I, Daniel Blake

I finally got round to watching I, Daniel Blake this weekend. A film directed by Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty, which very deservedly won Outstanding British Film at the 2017 BAFTAs. In light of heightened political opinion following the election, there is so much that could, and has already been said about this heart breaking film. The social housing crisis; dependency on Food Banks; and sanctions use in the Department of Work and Pensions are instantly recognisable as features of the current government’s continuing policy of austerity. However, for me, the social commentary that struck home most was my bread and butter: digital literacy and digital access.

“You have to apply online sir.”

Throughout the film, the government’s Digital by Default Service Standard is big, brash and in your face. Introduced in 2014, the original 26 criteria points of Digital by Default were introduced to encourage those with digital access to do so. In it’s latest rendition, the service standard sets out 18 criteria for digital teams to follow, when producing the digital formats of the most used government services, e.g., registering to vote, managing your taxes, claiming a carer’s allowance, etc. Contact telephone numbers are online, assessment forms are online, Universal Jobmatch is online. However, the GOV.UK website specifically states: “Assisted digital support is an integral part of any service, helping users who can’t complete the service on their own.”

The reason for the introduction of Digital by Default Service Standard is simple: it saves the government money, and it saves the citizen time. Paper-based services are generally more costly in administration time than digital, and on the whole, digital provides a much more readily available and accessible solution to paper-based services for its users. Going digital saves on staffing and processing costs, whilst also opening up the possibility for easily maintained reporting, data and performance analysis, and user satisfaction monitoring. However, as with all things, there are user barriers that must be considered.

“Right, can you give us that ‘coz with computers, I’m dyslexic.”

No two users are identical. You’ll forgive me this broad brush over a fairly technical issue, however, anyone who has worked on the production of a digital solution to one which was previously paper-based, knows user stories or user profiles are usually (and should be) coming out of your ears by the time the initial analysis for the project is complete. Without comprehensive analysis of a user base, a solution will always lack something, for someone.

This presents as a double edged sword, and is often partly responsible for the improvements, and later variations of a digital service, during the life of said solution. Where a digital solution isn’t already present – understanding of a user base, and collection of data to be used for intelligence is often very difficult. Imagine trawling through a year’s worth of Jobcentre paper applications for Jobseeker’s Allowance and trying to make some semblance of sense from these without digital.

To put this into perspective, consider the latest from the Office of National Statistics from January to March 2017: There were 1.54 million unemployed people (people not in work but seeking and available to work). That’s potentially (and for the sake of this argument) 1.54 million users of 1 government service. 1.54 million people that need to be considered and thought about when designing a digital process and solution, which allows the claimant to make a claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance. Do claimants operate differently depending on age, education, disability, literacy level, postcode, previous employment, digital literacy, digital access, whether or not they have dependants living with them…the list is endless. And without a database with very many rows and columns to query, producing a once-size-fits-all digital solution is a very hard gig.

Zero digital skills. As is the case with the character Daniel Blake, digital literacy is not a given. In the UK, with an aging population, it’s safe to assume that there are citizens who will need to use a government service, who are unable to use a computer. Coupled with high WIFI fees and a state pension, you may also have a user group without access to digital. Is it enough to slap “Assisted digital support is an integral part of any service, helping users who can’t complete the service on their own.” across the GOV.UK website, and assume that this box is ticked?

Providing for disabilities. No two persons with a disability are the same. Therefore particularly careful attention, and a wealth of knowledge needs to be applied when designing digital solutions for persons with a disability. Assistive solutions are often helpful, but costly. Advances and updates to assistive solutions, even more so. User monitoring and review is absolutely paramount in providing appropriate services, and all too often in the past, users with a disability have not been considered, when designing processes and software to support these. It is often assumed that a person with a disability will be a dependant, and therefore will be supported by a carer or family member. This simply, is not the case. Southward, in What Does Digital by Default mean? sums this up rather succinctly: “If you enter the digital world then ensure your interface is based on user requirements and not built for businesses. Navigation is vital, especially for users with impairments.”

“I’m just going round in circles.”

It’s all a bit negative this, isn’t it? But it’s worth considering, and it’s worth debate. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution to digital literacy and digital access, and I tip my hat to anyone working for a more comprehensive and accessible Department of Work and Pensions.

The next time you use one of the Government’s services, consider how you would have gone about it: without online access; without having the physical ability to type or write; without being able to read; or having never used a computer before.

