Sticks, carrots & staying sane

An approach to standards advocacy in large organisations

Who is this guy?

Notes

[Meta note: I did not read all of this out on the night!]

At the risk of looking like an egomaniac, I'll briefly talk about myself so you know where I'm coming from!

  • Web Standards Developer on the Griffith University corporate web team.
  • My role includes drafting policy, setting standards, performing site/product evaluations and providing other standards advice to other teams within Griffith.
  • I coordinate a knowledge sharing group called the Systems Design and Development Community of Practice which is not dissimilar to WSG.
  • I am also on the Division of Information Services Equity Committee.
  • BA (Journalism & Philosophy)... so, I have a communications background.
  • Worked as a copywriter before moving into web development.
  • I taught myself extremely bad HTML back in 1996, posted my first rant about bad web design within two years, did my first paid web work in 1999 and went full time at Griffith in 2000.
  • In my spare time, for fun, I do websites. Apparently I need help :)

Topics

Notes

This presentation draws on my experiences at Griffith over the past five years; together with the benefit of swapping battle stories with other standards advocates.

All of this is strictly IMHO. YMMV and other acronyms. But I do believe it.

Context

Notes

  • Tonight I'll be primarily talking about advocacy within large organisations, where a standards advocate can really feel like they're pushing rocks uphill!
  • I think the processes and methods will apply in many ways to smaller organisations and businesses.
  • In fact smaller groups are likely to go through the stages more clearly and hopefully faster than a large organisation.
  • Standards are a big factor in the public sector, where there's no profit margin or revenue increase. Resources are finite and invariably budgets are shrinking.
  • On top of that, public sector comes under extraordinary scrutiny in terms of accessibility and efficiency.

"Standards"

Notes

"Standards" in this context is a shorthand term for a set of complementary guidelines and techniques.

The five stages

The stages of being an advocate in a large organisation:

  1. Lone voice in the wilderness
  2. A few lonely voices, a big stick and a bag of carrots
  3. A group of happy web bunnies
  4. Can't keep up with demand for carrots
  5. Can't remember where you left the stick

Stage 1

Lone voice in the wilderness

Notes

  • With luck you won't be the only person with an interest. In a large org, look to the following:
    • Equity committee(s)
    • Disability support services - most unis will have a dedicated section, even if it's small.
    • Legal may know enough to add clout.
  • Organisation often has little or no formal policy in these areas; or it has enough to satisfy the lawyers but no real outcomes.

Stage 1 Goals

Get standards on the radar

Notes:

  • Firm up the support of the most sympathetic people first.
  • You'll need a few key managers on your side so you can spend the time and resources on this. Also, any key decision makers will help.
  • You need some form of policy to back up everything you recommend later. Accessibility may be law, but then it's also illegal to tape your favourite TV show. People will look to more immediate sources for instruction.
  • Broadly but quietly open the topic in your organisation.
    • Speak at group gatherings (even five minutes will do)
    • Get items into newsletters/emails
    • Whatever works in your organisation!
  • If you can't speak to the group, then you'll have to find other ways of contacting the group. Perhaps get an email or newsletter article out there, run a lunchtime information session, whatever is available to you.
  • In some organisations you might want to keep things quiet until the policy is in place - use your discretion.
  • No matter what, this is not your Big Push just yet.

Stage 2

A few lonely voices, a big stick and a bag of carrots

Notes

  • A few lonely voices: the small number who are motivated by pure standards enough to act as advocates
  • The big stick: policy in place, making standards a requirement.
  • The bag of carrots: all the benefits you can get from standards, even without caring one little bit about ethics.
  • You got standards on the radar in the previous step, now's the time to start really pushing the message.

Stage 2 Goals

You need a posse

Notes

  • You need a posse - you need to increase from a tiny band to a large group.
  • Win over the most motivated developers
    • Show them the benefits of standards
    • Will talk more on this later...
  • Start a knowledge sharing group
    • at Griffith we have a "Community of Practice". it's informal, it's fun and it's productive like nobody's business.
  • Operationalise the policy
    • Get the procedural documentation in place

Stage 3

A bunch of happy web bunnies

Notes

  • At this stage you have a core group of people who are committed to some level, whether zealots or even if they're just a little keen.
  • You have established policy and procedure, although you may still need tutorial-level information.
  • It's easy to lose a bit of steam and sit back at this point. You've done some hard yards and you find yourself in a room full of people talking your language, but you're really only halfway there.
  • You have to get good intentions to transition into actual results.
  • Thankfully it's not just you anymore.

Stage 3 Goals

Infiltrate and take over

Notes

  • You might not want to tackle the really hard cases at this stage. It's an old saying that you have to crawl before you walk; and it holds true here. You're probably going to be busy enough without getting into a really big fight!
  • Exemplar: something to really show off the benefits of standards.
    • One thing I did was an in-house newsletter for my division. I did as clean a style as possible; then added a stylesheet switcher to visibly show the print version. People thought it was really cool.
    • More recently we created a PHP-driven alternative to a crappy Flash-based site, both using the same XML backend. The client has just decommissioned the Flash site, having realised the sheer cost involved in updating the Flash versus the speed and near-zero cost of updating the PHP site.
  • Depending on your organisation, you may still be maintaining Big Push mode through this stage.

