Category Archives: Education

How can a non-designer approach design work without pretending to be a designer?

First of all, I’m not a designer. So my way of approaching design was to find something that didn’t involve Pantone mugs, Apple Macintosh computing equipment or learning to draw!

photo credit: robhawkes

So here I take a look at some approaches to design work that don’t take the designer as genius, or take a traditional participatory approach, but try and look at the design process from the experience of the people who the design is for.

My boss Pete Wright and his writing partner McCarthy’s (2010) idea of a humanist vision of design was a good guiding light for me when I started thinking about approaching design.  The Malmo Living Lab stance of, “attending to values of agency, democracy, equality, and choice” is both commendable and something I aspire to, although as I have protested on many occasions, the idea of democracy through design remains problematic for me.

So, what is experience-centred design?

Wright & McCarthy suggest:

the excitement in experience-centred design is the impulse to use these developments to give people the chance to have a richer life, to include people who might otherwise feel excluded, to ensure everyone has a chance to have their say especially those who feel voiceless.

This idea of an equality of ideas and social computing enacting the conditions of equality is an area close to my research agenda.

Design as theory

I am warming to the idea of design as theory and sympathise with the notion that “any designed technology embodies assumptions (made by designers) about how the system will be used. In this sense a technology itself is both a theory of and a hypothesis about use. It is a question put to the user by the designer.” Paul Dourish (2001) looks to phenomenology to ground his theory for HCI as embodied interaction. This type of design approach focuses on situated interaction and meaning making. The co-creation of meaning, particularly through dialogic means is a framework for understanding which I feel happily espouses both social computing and HCI, as described as experience-centred design.

‘Beautiful things work better’

Emotion is the cement that holds action together. I believe there is certainly more to design than usability, and we should focus on the experiences of people living with technology rather than just using it. Forlizzi and Batterbee (2004), in order to rationalise this, attempted to distinguish three types of experience: experience, an experience, or co-experience. Alongside this, I understand co-creation of meaning as an experience. As well as experiences that are shared between people, the co-creation of meaning can be constructed as an experience.

If technology is an experience that begins with the idea of sense-making, we reach a problematic juncture where we might try to understand how people make sense of things. How they experience the world, or a situation, or a technology.

Experience as social

Sense making is ‘irreducibly’ social. There is not room here to discuss the myriad psychologists’ and philosophers’ concepts on this, but we should understand that there are many things (other people, media, past) at play which will likely affect the way a person makes sense of the world.

Even when two people co-experience something it is impossible to say if their experiences were alike. Forlizzi and Battarbee (2004) discuss a framework for understanding human experience to inform design. This is useful as long as we understand that human experience cannot be measured. We can categorise types of experience but cannot objectively determine how that experience is felt, even conversation analysis is a process of subjective interpretations that one can only understand through their own experience. Through how they make sense of the world.

References

Dourish, P. (2001). Seeking a foundation for context-aware computing. Human–Computer Interaction, 16(2-4), 229-241.

Forlizzi, J., & Battarbee, K. (2004). Understanding experience in interactive systems. In Proceedings of the 5th conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques (pp. 261-268). ACM.

Wright, P., & McCarthy, J. (2010). Experience-centered design: designers, users, and communities in dialogue. Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Informatics, 3(1), 1-123.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

5 things I’ll miss about local goverment comms

As I come to the last couple of weeks at my role in local goverment I have become, some might say, uncharacteristically reflective. I know it’s the right thing to do for me; now, but there are some things I will really miss. I have many things to take away with me that make me feel as proud as a man who’s grown a giant melon!
Melon

1. It’s fantastically diverse
One can be in a serious case review on Monday, on a boat in the North Sea on Tuesday, having stakeholder relations with protest groups on Facebook on Wednesday, mediating between schools, the media, senior officers and eleceted members on results day on Thursday and running fun competitions and ordering T-shirts for our first free music festival on Friday. Yes, that was my week this week, and delightfully; it is typical.

Boating in Blyth

2. Being forced into creativity by budgets (or lack of)
Most people who come to us come with a solution. We have to get them to rethink this and come with a problem to which we will have a solution. Then you get to the real challenge: ‘so what’s the budget?’ ‘Er, nothing!’

3. Embracing technology (see 2)
I do not mean digital by default to thoughtlessly save money. I mean genuine creative solutions that truly embrace new mediums and new ways of communicating with residnets on their terms in a way that encourages two-way communication and relevant engagement.

