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Even a well-designed quasi-experimental study is inferior to a well-designed randomised controlled trial.
In favour of randomized control trials
Torgerson and Torgerson (2001)
The dominant paradigm in educational research is based on qualitative methodologies (interpretive paradigm). Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 317)
Despite fairly widespread use of quantitative methods the most rigorous of these, the randomised controlled trial (RCT), is rarely used in British educational research. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 317)
Even a well-designed quasi-experimental study is inferior to a well-designed randomised controlled trial. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 318)
Something I’ll need to get my head around – again!
The first problem is the statistical phenomenon of regression to the mean (Cook and Campbell, 1979; Torgerson, C.J., 2000) All groups studied need to have the same regression to the mean chances. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 318)
Non-randomised quantitative methods are nearly always inferior to the randomised trial. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 319)
Nearly 40 years ago Schwartz and Lellouch described two types of randomised trial: the ‘explanatory trial’ and the ‘pragmatic trial’ (Schwartz and Lellouch, 1967).
The explanatory trial design is probably the one with which most people are familiar.
This type of study is tightly controlled and, where possible, placebo interventions are used.
Thus, one may take a large group of children all from a similar socio-economic background and attainment and randomly allocate them into two groups. One group receives the intervention under investigation whilst the other receives a dummy or sham intervention. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 320)
The pragmatic trial : the environment in which the trial is conducted is kept as close to normal educational practice as possible.
The children, or schools, are allocated the new intervention at random. A disadvantage of the pragmatic approach is that the trials usually have to be much larger than the explanatory approach but the pragmatic trial approach is probably the most feasible and useful trial design for educational research. Because the trial mimics normal educational practice, there is a greater variation that can make it harder to detect a small effect. To cope with this the sample size needs to be increased accordingly. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 320)
The underlying idea of a randomised trial is exceedingly simple.
Two or more groups of children, identical in all respects, are assembled. Clearly, the individual children are different but when groups of children are assembled by randomisation, and with a large enough sample size, they will be sufficiently similar at the group level in order to make meaningful comparisons. In other words, the differences are spread equally across both groups, making them essentially the same. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 321)
The analysis of a randomised trial is actually simpler than other forms of quantitative research because we know the two groups are similar at baseline. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 321)
Randomisation creates groups with the same proportion of girls, with the same proportion of pupils from various socio-economic and ethnic groups, with the same distribution of ages, heights, weights etc. – this is the simple elegance of randomisation! Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 323)
To avoid observer bias blinded outcome assessment must be undertaken. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 324)
Qualitative methodologies are well suited to investigating what happens with individuals; RCTs are appropriate for looking at the larger units relevant to policy makers. Torgerson and Torgerson (2001. p. 3264)
SCHWARTZ, D. and LELLOUCH, D. (1967) Explanatory and pragmatic attitudes
in therapeutic trials. Journal of Chronic Diseases 20, 637–648.
Torgerson, C, & Torgerson, D 2001, ‘The Need for Randomised Controlled Trials in Educational Research’, British Journal Of Educational Studies, 3, p. 316, JSTOR Arts & Sciences IV, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 February 201
- Effects of the Endpoint Adjudication Process on the Results of a Randomised Controlled Trial: The ADVANCE Trial (plosone.org)
- RCTs, skeptics, and evidence-based policy (errorstatistics.com)
- Smith and Pell: Parachute Use and Randomised Controlled Trials (delong.typepad.com)
I’m going to consider this from three perspectives:
- a substantial learning provider that is migrating content to the web wholesale (no policy);
- an e-learning agency that produces modules for learning and design managers (the policy is the policy of each different client)
- at the Amateur Swimming Association who have a meaningful relationship with disabled swimmers (a policy toward athletes may not be as supportive and accessible when it comes to their own teachers and coaches).
In due course I’ll consider accessibility in relation to content and resources provided by the Open University whom one would expect to be leader in this field – indeed I believe they are and it is apparent as soon as you look at a page of OU e-learning content compared to the kinds of materials typically produced for corporate clients. Having worked for or in such organisations I can identify differences and suggest reasons for the decisions taken.