Stage 4

Demand for carrots goes bezerk

Notes

  • At this stage, the mode goes from push to pull. You might get caught out when it happens :)
  • A key pointer that you're in stage four is if you start getting asked for your input at the start of projects, not the end.
  • You'll also get people wanting to know how to test something, instead of just asking you to test it.

Stage 4 Goals

Maintain the energy

Notes

  • Content providers: once you've got the techies onto standards, you'll have a better chance of getting better content from authors; or you can start putting requirements onto them.
  • You need the techies to know what to do with it first, otherwise authors may not feel there's any point.

Stage 5

Where's the stick?

Notes

  • The final stage is basically reached when people just don't think about it anymore.
  • It just becomes part of the way people do things.
  • To be honest, at this stage it could be seen as theoretical! I'm not sure any large organisation has reached this stage yet.

Stage 5 goals

Update regularly

Notes

  • Retrospective work:
    • Retrofitting older sites
    • Converting old, bad digitised material into better material

It's neat. Too neat.

I know, life isn't as neat as that.

Notes

  • The reality is never neat; but this appraoch gives us a framework, a roadmap.
  • It helps us grasp that we are not stuck going nowhere, even on the days when we can't see direct results.

Target groups

The people you will ultimately need to convince

Notes

  • Managers
    • Top-level management will need to sign off of policy
    • Middle management will need to operationalise policy
  • Developers
    • They are a key group that will actually make things happen.
    • They will probably have to change the way they work.
    • They probably won't use their training budget on your say-so.
  • Training staff
    • Your trainers are your friends - they can teach the newbies the right way to do things.
  • Marketing
    • Usually set the corporate identity and content standards.
    • Want things to look really good.
  • Content providers
    • Need to be educated to hang on to alternative content like scripts, transcripts, etc.
    • Need to understand the medium
  • Users
    • You will need feedback
    • You may need to educate them about taking control of their user experience

Managers

Motivations

Talk about ...

Notes

  • Don't forget to show them how an XHTML page will work on their Palm Pilot - it gives them something nifty to show other managers.
  • Beware of their habit of looking for quick-fix "silver bullets"!

Developers

Motivations

Talk about...

Notes

  • Can be the hardest group to win over, since they may feel like your imposing rules and tampering with their work.
  • Some will be confident in their methodology and overal superiority.

Training staff

Motivations

Talk about

Notes

  • Stability: they can teach XHTML for a long time yet
  • Concepts like semantics apply to everything from web development to long Word documents and desktop publishing packages.

Marketing

Motivations

Talk about...

Notes

You don't have to get your marketing people on side... but trust me, it's a lot easier if you do.

Content providers

Motivations

Talk about...

Users

Motivations

Talk about...

Staying sane

Notes

  • If all else fails, go to the pub or tend bonsai or something.
  • Kerplunk kerplunk... Any Red Dwarf fans in tonight?

General tips & observations

Notes

Stats

  • The ABS estimates 20% of Australians have an ongoing disability (according to official definition)1 and this is backed by worldwide estimates of 10-20% of any modern country's population2.
  • Forrester study for Microsoft found... 60% of working age computer users [in the US] benefit in some small or large way from assistive technology.3

Footnotes:

  1. Andrew Arch, presenting at OZeWAI 2004; author of http://www.w3.org/WAI/bcase/benefits.html.
  2. Dey Alexander, Monash: Understanding Accessibility (http://deyalexander.com/presentations/understanding-accessibility/)
  3. Forrester Research: Accessible Technology Market Research, for Microsoft (http://www.microsoft.com/enable/research/workingage.aspx)

Specific arguments

Notes

  • People often need to have examples given to them which make them immediate. eg. Talk about acquired, temporary disabilities like a broken arm. Something thay can imagine happening to them.

Footnotes:

Specific arguments (cont..)

Notes

Footnotes

  1. First Rule of Usability? Don't Listen to Users (Alertbox)
  2. Everyone's "problem"... see: Who's Responsible? | the 200ok weblog
  3. Bruce Lindsay Maguire v Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games: The web site is the respondent's site. ... All relevant matters in relation to the site are within its control.

Specific arguments (cont..)

Recap

Notes

Let's quickly recap...

Five Stages

  • Don't grind yourself into the ground trying to do everything at once.
  • Don't expect the entire organisation to progress at the same rate.
  • There is no silver bullet.

Target groups/motivations

  • If the moral highground was a strong motivator on its own, charities wouldn't need to advertise. Especially in the workplace, "doing the right thing" only motivates a very small number of people.
  • Remember that we are passionate, committed standards advocates; whereas most of the people we will be pitching to are committed to something else. We care, they don't. Some never will.

Questions?

Can I get a copy...?

Other questions...

© Copyright Ben Buchanan, 2005. www.200ok.com.au