: The Bomb in the Garden
    The web has al­ways been great for mak­ing in­for­ma­tion free, and ter­ri­ble at charg­ing for it. And that’s a tech­no­log­i­cal flaw that’s ex­ist­ed since the be­gin­ning of the web. So from ear­ly on, folks took this lemon and tried to make web lemon­ade by latch­ing onto the be­lief that ex­po­sure mat­tered more than money.

    Does this sound fa­mil­iar, de­sign­ers? “This project’s go­ing to be great ex­po­sure.” It’s nev­er true. It’s nev­er been true. It’s nev­er been true on the web. But it be­came one of the web’s core re­li­gious beliefs.

    The prob­lem, of course, is that in­for­ma­tion wasn’t ac­tu­al­ly free. It’s just that no one want­ed to pay for it. But some­body had to. So we’ve end­ed up with what?

    We’ve ended up with a web dominated by advertising.

    The trouble with calling people trolls | Ben Proctor: digital skills for resilience
    Some behaviours are difficult, time consuming, troubling or irritating. That’s not trolling. In fact it is really important that citizens are able to behave in exactly these ways with manifestations of the state. As public servants we should be asking ourselves why citizens feel the need to act in these ways.

    If we bandy the term trolls around (in a public sector context) we risk dismissing those who are, entirely legitimately, challenging state power and equating them with those who abuse individuals for expressing opinions online.

    The Three Individuals Your Organization Needs For Innovation | PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT TECHNOLOGIES
    There is an answer to the innovation challenge: engage your brokers, role models and risk-takers to push the organization. Take an informal look around your organization: search for where connections and links are being made between areas of operation and expertise; see if there are visible, authentic champions of innovation; and watch for strong, well-prepared risk-takers pushing boundaries. If you are finding these kinds of activities, your organization fosters good innovation, and is in a prime position to push some boundaries.

    Government and the internet · Patrick Collison
    Over the last two decades, tension between government and the changes caused by the internet has been a recurring theme. Today, they’re almost seen as opposing forces. This is somewhat strange when you think about it. Most technologies don’t cause so much ongoing upheaval.

    Why is the internet so challenging? I decided to make a list of reasons and came up with 11. Though none of them are very novel, I found the catalog interesting. (For one thing, I expected fewer.)

    ThinkUp – Is advertising the only way to change the web?
    The arguments for directly charging users are pretty straightforward, and they’re all grounded in a simple principle: It’s better for the web if a site or app is more accountable to its users and community than to its advertisers.

    The appealing-but-falsely-reductive phrasing of this idea is “If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product”, which is fun to say but has been persuasively refuted. But the more important question may be, can we build a business that is structurally and financially more accountable to its users and community, with advertising being used primarily to help reach a big enough scale to have meaningful impact?

    Iteration doesn’t mean getting better every time | Martin Wright – a friendly web designer
    Iterating on something, whether it be a product, a design or a process doesn’t mean getting better every time. There is no guarantee that every iteration will be an improvement over the last, but over a longer timeframe you will see significant improvements.

    Schneier on Security: Restoring Trust in Government and the Internet
    In a world where everyone lies to us all the time, we have no choice but to trust blindly, and we have no reason to believe that anyone is worthy of blind trust.

    How to be strategic in local government
    Being strategic is not big and clever. If you want to improve the lives of service users just saying things about the arrangement of words on a page isn’t enough. It is harder than that. You need to be smarter and more resilient because the job is messier. You need to get out into the actual work and find out what is going on, warts and all. You need to understand what problems people have, what gets in the way of staff solving them and what you can do improve things. Neither the documents nor the strategic prattle will help you with that.

    Don Norman on Wearable Devices | MIT Technology Review
    If simultaneous task performance is so deleterious, why do people maintain that they can do it without any deterioration? Well, it is for somewhat the same reason that drunk drivers think they can drive safely: monitoring our own performance is yet another task to do, and it suffers. The impairment in mental skills makes it difficult to notice the impairment.

    10 Rules of Internet – Anil Dash
    Any new form of electronic communication will first be dismissed as trivial and worthless until it produces a profound result, after which it will be described as obvious and boring.

    Stumbling and Mumbling: Cutting waste
    Governments cannot reduce "waste" merely by increasing efficiency. Even in the private sector, remember, efficiency increases not so much by individual firms becoming more efficient, but by firms entering and exiting the market. If governmental efficiency is to increase, it will have to be through a similar mechanism – the government exiting from some functions and rethinking how it provides others.

    Metrics for government reform – Nesta
    In judging a programme of reform it's therefore vital not to mistake what is being assessed. So in the earlier examples – new devices or actions – evaluation can be very rigorously quantitative and often fast. There is no excuse for not measuring impacts; not using plenty of control groups; not feeding results fast into decision-making.

    For the later examples – that are more strategic – all of these tools for assessment risk becoming vices rather than virtues. Then you need complex judgement; a sense of history and context; and above all, the time and space to interrogate those judgements. The conversations prompted are likely to be as useful as any written outputs.

    Edge Perspectives with John Hagel: Strategy Made Simple – The 3 Core Strategy Questions
    In increasingly turbulent and complex times, we understandably fall prey to a dangerous temptation – both as institutions and individuals. We’re tempted to abandon long-term strategy and fall back on rapid adaptation as the only winning game – sense and respond quickly enough to events as they occur and everything will be OK.

    GOV.UK – why are we still struggling to convince some stakeholders and civil servants? | digital@BIS
    We know the site is constantly iterating and big things like search have been improved but something is missing. What are the user needs of civil servants or partners? When it won the Design of the Year award recently, why did the site get a sneer rather than a cheer?