If your organisation does not have a policy, why do you think this might be?
I would like to consider this from the point of view of three learning providers – a substantial institution akin to the OU, a specialist niche trade association and from the perspective of an agency that creates e-learning.
Does your organisation have someone in a senior position whose job it could be to lead accessibility-related policies and initiatives?
The person responsible ought to be senior, ought to carry influence, have personal knowledge or training in relation to access and accessibility and demonstrate the leadership qualities that come from taking on something new and seeing it through.
Are senior management aware of accessibility issues and simply choosing to ignore them?
People are in love with the cutting edge of e-learning – desiring an advanced look and feel and the smart technology behind tracking personal development, e-assessments and accreditation, rather than standing back and favouring instead something cleaner, simpler, perhaps less fashionable, but more accessible – and potentially easier to scale, adjust and for assistive technology – to read. Effectiveness, cost effectiveness and accessible ought to be priorities rather than gamification, virtual worlds and all encompassing solutions where a smorgasbord of choices and decisions is a better reality.
If there are laws in relation to discrimination that have teeth then no person or institution has yet been taken to court.
Has a decision been made that policies are not the right tool to use to try to change practice?
Agencies will do as asked – issues of accessibility might be raised at the briefing stage and the client will say then to what degree accessibility matters and share how accessibility issues have been addressed in the past in their organisation- usually piecemeal and after the event rather than building accessibility in from the start. No one has consider an approach, whether a policy or a design and technical response. The difficulty faced by an agency pitching in a competitive environment for work is that the market too often favours used of the latest gizmos and the most compelling, potentially award winning design. The policy should be for effectiveness and value for money with a close look at cost effectiveness based on old as well as new media.
If so, how is your organisation communicating to staff any desire or intention relating to accessibility?
Will any individual or group of students be significantly disadvantaged if they are required by their programme or institution to use the proposed system? (Seale 2006:128)
This needs to be at the top of the agenda.
Just like a change in management practice or take over of or by a business communication with people should be thorough, timely and authentic. If attitudes have to be changed, developed or refreshed the effort will be all the greater. This requires commitment and resources from the top and engagement of people familiar with such exercises.
How might you improve on accessibility-related policies that exist in your organisation?
1) Find a champion and a leader – if necessary two different people.
2) Get disabled students involved in deciding and advising on policy based on their experiences
3) Know the legal position and comply – tie in with ISO and Plain English policy and compliance (best practice).
4) Organisations have to mean it and be professional about it
5) TEAM WORK
6) Purchasing decisions
7) Benchmark accessibility
1) There has to be someone to champion the cause, needs, benefits and legal requirements of accessibility. This person needs leadership qualities – informed, persuasive, by example, with authority, credibility and presence. Seale (2006:128) suggests that supportive managers with a positive attitude are need, people with previous experience of supporting students with disabilities. Seale (2006:128)
Accessibility implementation needs to be actively managed (Lamshed et al. 2003) Seale (2006:128)
- ensuring that the accessibility of e-learning material and resources is monitored and audited (see Seale (2006 chapter 7)
- ensuring that there is ‘joined up’ thinking between the different specialist and mainstream learning support services within an institution (see Seale 2006 chapter 8)
- ensuring that staff development opportunities are strategically targeted to raise awareness and that staff are able to respond to accessibility requirements (see Seale 2006 chapter 9)
- developing and implementing procurement procedures to ensure accessibility of future technology purchases;developing and implementing institutional accessibility policies.
USER GROUP ENGAGEMENT
2) Talk to and engage with end users – be proactive, learning to accommodate and work with the broadest church or representative disabled students.
