My actual talk. Which you can watch on youtube at (along with the rest of the talks from NDF!).

Better decisions through better interactions

I gave a lightning talk at the National Digital Forum in November 2017. This _isn’t_ my talk. Because of time restrictions, I couldn’t make quite these points and still illustrate them, as I did, from our Gisborne District Council project. But here’s my first draft :)

As we’ve heard many governments, businesses and other organisations say, better data drives better decision making. And you can’t improve what you can’t measure.

Time and time again, though, I’ve seen this go awry.

Data isn’t just looking at the Google Analytics for your site or service.

It isn’t just talking to a group of your colleagues and mates.

It isn’t just preaching the wonders of your product or service to the already converted.

Especially not if one works in government.

Because the people for whom government provides products and services aren’t customers.

They don’t have a choice in having to interact with you, generally. They need what you’re providing, or are required to do what you ask, and if they’re unhappy with your product or service, they can’t go to a competing entity (without leaving the country).

It means that government can’t just focus on one set of segments, and leave others behind. Well, it shouldn’t.

[Sidenote: the three paragraphs above are the subject of a much longer rant of mine, which I fully intend to write down soon (I’ve been saying this for years now).]

We live in a democracy, and need to treat people well. Especially in our new, kinder New Zealand.

So, how best to go about this?

It’s an ongoing and complex question, and one that our government — through initiatives like Lab+ — and others are working on.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned through my work with GovWorks, and events like GovHack — the Southern Hemisphere’s largest open data / open government hackathon.

1. Bring people together

People from all walks of life — the old, young, digital connected and unconnected. People from tech, from NGOs, from design, from art, and of course from local government.

This allows them to get to know each other’s possibilities and constraints better, to learn from each other, and to get more comfortable collaborating.

2. Provide a safe space for them to air their thoughts, and hear others’

It’s just as, or more, important to listen to the quiet voices in the room, as to the loud. Make sure minority groups are not only represented, but have a chance to share their views.

We all have different time commitments, and different comfort levels sharing our thoughts. Be kind, and thoughtful.

3. Learn by doing

When we train people in new skills and new ways to think — for example, our work training people in central and local government in modern design thinking and entrepreneurship paradigms — we work through a real challenge they face with them. We don’t stand and talk at them for hours. And we don’t work on hypothetical problems with them.

4. Start small and iterate

Figure out what a simple prototype product or service looks like. Test it out, with real people, learn from it and work to improve it.

And feel OK with leaving it behind if necessary! Experiments are vital, and there’s no shame in one failing. One can learn heaps from why.

5. Keep. Talking. With. People.

Something that turns people off more than just about anything? Seeing their time and effort and thoughts disappear into a black decision-making box, never to be heard from again.

If you’ve made a decision, explain clearly why. Be open to more feedback. Keep telling people what you’re doing, and soliciting their thoughts.

Be OK with showing vulnerability — that way, you’ve a better hope that they’ll stay involved.

And why does that matter?

Better services. Better products. Better policy.