Working in government can sometimes feel a bit like working in an academic institution. There's a lot of thinking, strategising and knowledge sharing, which is fine and often necessary.
But if we are to become digital by default, then civil servants need to get their hands dirty. Digital works best when people are trying for themselves: making things and testing ideas or approaches. I really struggle to help colleagues with digital when they can't make the link between the channels they might use at home, and the needs of their audiences at work.
No matter your depth of knowledge about your users, you have to be prepared to start from the beginning just like they do.
- Glance at a poster for your service or campaign, in the rain, remember just 10% of the words on there, and Google them from a phone, 48 hours a later.
- Speak to your local under-the-arches mechanic or coffee shop about what digital channels they use (if any), and then work out how you can reach them, and thousands more like them.
- Talk to your daughter, niece or nephew about how they interact with Facebook, the boards they look at on Pinterest, and the hashtags they follow.
- Re-tax your car online, contact your local council or book an appointment at your local health centre.
- And if you want to hear what people are saying online (and you do, right? Because you care about your work) you have to join the conversation. That means setting up your own profiles, establishing a tone and purpose, and getting stuck in.
There's normally plenty of people to help you get started, but no amount of paperwork or thinking will make you any more prepared.
Yes, you can commission research from an agency, and run user testing sessions: these are useful resources in their own right. But if we are to develop capability from the ground up, then people need to get their hands dirty as well.
And nothing beats the feeling of speaking directly to your target audience, having an honest, open conversation, hearing feedback, or, better yet, understanding just how painful it is to have to make that extra click or complete another field.
We're about to do more of this; talking to employers, but its overdue and just the tip of the iceberg.
Big organisations like Government departments need to do plenty to 'embed' digital, but I'm becoming less sympathetic to the argument that this is all about confidence and empowerment: staff simply need to start Googling for themselves and their users.
Am I being too harsh?