From US. (Oregon) Accommodations in postsecondary education are governed by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
Students with a documented disability have a right to receive reasonable accommodations. Additionally students have responsibilities which include:
- Providing the DAS office with appropriate documentation
- Responding to requests for information
- Scheduling and completing a required DAS orientation
- Making requests for accommodations according to the DAS Timeline for Service Requests before and during each term of attendance
- Following the policies and procedures which are available in the DAS Student Handbook
KNOW THE LEGAL POSITION
3) The legalese must be understood – ignorance of the law is no excuse – ideally a legal advisor will inform the CEO and Board, or trustees should seek advice and exirt pressure – that or responding to demands from society and individual campaigns. People need to believe that an organisation could be taken to court for failure to comply to accessibility legislation. Compliance. Level Double-A Conformance to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG1AA-Conformance
Comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 Part Four (as amended by Special Educational Needs Disability Act 2001) and the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. All of the Priority 1, 2 and 3 accessibility checkpoints across websites, as established in the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The WAI promotes a high degree of usability and accessibility for people with disabilities.
It is possible that some of our older pages (those not within our new visual identity) might not currently conform to these standards. However, we are actively engaging with our website team to ensure that all future web pages are compliant with W3C guidelines for accessibility.
Like compliance to IS0 9000 and 9001
And PLAIN ENGLISH CAMPAIGN
4). Purchasing decisions need to take accessibility into consideration – so someone with control on budgets needs to have a say. All new purchases of learning management systems, courseware and networked equipment is accessible (Rowland 2000; McCarthy 2001). He who pays the piper, plays the tune.
5). Some organisations could or do put issues into their mission statement or reflect specific brand values – just as companies have ‘gone green’, so too they ought to be looking at both accessibility and equality as part of their corporate and social responsibility mix. Anderson (2004) argues that practice will only change if the policy is actively implemented:Developing campus Web accessibility policies, guidelines or standards is often thought of as a way to meet legal obligation, however, implementing Web accessibility policies can be a means for creating a campus e-culture of inclusion. While developing a policy has numerous challenges – implementing, supporting and updating a Web accessibility policy is where the rubber hits the road and separates those who succeed in Web accessibility efforts and those who have a policy. (Anderson 2004)
- embedding accessibility across all institutional activities and systems, from procurement to student support services;
- addressing whether and how the development of an institutional accessibility policy will encourage such embedment;
- identifying a team of key stakeholders, across the whole institution (and not just specialist disability services) who are willing and able to work towards embedment.
This may or may not be a ‘tall order’ (Wilson et al. 2002: 20), but without leadership from managers the task will not get any ‘smaller’.
6). It is a grave error to make access the responsibility of one person – and the cliche is to give the role of ‘Disability Officer’ to the one person in a wheelchair. Rather to be effective an ‘action team’ needs to be created so that from across the organisations there are partnerships with a range of representative stakeholders. it must be both a collaborative and a team effort.
Byrne (2004) suggests that in setting up a ‘Web Accessibility Policy and Planning Group’ the following stakeholders (among others) should be included: management, student representatives, disabled students, administrators, web designers, lecturers and learning support staff.
- involve all stakeholders, including top-level support (Burgstahler 2002a; Smith and Lyman 2005);
- organize an accessibility committee (Smith and Lymann 2005; Hriko 2003; Byrne 2004);
- provide training and technical support (Smith and Lyman 2005; Burgstahler 2002a; Brewer and Horton 2002);
- promote institutional awareness (Burgstahler 2002a; Brewer and Horton 2002);
- evaluate progress towards accessibility (Smith and Lyman 2005; Burgstahler 2002a; Brewer and Horton 2002).
7). Organisations have to mean it – not pay lip service, but set SMART goals, adhere to plans, be open with failings and strive to make things better. Whilst mission statements and guidelines are a move in the right direction, they will not necessarily ensure or mandate that practice changes. In order to ensure accessibility, policies need to be specific, detailed and directive.
i.e. SMART goals
Advice from a number of accessibility advocates would suggest that accessibility policies need to:
- define the scope of the policy (Johnson et al. 2003; Brewer 2002);
- delineate a specific and official technical standard (Johnson et al. 2003; Bohman 2003d; Brewer 2002; Smith and Lyman 2005);
- indicate whether compliance is required (Bohman 2003d);
- indicate a timeline or deadline for compliance (Bohman 2003d; Brewer 2002);
- define a system for evaluating or monitoring compliance (Bohman 2003d; Brewer 2002; Smith and Lyman 2005);
- indicate any consequences for failure to comply with policy (Bohman 2003d).