4. The scope of personnel
As I touched on in the first point. I cant think of any other job where one deals with elected members, senior officers, managers, front line officers, ordinary people, extraordinary people, animals, royalty, business owners, artists, and more, where you are in control and the voice of authority. It’s a strange situation, speaking knowledge to power, with someone who earns quarter of a million pounds a year, or is the leader of a council, but that’s all part of the job, when it’s done well.

5. The people
Yes I know, its sadly predictable. But it’s true. I’ve had a whale of a time and learned so much from dedicated, passionate, often inspiring people who find creative solutions to problems with moral integrity and enthusiasm in the face of adversity.

And now, the end is near; and so I face the final curtain.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Teaching new dogs old tricks: my year as an intern

image

This blog first appeared on adaywithoutoj.com, and was written as part of a collection of works looking into the benefits of internships in PR. As I am approaching my the one year anniversary since starting at the council, at the end of this month, I thought I would share.

After finishing my Master’s degree in June, the opportunity to do an internship at Northumberland County Council was presented to me by an attentive lecturer. He told me, based on my interest and enthusiasm for democratic PR and my desire to move into Government communications, it was just the thing for me.

The idea of embarking a new job, in the midst of writing my dissertation, needed some careful consideration. I’d worked part-time as an English teacher during the taught part of my degree, and was fully aware of the pressures of time management, but he was right – this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

image

I’d heard a lot about the communications work at the council, and had studied the Northumberland Alerts Twitter feed during a social media assignment. So I started in June with about seven weeks to dissertation hand in.

It turned out to be a masterstroke (even if I do say so myself). While my classmates were amassing hours of time researching, interviewing and collating data, I had it all at my fingertips! As I stated earlier, my passions and interests centre on government communications and the relationship between democracy and social media. Being at the council gave me access to case studies and all the information I could ever want from the website team, who are way ahead of the game when it comes to analytics.

With the help of  the web manager and the rest of the team, my dissertation became a willing bed fellow to my practice. They complimented each other and generally just flirted outrageously.

So, I bid farewell to my dissertation at the end of the summer, by which time I felt settled and at home in the communications office. This was no accident either. The team made sure that I could be myself from day one, and the bespoke nature of the internship ensured that I understood exactly what was expected from me, and what I could get from the experience.

I didn’t really know what to expect, having never been an intern before, but the amount of responsibility and workload depends completely on the individual. In my case, and to my surprise, I found myself loving the press side of things – I’d always fancied myself more on the web and social media side of things.
image

I got to lead on a few campaigns, including the successful ‘Don’t Stand for It’ campaign, where we created a genuine dialogue with residents, and got them on our side to tackle a community problem that blights the county. The key aims of the campaign was to change residents’ perceptions of the authority, and get people to use our online reporting system, rather than phone the council, or indeed, simply complain to their friends, or even worse, on our social media channels. The campaign increased online reporting by over 200% putting it in the top five things people do on the website, and a survey showed a change in opinion towards the way the authority dealt with the problem.

The experience overall has been invaluable. Friedrich Nietzsche, a really clever German man, once wrote: the doer alone learneth; and my internship has put that theory to the test. As much as I picked up from my time in academia, being in a supportive, friendly, hard-working (and let’s not forget; award-winning) press office has been worth so much more, and I would encourage any organisation, great or small, to seriously consider it. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and both parties can really learn a lot from one another.

It’s certainly helped me as I take the next step in my career. Onwards.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

How I was put off PR for years by a PR stunt which discredited PR but turned out to be the best lesson in PR I ever had

image

Many years ago, while I was a fresh faced dreamer, taking notes (with a pen and paper!) at the back of a lecture hall, a turn of events occurred, which turned me against public relations and public relations practitioners, and stopped me from finding out any more about what it was all about. But years later, I have seen it in a strangely ironic light (and not in that Alanis Morissette version of irony, which ironically, isn’t ironic).

image

Equilibrium
The story begins with a second-year lecture on cultural theory. I had just returned from a year-out travelling round South East Asia and my idealistic view of the world had been solidified by my experiences. Now, the cultural theory modules were not exclusive to any programme. There were media studies students present, film studies, media production, journalism, and more importantly, amongst others; public relations students.

