Knowledge Hub User Consultation: the importance of UI and UX

It’s not about what the technology can do; it’s how you use it. The importance of focusing on the user experience (UX) rather than how many features you can add.

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sad-happy-UXLong time readers of this blog will know that I was intimately involved as lead consultant for the local government Knowledge Hub collaborative platform, and have written much about the concepts and ideas that went into its early development. Some of which are noted here:

This is my response, to the latest Knowledge Hub consultation exercise following the recent announcement about CapacityGRID (a subsidiary of Liberata) taking control of the future development and strategy for KHub. This is posted here as an open letter, but has also been submitted to the KHub forum discussion.

It’s laudable that you are consulting with your users to identify improvements to KHub, but I wonder if this is the best way of shaping and prioritising future developments. The fundamental problem, I believe, is the inherent complexities of the user interface (UI), which creates a less than optimum user experience (UX). Building additional features and functionality on top of these shaky foundations is only going to add to the problems many users experience in finding the information they want or knowing how to engage and contribute.

Taking on board all of these new ideas and suggestions for features and enhancements from what will inevitably be a vocal minority may give you a skewed perspective on what is really important, and future problems in managing expectations where some suggestions are given lower priorities. If you get – say – 50 responses, this represents just 0.0003% of your touted user base of 160,000. Hardly a representative sample.

An alternative would be to use the system statistics to develop a histogram showing the most used features and most popular pages and then set about simplifying access and improving performance for these features and pages. This will more likely uncover the underlying problems that ALL users are likely experiencing, it overcomes the problem with skewed priorities from the more vocal users, and will hopefully address some of the problems with the UI/UX.  If anyone cares to understand a bit more about the importance of UI and UX, and the difference between the two, then read this post that I produced during my time as lead consultant for the KHub, which also contains lots of useful reference links to good UI/UX practice. It’s difficult to relate anything in this post to what was actually delivered – especially the business scenarios.

Key point here is that it’s not about what the technology can do; it’s how you use it.

One last point, as you are probably aware, I collated and curated a fairly substantive response, on behalf of the “Knowledge Hub Advisory Group”, to the original consultation when it was announced that KHub might close down. This group acted as a steering group during the procurement and early development stages of KHub, but was disbanded by the new project team shortly after I left the project. I managed to get many of the original members together for the purpose of the consultation exercise, and have yet to see any response or even acknowledgement to this input – formal or informal.

I’ve pulled out two of the many recommendations from this group, which I think are still relevant to this latest consultation, and once again relate to UI and UX, as follows:

1. There is significant anecdotal evidence that users find the current system difficult to use and lacking many of the features of the legacy CoP platform (e.g. tools for Facilitators). The user experience is further complicated by the lack of integration with other LGA products and services, such as esd-toolkit and LGInform. Currently, if you use LGInform you sign in via the esd-toolkit, but if you want to collaborate or have discussions about it you have to separately sign-in to Knowledge Hub. This is despite esd-toolkit supporting relevant standards, such as OAuth and OpenID. Users would naturally like to see a far more intuitive and seamless experience between esd-toolkit, LGInform and Knowledge Hub. Porism, esd-toolkit’s technical partners, are willing to commit resources to help achieve this vision.

2. There is a need for closed, secure spaces for sharing some knowledge and data, and there is also a need for the online management of these spaces, as currently provided by the KHub support team. However, the online field is moving incredibly fast, and it may be that we need to put more emphasis on mini-Hubs and connecting different Hubs and networks. It doesn’t make sense to have a local government-only space nationally when locally the reality is lots of different partnerships and networks across sectors, and with citizens, on the lines that Lambeth and others are developing.

I hope this helps inform this latest consultation, and it would be useful (and courteous?) to get some feedback on this occasion.

Steve Dale

(Image source: http://www.creativerealities.com/)

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Author: Steve Dale

Stephen Dale is both an evangelist and practitioner in the use of Web 2.0 technologies and Social Media applications to support personal development and knowledge sharing. He has a deep understanding of how systems and technology can be used to support learning and facilitate smarter working, where connections and conversations are the key to self-development and creativity within the organisation.

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