8). Benchmark accessibility annually and raise the bar each year too, with comparisons tolike institutions – are we doing better or worse – and particular with those those organisations the ‘action team’ admire for what they are doing or have achieved. A useful exercise would be to look at the history of adoption of access in the physical world, the debates, legislation and practices. Change to be done appropriately and to be permanent takes time.
Develop the view that making accommodations for students with disabilities forms part of the institution’s engagement with learning technologies, can provide efficiencies and improve business agility and performance.
REVIEW – Visitors using the centre are taken through a structured questionnaire that enables them to review their learning practices and compare their level of performance against evolving good practice.
COMPARE – Three key performance indicators above.
ACT – Once you have identified where you can improve , the centre contains over 200 resources to help you take action in your business.
TOWARDS MATURITY (2012)
If none exist, what might you include in any new accessibility-related policy within an organisation?
It would be an interesting activity to hold a meeting and hand out books pertaining to contain text that are blank, to be handed a laptop on which all the keys have been glued down, a radio that scrambles the audio.
Design with Assistive Technology (AT) in mind. ‘As technology evolves, Assistive Technology (AT) often becomes outdated, leaving developers scrambling to produce new forms of AT to “catch-up” to IT. In the meantime, individuals relying on AT are left with obsolete equipment and consequently, reduced access to information and services. Although AT does catch up, inevitably, the accessibility cycle repeats itself as technology is too often developed with little or no thought to accessibility’. KATSEVA (2004)
‘Typically, technology is designed for functionality from the outset and made accessible only after-the-fact, either with AT or with retrofitting. This process excludes those for whom access to information and services is already difficult, as well as being terribly inefficient and costly. This process is akin to building a house without the electrical infrastructure, only to have each room wired individually, as new appliances are purchased’. KATSEVA (2004)
Does your organisation have other policies that should refer to accessibility?
If so, do they refer to it? If not, in what ways should they refer to it? Kelly et al. (2004) note that IT Service departments usually aim to provide a secure, robust managed environment, which may conflict with the flexibility many end users would like. (Seale 2006:128) The same is likely to occur with the strict adherence to web accessibility policies. There will need to be a compromise. The IT department, as they are used to managing and even policing IT should perhaps become the guardians of accessibility policy too as it would impact on design and programmining choices.
Who are the key people who have a role in managing accessibility in your organisation?
What helps or hinders them working together on accessibility-related issues?
Leading an institution’s response increases the visibility of accessibility as an issue, makes it easier to dedicate the necessary resources to the issue and makes the monitoring of compliance more of a probability (WebAim n.d.b).
At Cranfield University, we try to ensure that our services, products and facilities are available to all – irrespective of any disability. This applies to our website, too. Our website has been built following expert disability advice. (http://www.cranfield.ac.uk/ prospectus/ note.cfm) SEE APPENDIX 6
Oregon State University provides on its website a set of general web accessibility guidelines:
The universal access to information is a part of the University’s ongoing commitment to establishing a barrier free learning community at Oregon State. These guidelines have been established as a part of this commitment, and to meet the ethical and legal obligations that we have under The Americans with Disabilities Act, The Telecommunications Act of 1996, and The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.
The Oregon State policy has been replaced by Disability Access Services Mission and Goals, http://ds.oregonstate.edu/ about/mission.php (last accessed 24 May 2012).
Integration not segregation
Given that many advocates argue against ‘add-on’ specialist services that segregate people and issues from the mainstream, there would seem to be merit in considering whether accessibility should be integrated into existing policies or whether existing policies can be applied to e-learning accessibility.
Using this argument, perhaps accessibility should be embedded into a range of policies and strategies including: e-learning strategies; teaching and learning strategies; non-discrimination policies; inclusion policies; widening participation policies and learning resources policies.
Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Guidelines
Anderson, A. (2004) Supporting web accessibility policies: creating a campus e-culture of inclusion at UW-Madison. Paper presented at CSUN ’04. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.csun.edu/ cod/ conf/ 2004/ proceedings/ 20.htm> (last accessed 23 May 2012).
Burgstahler, S., Corrigan, B. and McCarter, J. (2004) Making distance learning courses accessible to students and instructors with disabilities: a case study. Internet and Higher Education, 7, 233–246.
Byrne, J. (2004) An example: UK university accessible web design plan. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.mcu.org.uk/show.php?contentid=85> (accessed 5 October 2005 but no longer available).
Katseva, A. (2004) The case for pervasive accessibility. Paper presented at CSUN ’04. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.csun.edu/ cod/conf/ 2004/ proceedings/ 114.htm> (last accessed 23 May 2012).
Lamshed, R., Berry, M. and Armstrong, L. (2003) Keys to access: accessibility conformance in VET. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.flexiblelearning.net.au/ projects/ resources/ accessibility-conformance.doc> (last accessed 23 May 2012).
Tinklin, T., Riddell, S. and Wilson, A. (2004) Policy and provision for disabled students in higher education in Scotland and England: the current state of play. Studies in Higher Education, 29, 5, 637–657.
TOWARDS MATURITY (2012) http://www.towardsmaturity.org/static/towards-maturity-benchmark-centre/
WebAIM. (n.d.b) The important of leadership. If not you, who? Online. Available HTTP: . (Now available at http://www.webaim.org/ articles/imp_of_leadership/, last accessed 23 May 2012.)
Wilson, A., Ridell, S. and Tinklin, T. (2002) Disabled students in higher education. Finding from key informant interviews. Online. Available HTTP: (accessed 5 October 2005 but no longer available).
Disability in business
Jonathan, who has a degenerative spinal condition which means he uses a wheelchair and has carers to assist him, has first hand experience of the challenges faced by people living with disabilities – especially in the business world. “I used to run multi-million pound companies and I’d go with some of my staff into meetings with corporate bank managers and they’d say to my staff, ‘it’s really good of you to bring a service user along’, and I’d say, ‘hang on, I’m the MD – it’s my money!’
Michael Janger has a passionate interest in products and technologies that enable people with disabilities to enjoy a better quality of life, and works with businesses to effectively market and sell these products to the disability market.
I think there are two basic assumptions that you need in order support inclusion (in any context)
- All human beings are created equal (you know the American way) and deserve to be treated as such.
- All human beings have a desire to belong in a community and live, thrive and have a sense of purpose.
The important takeaway…when you assume people want to belong. Then is it our duty as educators, parents, and advocates to figure out how we can make that happen.
Institute of Community Inclusion
For over 40 years, the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) has worked to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunity to dream big, and make their dreams a fully included, integrated, and welcomed reality. ICI strives to create a world where all people with disabilities are welcome and fully included in valued roles wherever they go, whether a school, workplace, volunteer group, home, or any other part of the community. All of ICI’s efforts stem from one core value: that people with disabilities are more of an expert than anyone else. Therefore, people with disabilities should have the same rights and controls and maintain lives based on their individual preferences, choices, and dreams.
Cerebral Palsy Career Builders
How to deal with the following:
- ‘The World Is Missing Out on a Whole Lot:’ Conversation With Disability Rights Scholar Ashley Volion (pattidudek.typepad.com)
- No bank account for people with disabilities (thehindu.com)
- Lawyer on Wheels: Beating disability to change reality (ireport.cnn.com)
- Helping people with disabilities explore sexuality (canada.com)
Fig.1. Inspiration courtesy of a pad of cartridge paper, the Royal Academy of Arts, designers in residence at the Design Museum, Mirrielees on Story Writing and Robert Gagne‘s ‘The Conditions of Learning’. There’s a guitar by the desk and a set of 6B pencils and a putty rubber out of vision.
For moments when the Muse calls … and when she doesn’t.