The lecturer was a popular academic with the student body, he was respected for his views of the world and an inspiration to me, as well as someone who influenced me and others to take certain modules, read books, and experience the media world around us. He is a very cool guy. In other words, his opinion mattered to me, at a time when I was destined to put the world to rights.

During this lecture, one rainy Tuesday morn, on discussing slave labour, and the actions of multi-national organisations, and their damaging impact on the world, he got on to talking about how these companies avoid negative press, and how they manage to maintain a positive image in the eyes of customers, despite their terrible practices in poorer portions of the globe.

A disturbance of the equilibrium
“Anyone in here doing PR?” was the call. Hands sheepishly rise. “Come on! Who is doing a PR degree, and wants to go and work for a big company like Coca-Cola?” The hands that remained in the air were joined by a few more confident extensions of the bicep. “Get out!” Laughter – some nervous, fluttered around the theatre. “I mean it, get out of here!” He added something else about morals, or ethics and the PR students that were brave enough to admit it left the room. The remnants of the group then learned how the Coca-Cola company pays people to say, despite the clearly inhumane conditions and painfully low pay of its workers, things like: “If we didn’t have our factory here, people would have no jobs. We are vital to the economy of this community…”

That was it for me. My moral compass firmly directed towards anything but these objectionable publicists who protect the malevolence of the world for a profit, using the dark arts of persuasion and spin.

The twist
Looking back, now I can see that it was he who was partaking in the spin. It was he who, despite his protestations toward the PR students, was performing a huge PR stunt in a public sphere, against PR.

It was successful too, at least on me, because he reinforced an attitude – I had from limited access and knowledge of what PR is (although that is a whole new subject for another day) – and affected my behaviour. The objective was to cause a change in behaviour, and it was achieved, because most people in that room, like me, became very pleased with the idea that they had some kind of moral high ground.

Acting as a third party spokesperson, and using a favourable case study, combined with emotive language, he effectually used PR techniques to dissuade me, and others, from even considering a career in public relations.

The establishment of a new equilibrium

image

Now that I understand PR, I can see that he gave me one of the best lesson in PR I’ve ever had.

I haven’t lost much of my idealism. I still endeavour to make my world (it used to be the world) a better place to be, and strive to work in a job that empowers me to feel I have made a positive difference to people’s lives. And this is my PR.

Encouraging democracy and two-way communications, giving people a voice, and using social media to promote the equality of ideas are just some of the things I do every day. Corporate social responsibility, an ethical code, and a code of practice engendered by a chartered institute, are all things that are encouraged and promoted to ensure moral integrity of a profession that has struggled for too long against an unjustified condemnation.

Tagged , , , , ,

Requiem for a vocation

I have a Master’s degree in public relations, a blog which has attracted hundreds of visitors within 6 months, one year experience working in an award-winning in-house communications and press team, a Klout score of 52, oh, and I’m under the age of 30. But what do PR employers value most?

Working in PR, PR jobs

My generation

I reveal my Klout score as an indicator of my social media activity and experience and in the same vein I disclose my age. Both are as unimpressive as they are unimportant;  unless you look at job descriptions for PR jobs.

Social media is innate, almost natal, to generations of people, why then; does it still top essential skills taxonomies within job adverts? I have written before, as a guest blogger for Stephen Waddington (@wadds) (see here) about the essentialism with social media for people who grew up in the 90s and 2000s. I do not consider it a specific public relations skill, and I struggle to see why PR employers do. But they do, so as much as it seems at odds with my perspective, for the meantime at least, I  have no choice but to extol my digital virtues if I put myself forward as an applicant.

image by mkhmarketing, the art of social media

You can read my personal blog here.  I often have my blogs published on the North East CIPR website.

I know how, but I don’t know why

So, the ability to look after the social media channel is an advantage when applying for a job. We are then arguably left with a straight shoot-out between education and experience. Which means the most? My Master’s with Merit (strategy) and continued professional development with the CIPR (learning and development), or my experience of working for one year in an award-winning press office (practice) where I have built professional relationships with journalists and broadcasters (media relations) and developed my writing skills producing press releases, copywriting and producing articles for magazines and corporate blogs (tactics). I have learnt a lot from practical experience, although, with my background in theory, I think I have picked things up quicker, and been able to fit things into the bigger corporate picture more easily.

I feel my academic background has enabled me to  understand the ‘why’, as well as the ‘how’ of public relations.

