If Gordon Brown wants to save some money in the public sector I have a suggestion for him. We have been working for public sector organisations for over 10 years and what is very obvious is they have very little organisational memory. I don't know how long the average web manager stays in their post, but I would be very surprised if it is more than 5 years. And when they leave, very little of what they have learnt from user research stays in the organisation. A particularly bad example of this was when a client, for whom we had done a lot of work, asked us to undertake a project and I had to point out we had done the exact same piece of work 3 years earlier and simply sent them the report again.
I recently came across another glaring example of reinventing the wheel when I spoke to the new web manager of another of our clients, where the previous manager had spent over a year undertaking user research, and developing and testing a new information architecture and wireframes (that actually worked quite well); however, the new manager knew very little about all this, certainly did not attach much store by it, and had pretty much started all over again.
So, why do new people appear to ignore the learning of what happened before they arrived? It seems to be due to four main reasons:
- Firstly, a lot of the learning that goes on in an organisation is retained as tacit knowledge - information that people 'just know' and which isn't managed or codified and, therefore, is not passed on effectively as people move in and out of organisations
- Secondly, there is a problem about buying-in to research findings: it's really easy to "rubbish" and ignore evidence if you didn't commission it or witness it
- Thirdly, when new people join the organization they arrive with their own mental model of the user experience, even though it's unlikely to be based on user evidence from the new website they're now in charge of
- And fourthly, new people want to make their mark and demonstrate their worth by taking action and doing it their own way
What's the moral of the story? Well, talk to your suppliers! We may know quite a lot about your organization and your web site that you don't know. We can provide some continuity and save you time and money. It may be that a new manager will choose to disregard previous research, but at least they'd be aware of it, it might help steer their activity and they won't start reinventing the wheel.