The cartridge paper and guitar would be on my Desert Island.
Fig.1. Ideafisher – a CD-Rom I used extensively in the 1990s. Indeed, it probably contributed to the writing of this article
(I posted this on 1 December 1999, without the image. Not quite my first blog post, that was two months earlier on 27 September. Verbatim. I’ll reflect elsewhere on how things have changed in 13 years. Do please offer comments and thoughts. No longer the ‘Net’ and we don’t call ourselves ‘infomediaries’ but search tools rule and bandwidth means that we have video on demand)
There’s a saying, “freedom is lack of choice,” the problem is, these days, when it comes to business-to-business communications the choice is bewildering, especially as New Media has blurred the edges between traditional media, such as print and video, and computers have blurred the edges between communications and businesses processes. That said, the use of traditional means of business-to-business communication, print and video, far from falling under the shadow of the Net is if anything more robust. The same technology that created the Net has speeded up the print and video production processes and made them more flexible. The reasons for producing, for example, a regular staff magazine or staff newspaper in print, for producing regular business television programmes, motivational and promotional videos remain valid.
Before we get hooked on the technology though, remember that craft skills, such as writing, designing and direction are just as important as programming.
The technology that has made these “New” forms of communication possible has at the same time invigorated print and video communications. Thanks to desk top publishing and non-linear editing, as well as the greatly reduced costs of the hardware and software involved, there has been no reduction in the number and variety of printed internal business communications and in the use of video not just as the video version of the corporate, but for everyday matters such as induction, health & safety and sales training, as well as business to business communications such as investor reports and video news releases. Indeed, if anything the accessibility of video as a business tool has allowed companies to seek bespoke answers to communications issues, instead of relying on generic productions.
In this way everything can be tailored to specific problems.
They say, “old news keeps like fish.”
This is as true in the business world as it is elsewhere. Today, because costs have come down and the digital video medium is so flexible, companies no longer need to be satisfied with “old news.” Not only can video updates be released on a regular basis, but the libraries of shots, interviews and graphics become a valuable source of material for future productions and for use on websites, CD-ROMs and in print.
Digitisation fuelled the latest innovation in business communications.
It wasn’t long ago that we marvelled at the desktop publishing that has permitted a flourishing growth in magazine titles, and supported the use of print in all kinds of ways for business communication. In the video productions business too, digital editing led to reduced cost and increased diversity. By breaking every message and every component of that message (be it the written or spoken word, photographs, animated graphs or moving images) into zeros and ones, a myriad of uses becomes possible. For a period this innovation has been exploited within separate industries, it was the gradual emergence of computer based systems, for storage, retrieval and manipulation of words and images with discs, then particularly the CD-ROM that has allowed hybrid production processes to develop. Already the CD-ROM replacement, DVD-ROM, is bringing greater speeds and huge capacities that are making the marriage between the printed word, video and computers even stronger.
Digitisation has resulted in an explosion of choice in all media.
The increased diversity of magazine titles, radio shows and TV channels available to the consumer, is mirrored by the diversity of trade magazine titles and subscription offerings. What is more, the same technology, has at the same time fuelled the broadening diversity of internal communications solutions for large businesses and organisations, and made such solutions financially feasible for medium sized and even small businesses too. Digitisation has made the tools of communication far cheaper; all a business must do therefore is identify and understand each communications problem as it arises, and then choose the most appropriate tool.
No problem, no solution!
Whether it is new media or old media, from a business point of view, they only become valid tools when there is a problem to fix. For example, if lack of awareness amongst staff is leading to poor motivation and preventing healthy cross-fertilisation of ideas, a regular business programme on video could be the solution. If, taking another example, it is found the personnel department is constantly fielding health and safety issues they may find a webzine, or Human Resources Intranet site, for employees could deal with all these matters.