PR Daily, in an article debating this very matter last year, somehow managed to scribe their views onto the very fence they were perched upon:

“There’s great debate over whether experience or a college degree is more important in a job search. Some argue that experience makes up for the lack of a degree; others say a degree provides something that experience can’t. Is one more valuable than the other?”

I believe that academia and practice need to have a mutual respect. Public relations’ aspiration to be recognised as a profession will only come once academics and practitioners become entwined in a loving embrace and the CIPR make education and professional development become compulsory.

It’s all academic

Is knowing the ups, and indeed downs, of working in a specific sector preferred to being an effective (academic) strategist?

I understand theory beyond buzzwords and have some ideas of how the theory should be applied and inform practice, but surely with my experience I need only apply for positions which ask for media relations and time spent in a press office? At the entry end of the job market it is difficult to find evidence of employers valuing academic qualifications, when in fact, my MA PR offered me many experiences in crisis management situations, media training and experience of writing integrated campaigns and working on and pitching heterogeneous briefs. Moreover, my degree taught me the importance of professional standards and forced me to establish my ethical and moral orientation.

Jose Mourinho translator

In sports and in schools (to name two fields with which I have some experience)  there is a growing tendency to put people at the helm of an organisation or team sans-coalface experience; head teachers from a business background, behaviour managers from the armed forces and police, or football managers who learned their trade translating to foreign footballers for their touchline-prowling forefathers.

I know what you’re going to say.  A bit of all of these things; each in equal measure; two-thirds of one and one of the other;  10% inspiration and 90% perspiration! Okay, I am well aware that there is not just one element needed to be successful in PR, and that different roles, sectors, employers and situations demand a variety of skills.

Stephen Waddington, in an address as CIPR president to a @CIPR_NorthEast gang, predicted what the most important things for PR practice this year would be.  There was a heavy emphasis on learning, education and being able to see the bigger picture (I will discuss my take on this in more detail about this in my next blog entry).

A posteriori

Social media skills are important, but not just for PR, they’re important if you want to have a conversation to a whole generation of people; age should not be important, but what young people lack in experience of working in PR they make up for in intrinsic social media fluency. Without writing off experience altogether, I feel there should be a greater emphasis put on education, even as a starting point.

So, if I look worried in a job interview, at least now you’ll understand a bit of why.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The doer alone learneth, and other stories

As public relations practitioners strive to be recognised as professionals, there is a worry that the industry is becoming increasingly detached from academic research, one of the essential elements of a recognised profession.

leather bound books

Read all about it!

Having spent the last six months putting together an argument for public relations academics’ need to engage with other academic disciplines, I now find myself ready to start again! Since settling into my first public relations job, on the back of an MA in the discipline, I have learned of a small gulf between the books and the practice. However, I am not here to extol the virtues of the noble theorists and lambaste the practitioners for not engaging in a meaningful dialogue with them.

Unacceptable in the 90s
Talking in the late 1990s – when Twitter sat as Mark Zuckerberg‘s un-germinated seed of an idea, as he  tried to master Atari BASIC programming, children stared at Tamogotchis rather than smartphones, and Take That were still split up along with every other so-called reunion band  resurrected by the desire to ensconce nostalgia for a decade when the Union flag wasn’t racist for a while – Gregg Philo promulgated:

It would be a sad irony if communication studies researchers only communicated with each other, and that if communications itself failed to lead a productive dialogue. (Philo, 1999)

I wrote in my MA dissertation that it is my belief that public relations becomes a stronger academic discipline when it is transgressive; cross-cutting sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science and media studies. Public relations theory gains a great deal when it engages with questions which concern other fields – this can be extended to the art of PR practice.

Many other disciplines have happily espoused academic theorem and the nuances of everyday practice to their benefit. Think medicine, business, and teaching.

What’s the point in educational institutions and personnel researching, debating, hypothesising and proving if it does not directly feed into the way the discipline is practiced? (Answers on a postcard).

The simple point is; the best theory is not informing most practice. The scary fact is; there doesn’t seem to be any knowledge of this in the sector, and no way of bridging the gap. The CIPR and its senior members would be the obvious solution. But they don’t seem to be doing enough.

The doer alone learneth
Sarah Williams, Senior lecturer in public relations and marketing at University of Wolverhampton, wrote this month on comms2point0: “The CIPR’s education division, under the direction of the wonderful Alan Rawel, was proactive in its support of academic endeavour and sought new ways of marrying education and practice; it supported the development of courses, books, journals and conferences aimed at creating a strong and united academic underpinning for the industry.

