Sticks, carrots & staying sane

An approach to standards advocacy in large organisations

Short paper for OZeWAI 2005

Who is this guy?


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

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 :)


  • Has had a centralised web presence since early 1998
  • In our 2001 redevelopment we pushed to a CSS/table hybrid design
  • In 2002-2003 we went to a full CSS design for all pages we control
  • Framesets aren't valid since valid framesets don't render properly

...not just a disembodied voice!

A photo of me



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.


For this presentation, consider "standards" to be shorthand for all of the things we hold dear:


For this presentation, "standards" 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

OK, so what on earth am I on about? :)

Stage 1

Lone voice in the wilderness


  • 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, although probably not.
  • 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


  • 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 promoting standards. 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


  • 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. It's what you can whack people with if you need to.
  • The bag of carrots: all the benefits you can get from standards, even without caring one little bit about ethics. Carrots are what you can dangle in front of people to motivate them into action.
  • 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


  • 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
  • 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 - make the broad documents into specific guides.

Stage 3

A bunch of happy web bunnies


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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?


  • 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


  • 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.


  • The reality is never neat; but this approach 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


Each of these groups will have different motivations, so you'll need to approach them differently. Pitch the aspects of standards that will be most attractive to each group.

Remember that the moral highground is all very well, but it doesn't really inspire action.





These two groups are quite difficult to approach since they are extremely broad. Content Providers are likely to need Big Stick motivation unless they understand the realities of accessibility and so on. Users

General tips & observations

Be prepared


Be prepared... literally. If you know you're likely to be grilled, brush up on some statistics. Think through the other side's concerns to understand where they're coming from. Be prepared to answer their concerns and arguments.

Unlike me, know how to pick your fights :)

Staying sane

Staying sane



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.

You know those saying about journeys of a thousand miles beginning with a single step? They're popular because they are actually true. But the steps in the middle can be just as daunting. Just keep working at the small, achievable goals and one day you'll turn around and realise just how far you've come.



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.



(This was originally the last slide inviting questions from the audience)

If you have any comments on this presentation, please post them at the 200ok weblog: ozewai 2005 presentation.

© Copyright Ben Buchanan, 2005.