Something that surprises me about organisations with the scale and resources that Microsoft has is their unwillingness to do user testing in any form. This intrigues me because user testing neither takes that much time nor costs that much money. It’s a great way of finding out what your clients think about your current product, how they use it, what they love and what they hate, how they may have customised it and what additional features they may want it to have. For example being able to access and use files on multiple devices powered by different operating systems.
Indeed in Microsoft’s case, they should have an endless array of data and other user feedback flowing in daily. Yet they are still capable of absolute clanger releases, like Windows Vista, and irritatingly annoying releases for power users, such as Windows 8, Office 2010 and Office 2013.
‘User testing’ is community engagement in different clothes. All of the principles that should be applied to one should also be used for the other.
Current New Zealand equivalents of Microsoft Corporation include the Ministry of Education, for its Christchurch school closures, and the Electoral Commission, for its review of MMP. Both different in terms of the processes they may have used, but united in successfully annoying large numbers of affected or interested parties by delivering Sub-Optimal Outcomes™.
From an engagement point of view, the Electoral Commission’s review process for MMP was sound, right up until the end. A problem was defined, information was gathered, decision criteria developed, alternatives identified and evaluated – with a useful amount of engagement at each stage. This well intentioned and executed process collapsed at the last step when elected politicians decided to overturn what emerged. An outcome like that erodes the trust and confidence that should be an integral part of any engagement exercise. People may be less willing in future to participate in similar processes, no matter how well those processes may be run.
Christchurch school closures weren’t so much an engagement exercise as a means of trying to sell a decision that had already been made behind a veil of Clayton’s Engagement. Post-earthquake Christchurch is a very different place to what may have been there before and all manner of change is necessary to create a viable and dynamic Christchurch for the future. State-funded schools are clearly part of that change.
An engagement process could have worked with affected Christchurch communities (of place, interest and practice) to define the problem, establish decision criteria, then develop and evaluate alternatives, with any decisions made being led by that process. There would still have been dissenting views. Life is like that. Even the best run engagement process cannot eliminate those. But I believe that there would have been a much greater appreciation and ownership of the problems that needed to be resolved.
Yes, such an engagement process would have taken time and cost some money. But that would have been much less than the costs of dealing with the outrage after the announcement of closures was made some months ago, not to mention the hostility and distrust that will exist the next time the Ministry of Education rides into town.
Do it once, do it right. I learned this lesson from my Dad many years ago. He taught me how to fence. No, not with swords and face-protection. With posts and wire. As I discovered, even if that fence was in a back gully that may only be seen once a year by whoever was rounding up the strays, if it wasn’t erected to the requisite standard, it had to come down and be re-done. Properly. Sloppy short cuts are hard to unlearn, and if repeated on a roadside fence in full public view, are not good for the reputation of the fencer responsible. Or that of their father.
Dad had learned that lesson from his father. Either of them would have made a great CEO for Microsoft Corporation.
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