Tuesday I attended CodeFest in Ottawa. Put on by the Treasury Board of Canada, it was an inspiration. Yep, you heard me correctly I used a government department name and the word inspiration in the same sentence. It was attended by a variety of web practitioners from various govt departments.
A little background info:
I’ve done contract work in most government departments since the late 80’s. I began as a typesetter for Statistics Canada and saw the growth of desk top publishing and saw us grow out of internet by the minute. I remember having to go get a coffee while I waited for a webpage to fully download. Yep, I’m over 40 folks.
Over the years I have shared in the public’s frustration in traversing through the red tape and trying to get information from their web pages both internally and externally. I hear ya people!
I specialized in Media Relations in the 90’s and as a communications writer and strategist lo these many years I have spent far too many hours in search of statistics, forms, releases, white papers, contact information and the like. Only to end up dialing the dreaded 1-800 number to be misinformed as the operators rarely had solid navigational knowledge of the departmental websites. I know you feel me right?
Within one department I would see all different layouts, couldn’t find anything and from one click to the next I could end up at an entirely different level of government and then the dreaded “Cannot find requested page” or “Page not available”. Ugh!
It would be easy at this point to digress into well justified rant on the amount of tax payers’ dollars I’ve seen wasted in the last 25 years as our administrative leaders sought efficacy and continuity of image etc but we really need to move on to Tuesday at CodeFest.
Today’s industry catch phrase or “Phrazzy du Jour” if you will is…… wait for it…..
USABILITY! TA DA!
Now, one would think that a good web developer is of course well versed and somewhat of an expert on usability. But when you consider the sheer number of developers contributing to the layout and content of our governmental websites it only stands to reason that each one would have their own opinion on what will work to meet the needs of the customer be it internal or external.
Up until Tuesday I would have happily joined you in a bitter jaded well warranted rant on exercises in futility. Could you in your wildest dreams ever imagine the Treasury Board of Canada being innovative, consistent and fueled by the brilliant youth of Canada? Could this be a dream where I wandered out of Invest Ottawa, past the delicious aromas of Little Italy into an administrative utopia?
I don’t normally blog on at this length but I must tell you of this wondrous new found WETland in Canada.
We enter just after lunch into what seemed a generic dull humourlessly decorated cavern of a work space. But wait, there were pods of people gathered in groups all sporting laptops; giant screens on the walls with Twitter feeds, code demonstrations, style guides and the like. There was a hubbub people. There was a buzz of anticipation and solutions. Each pod devoted to a task and a goal. Code was a-flyin.
As I walked around eavesdropping and asking the occasional question I noted heightened energy and an eagerness, if not an absolute thirst for ideas and solutions. But unlike many other government events and brain storming sessions (thou shalt not committee) the answers were actually in the room! I kid you not.
Accompanied by Robin Sauve of Bamboo Branding, we were privileged to meet and chat with fellow Nova Scotian and one of the organizers extraordinaire Laura Wesley. She explained succinctly and with great enthusiasm the goal of easing the burden on the users/customers of government websites both internally and externally.
I interviewed a few other people from the RCMP and Industry Canada about the goals for attending CodeFest. Their eyes were alight with an excitement not normally attributed to our pre-conceived notion of a “civil servant”. There was confidence in the success of this unifying mission. There was hope that the momentum would continue in the development of consistent code for all. The tools they needed were well within their grasp and they were all excited to take this knowledge back to their offices and get down to it.
It did not have the standard flavor of an over committee’d (yes I know it’s not a word) and administered process necessary for effecting change for better access to information. It was fresh fast thinking led by greats like Mario Bonito of Transport Canada, a charismatic leader in web development; and William Hearn of Statistics Canada.
So although I was deeply concerned that there were few representatives of government departments with greater corporate knowledge to ensure translation from the WETlands to implementation to meet the needs of the customer, I was still inspired. But that’s a content issue for the future.
This is clearly an opportunity to reduce the number of verbally abusive frustrated calls to the 1-800 lines asking poor operators where the heck to click for a contact name, an email address or a specific form.
So from this Harper’s continued adventures into that other Harper’s team effort to give us an administrative hand, I bring tales of hope, greater knowledge and a respectful faith in our younger leaders of government innovation.
Yep, I said government innovation…. And it only took 25 years.