Call centre staff: “Hello you are talking to Joe. How can I help you today?”
Customer: “I need some information, I’m on your website at the moment but I can’t work out what this is saying …”
The race to get public-use information online has led to a plethora of websites containing information that “fails to deliver”. This is evidenced by, among other things, the number of call centre staff who constantly field requests from the public asking for an interpretation of online content.
From the 1980s onward organisations and government departments started to migrate significant amounts of public-use information from a paper to an electronic medium. Very little of this information was reviewed, sanitised or rewritten in preparation for uploading to the web. We are now left with the legacy of our follies. In fact, it is possible that we now have access to more information than ever and may be less informed than ever before.
With so much information online, many organisations lack the structures needed to deal with the amount of content they have posted. Over time information becomes duplicated. Duplicated information then gets out of sync, creating contradictions in the information available. Online content becomes like the dusty policy manual on the shelf – left to languish until something goes wrong.
There is no quick fix for these issues. It is an ongoing workload requiring adequate resources and specialist knowledge.
“My experience tells me that simply posting information online – for ease of access – can sometimes be more detrimental to the public than having no information at all. When we automate information we also automate the inefficiency in that information. Poorly written documentation is accessed more readily but is no clearer for the intended audience – it doesn’t really help anyone.”