 

Sources: I, Daniel Blake. (2016). [DVD] UK: Sixteen Films | GOV.UK | Digital by Default News | Southward, I (2014). What Does Digital by Default mean? (https://www.arrkgroup.com/thought-leadership/what-does-digital-by-default-mean/) |Lawton, R (2015). Digitising public services in the UK: An introduction (https://www.arrkgroup.com/thought-leadership/digitising-public-services-in-the-uk-an-introduction/) | England, A (2015). Putting the User First. Manchester, Arrk Limited.

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Book Review: Essential Thesaurus Construction

Vanda Broughton’s book Essential Thesaurus Construction is a great introduction to the thesaurus. Gleaning material from the MA in Information and Library Studies course that Broughton teaches at University College London, the volume provides an insight into the principles and practice of thesaurus construction, as well as providing broader application principles for vocabulary and retrieval tools.

Outlining the difference between a thesaurus used in information work, and a thesaurus providing synonyms and antonyms, Broughton provides a basic manual in indexing tools for both LIS students and practitioners alike. Highlights include: classification schemes; special thesauri; building and maintaining a thesaurus – structures, hierarchy and software.

 

Broughton, V. (2006). Essential Thesaurus Construction. London: Facet Publishing.

Facts Matter

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Launched May 1st 2017, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals’ (CILIP) new ‘Facts Matter’ campaign will run concurrently with the 2017 General Election campaign. Having watched this year’s Scottish Leaders’ Debate, I can appreciate the urge to plug the evidence-based information gap between political parties and voters. Broad-brush statements, lack of context, and accusations of “telling porkies” coloured Sunday’s debate, highlighting the ever growing need for all political parties to not only present, but actively support evidence-based information, before we go to the polls.

In the fight against fake news, CILIP are enlisting the support of: professional librarians, information and knowledge managers, and data professionals, in partnership with the Information Literacy Group to encourage information and data professionals to share examples of evidence based-information within their communities and organisations, in order to inform those subject to misinformation. The campaign has been divided into three phases:

  • Phase 1: Since the announcement of the General Election, CILIP have asked each National Executive Committee of every political party to provide a briefing of their impact on the information profession, and to include key CILIP commitments in their Manifesto.
  • Phase 2: Throughout the General Election campaign, CILIP will focus on securing commitment from all political parties to run evidence-based campaigns. CILIP are open to the development of partnerships with other organisations, similarly-minded, in the promotion of evidence as an essential requirement for democracy.
  • Phase 3: Following the General Election, #FactsMatter becomes an ongoing activity, with information professionals highlighting the need for decision-ready information to be available to all, in order to develop information literacy and promote the value of information assets.

Each phase is hoped to increase the effectiveness and support the objectives of the campaign: to secure commitment of information professionals in Party Manifestos published during the 2017 General Election campaign; to reinforce the role of evidence and information literacy in public and political life; and provide a platform for the promotion of the information profession in combating fake news, and supporting evidence-based decision-making.

Who’s backing #FactsMatter?

At the time this post was published, three political parties: Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, SDLP, and the Ulster Unionist Party, and a handful (twenty) of Candidates and party members are backing #FactsMatter actively. Whilst the Labour Party, Plaid Cymru, Women’s Equality Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party have all made varying degrees of commitment to libraries and the wider information profession via their Party Manifestos. Not a huge turnout, is it?

Want to get involved?

There’s lots to do. Write to your local electoral candidates, asking them to back the #FactsMatter pledge, and if you happen to work in a library, sign your workplace up to the Electoral Commission’s Roll Call. Most importantly, spread the word. Use the #FactsMatter hashtag on social media, and follow the tips here from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions to ensure you’re not supporting fake news.

CILIP Resources for Supporters and Candidates / Political Party Members.

 

Sources: (https://www.cilip.org.uk/news/cilip-announces-facts-matter-campaign-2017-general-election) | (https://www.cilip.org.uk/advocacy-awards/advocacy-campaigns/facts-matter)

Digital Literacy

diglitYou might remember back in March of this year, there was alot of chatter surrounding digital literacy in the media and general press. HL Paper 130, published on the 21st March 2017 called for digital literacy to be included in the curriculums of British schools, alongside reading, writing and mathematics.

The report, “Growing up with the internet” highlights the differing needs of adult and child users of the internet, and suggests schools should teach online responsibilities, social norms and risks as part of a mandatory, Ofsted-inspected PSHE education. The paper goes as far to suggest: “It is in the whole of society’s interest that children grow up to be empowered, digitally confident citizens.”