She has concerns that the institute has taken backward steps in recent years, and many others around the PR blogosphere tend to agree.

Much of this good work has been undone in recent years and many in the industry, both academics and practitioners, will be unaware of the work of this passionate and committed man. This is a great shame, and bad news for the industry; I regret that his legacy was not more carefully guarded and maintained.”

Alas, lest we not dwell on the past, like those who fill our cities arenas hoping to recapture their youth singing along to, Blue, Five and Atomic Kitten.

Let us engage with one another and hear what each other have to say.

Many in the ‘profession’ are not academically trained, or are trained in an alternative discipline such as journalism.
Education and academia is often a culture, in the sense of a way of life, and many do not and have not had such a background. Will these individuals be less likely to embrace a theoretic influence, or dare I say, might their reluctance stem from the fact they are unable to understand it? Maybe the academics need to stop sounding clever and start acting clever – showing a little more pragmatism.

Let’s start a dialogue in terms that include everybody. If we understand the theory, we should be able to discuss it, or teach it to anyone, regardless of their academic background or the depth of the vocabulary.

On the other hand, as a former teacher, I am only too aware of the frustration of trying to teach something to people who aren’t willing to learn it. Those with all the experience – but perhaps with a book shelf reserved for Jackie Collins, rather than Anne Gregory – could be more accepting and less defensive about learning.

Let’s just be friends
If we all want PR to be recognised as a profession, we will all have to accept that the practitioners need the academia, and the academics need to understand that the academia is futile without anyone to practice it. If our discipline doesn’t find a way to work together in a meaningful way it is never going to be recognised, nor will it be worthy of recognition as, a genuine profession in the same league as medicine, teaching or any other.

Tagged , , , ,

Why don’t schools have PR?

It has become increasingly more apparent in recent years that our schools; those revered institutions of knowledge, excellence and creativity must operate like a business.

Metro Station billboards have long placed private schools alongside the latest theatre listings

Metro passengers often see private schools advertised alongside the latest theatre attractions
Image courtesy of iambigred

Advertisements for schools are plastered all over our public transport systems; private schools have marketed themselves in this way for some time and public schools are beginning to follow in their footsteps.

But is advertising the best use of school funds?

Business
Look at the principles of business and marketing and apply it to the functionality of an English secondary school. They compete for customers (pupils) and strive to attract the best staff. They shamelessly extol their virtues to unwitting parents and primary schools flaunting their best features and encouraging further contact with those whom they court. Sound familiar?

Reputation
In the context of a time when the flow of information is in the hands of the masses, and journalists welcome with open arms a lovely negative news story, schools need to protect their reputation.

In a world of funding cuts and institutions being asked to justify their existence in an expanding free market where competition for pupils proceeds over competition for places, schools need to build their reputation.

The Press

Numerous negative news stories concerning schools, their pupils and their staff frequent the news agenda on worryingly (for parents) regular basis.

The Mirror published a story of a teacher from this school accused of rape

The Mirror printed a story featuring a teacher from this school

Every school has a duty to its staff and the local community to be recognised for the good things it is doing; the positive effect it has on the lives of pupils and the things it does to enhance the community it serves. Diminishing resources in local newsrooms have forged a big opportunity for stories to make it to editorial; this is an opportunity schools are not taking advantage of.

Public Relations
I’m not claiming that schools should pay for full-time in-house press officers, having an extra (non-teaching) name on the pay roll will not appeal to many head teachers or governors, but using an agency is a serious option. And not just during the spring term when the enrolment drive is in motion. Reputation management should be an on-going initiative.

It is not just about someone within the institution finding the time to curate all of the good news stories in one place and showing them on the school website – which many schools already do. It is about building a strong campaign around business and PR objectives, with creative tactics that connect to a purposeful, carefully considered strategy.

Messages need to be tailored to the correct audience, and thus, communicated through relevant channels; having a great website is fine, but how are you driving traffic to it? And, how are you engaging with your stakeholders?

A two-way symmetrical model of communications is something every business, especially state schools, should strive to achieve. How can you know you are making the right decisions if you don’t understand what your stakeholders wants and needs are?

A good PR campaign, informed by accurate research will not only build the schools reputation, but also help to improve the learning experience for current pupils.

What do you think?

Tagged , ,