Guest Post by Ben Proctor (@likeaword)
The naming of things
I was quite tired at bluelightcamp. I pitched a workshop and went to the wrong room. Then I concluded that no-one had turned up and went about my lawful business. On the train back home I confused the tiny town of Wem (where I worked for four years) with the sizeable town of Shrewsbury (where I lived for 10). I also nearly failed to exit my train at the correct stop.
That said I was very awake for the workshop on agile pitched by Rowena Farr. She wanted to explore the extent to which agile methodologies could be used within the public sector and the degree to which the language of agile is unhelpful.
As someone trying to punch an agile sized hole in a local authority it was great to hear from colleagues within public sector organisations who are making agile work in software and web development.
It was also really interesting to hear from Kate Norman about her experience of applying some techniques learned in an agile development environment to an in-house comms team.
I found myself sticking up for waterfall (sort of) at one point. Tales (and they are legion) of projects that have gone badly off track or over-spent under waterfall do not mean that we should scrap PRINCE2 and embrace SCRUM (though it is possible that we should). They are often symptomatic (in my view) of organisations with unhelpful cultures, where failure is not tolerated, where people hide risks and relationships are poor.
Even so I still think agile orientates people in healthy directions in the context of public sector web work.
But the language can be an issue. Product owners, scrummasters, sprint and stand-up do not resonate in the way that project managers, risk logs and PIDs do.
Even so I think it’s important. Agile is different, it has different roles and requires specific skillsets. Unless these roles get specific names they will get mapped onto people’s current frame of reference. Suddenly scrummasters get asked for PIDs and we are in a very weird world.
And this connected with something Sam Thomas said to me on an entirely different topic. It was after a workshop in which I had talked a little about crisis mapping and related skills to see how they could be better connected with UK responders. She pointed out that the name is unhelpful. Google crisis mapping and you get a lot of big stuff, especially from across the developing world. This doesn’t resonate with your average police inspector.
Earlier Angus Fox had used the term “online specials” to illustrate the sort of roles he thought volunteers with smart apps could play. Simon Redding was comfortable with the idea of community wardens online.
I’m involved in the VOSTUK project looking to promote the idea of volunteers helping the emergency services online. VOST started in the USA, the language works there but maybe we need to tone it down a bit for a UK audience?