The group of Lords supporting the paper want to see minimum standards and further legal requirements introduced for internet companies, as well as a report and response mechanism for all businesses operating on the internet. Further, they would like to see the UK maintain legislation which incorporates standards set by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in respect of children, including the right to be forgotten.

Listen to teacher, Lis Zacho’s TED Talk about raising a digitally literate generation. Lis volunteers with Danish organisation, Coding Pirates, which exists to promote children’s creative IT skills.

Do you think state sponsored schools in the UK would cope, at present, with a move away from Computer Science specific classes, towards a general digital skills teaching model for children?

 

Sources: Burns, J. (2017) Pupils need internet lessons to thrive online, says Lords. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39329967) | Campbell, L. (2017). Lords call for digital literacy to be ‘fourth pillar’ of education. (http://www.thebookseller.com/news/lords-call-digital-literacy-be-fourth-pillar-education-511551) | Telegraph Reporters. (2017). Children should learn ‘digital literacy’ alongside the Rs, peers say (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/21/children-should-learn-digital-literacy-alongside-rs-peers-say/) | Image (http://www.library.illinois.edu/diglit/definition.html)

Book review: The Number Mysteries

This book comes with the offer of a million dollars. Well, sort of. Each chapter of Marcus Du Sautoy’s book reveals a mathematical mystery. Mathematical mysteries, all of which come with a cash prize from Mr. Landon Clay when solved. Du Sautoy discusses the real-life application of mathematics throughout, relating big mathematical themes back to every-day interests: sports, Google, pomegranates and tossing coins.

The book functions as both a very accessible piece of nonfiction for the generalist reader, and also a reference guide to dig deeper into the themes and ideas presented in the text. The book is littered with interjections: web addresses, QR codes, apps, games, videos, Continuing Education courses, working as a wonderful guide, engaging with the world of mathematics outside of the book itself.

Du Sautoy’s book is wonderfully approachable for the uninitiated, applying textbook mathematics to science, technology, the economy – the future of our planet even. A valuable companion to students and general-readers alike.

 

Du Sautoy, M. (2010). The Number Mysteries:A Mathematical Odyssey Through Everyday LIfe. London: 4th Estate.

Yes, Minister! Big Brother

Originally aired 17 March 1980, Yes, Minister! series 1, episode 4: Big Brother, raises questions regarding information management and security that we continue to debate today. Minister Jim Hacker is interviewed by Robert McKenzie, on current affairs television programme, Topic, regarding the introduction of the new National Integrated Database. A detailed database of personal citizen records in the UK. In the fictitious series, personal citizen records are to be held on a computer (still considered a new fangled piece of equipment back in 1980), and the Minister is grilled on the implications of personal privacy, safeguards, legislation, unauthorised access and societal resistance to state monitoring throughout the episode.

Nearly forty years on from its original airing, it is an interesting watch. To hear the personal privacy concerns of the 1980s citizen, within the context of a Social Media generation who actively allow access to their personal information. What are your concerns regarding personal privacy in relation to state-wide citizen monitoring?

What is Information science?

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I’m asked this regularly. Working in a data environment, as I do, colleagues are often quick to lug Information science in with Data science, or assume these terms are interchangeable. Though often complementary to Data science, Information science is a specialism entirely of itself. Once a discipline primarily concerned with Archiving, Records Management and Libraries, Information science is furthermore a legal, ethical and social study of information, and covers any industry or discipline where information is being stored and/or used, including the technologies, systems and processes surrounding said information.

As the societal development of information changes, Information science tries to explore the: creation, recording, analysis, storage, retrieval, distribution, protection, exploitation and measurement of information. It is concerned with the social and economic impact, legal and regulatory context, and the influence of information on people, business and society.

Information science is both a broad and interdisciplinary field, incorporating aspects of: Mathematics, Public Policy, Cognitive science, Informatics, Communications, Social science, Computer science, Linguistics, Engineering and Museology…to name a mere few.

One of the best early definitions of Information science comes from the mid-1960s. Prominent Scientist, Harold Borko said: “Information science is that discipline that investigates the properties and behaviour of information, the forces governing the flow of information, and the means of processing information for optimum accessibility and usability. It is concerned with the body of knowledge relating to the origination, collection, organization, storage, retrieval, interpretation, transmission, and utilization of information.”

Sources: Borko, H. (1968). Information science: What is it? American Documentation, 19, 3. (http://cdigital.uv.mx/bitstream/123456789/6699/2/Borko.pdf) | Image (https://stephanthieringer.wordpress.com/tag/library-and-information-science/)