By taking this approach, putting the problem before the solution, we’ll be better able to take in the bewildering choice of communications solutions now available. Solutions which on the one hand may be print, or video, a CD-ROM or a Website, but could include a mix of these media: for example, a video supported in print, a CD-ROM supported in print, or a website backed up with a video and print or live events transmitted by satellite to 10,000 desktops. In addition to mixing the media like this, constant advances and innovations mean there are new hybrids, such as DVD-ROM, which could be a platform for full-screen video-quality programmes, as well as training interactivity and an encyclopaedic depth of information. A DVD-ROM which contains the entire inventory of a business in a digital catalogue could also hold a video-like trainee induction programme, product demonstrations of varying levels of sophistication, and interactive course-books that monitor a users knowledge and feed this, with links to line managers and personnel staff. The Internet might be ubiquitous, and make an unprecedented breadth and depth of information available, it might offer immediacy in a world that wants to get things done NOW, and work as an interactive tool too, but having everything just a mouse click away is a short coming too. And speeds are yet to get close to providing the kind of fluid TV experience we are used to with terrestrial TV, video, cable or satellite.
There is no panacea.
If anything the choices are becoming wider. Whilst the business communication specialists can now use a variety of precision tools we still make excellent use of the stalwarts of our trade. As tools go, print publishing and video production are indefatigable with new solutions simply variations on this theme.
Understanding how and why print and video, staples of the business work, sheds light on the kinds of problems they were designed to fix and indicates where and how organisations should be considering the use of “New Media.”
For example, annual reports and printed statements of financial performance, have become vehicles to promote the business to shareholders, customers and suppliers. These printed reports, still produced by statutory requirement, and still showing off the latest in print design styles, have for some time been expressed in video form too. Video is considered a more user-friendly medium and can switch the attention away from sets of figures and put the attention on the leading individuals who run the business. Over the last few years some printed annual reports have been supported by a CD-ROM and of course those companies that have websites publish their results here too.
Taking another print example, staff newsletters have for decades been recognised as a useful way to keep staff up to date with HR and personal issues. In some instances these regular newsletters or magazines were supported at first by AV presentations, but then by video. Indeed, the regular staff video is considered a vital means of communicating with large numbers of staff where a business is widely dispersed, for example in all kinds of high street retailing activities, from banking, to selling cars, groceries of clothes. Considered to be more than just news, such videos are seen as an important part of regular staff training, advising them of health and safety issues, demonstrating new products and explaining special offers, as well as giving staff incentives to perform well. Viewing these tapes is often mandatory, and is likely to involve an introduction from a line manager, as well as group discussion afterwards. In a learning environment course books are common.
New media has not replaced this versatile, memorable tool, indeed in many ways new media simply offers a diversity of platforms for material that is linear in nature. The benefit of putting a business programmes onto desk top screens in a financial institution is conformity of message and minimal disruption, the advantage of a modular approach lets people view the clips which are most pertinent to them and in small time slots.
Despite the growth of the Internet as a business communications tool the corporate video still makes up over 25% of the business communications production spend in the UK. Whilst this percentage has diminished, the overall size of the business communications pie has grown significantly. We all want to know more investigate more and share more, as quickly as we think it.
In the business environment Bill Gates calls this “Business @ the speed of thought.”
They say we are entering the “Information Age.”
As tools are developed to feed us information, our hunger to know more is increased. The current context is important to consider too. As employees we are told to be prepared for a “Lifetime of Learning,” as well as constant charge. Such attitudes simply feed our growing passion to inform and be informed.
Training videos, both generic and bespoke training packages, have long been the stalwarts of business communicators.
John Cleese was one of the first in the UK to use humour to present business problems and solutions using broadcast TV production standards supported in print; others followed with generic productions of equal quality, though not necessarily playing the humour card. As video production costs dropped, especially as we moved from film to tape production, so opportunities arose for the largest organisations to commission bespoke training packages to deal with issues unique to their business. Here a number of examples can be given, for example training in the nuclear power generation and nuclear reprocessing industries where it is vital that all staff conform to the same high standards; or in customer best practice in the retail sector (whether the product is a financial service, a car or food); sales training has been the subject of many generic and bespoke productions too. The latest production innovation, an easy to use low cost digital camera, will simply increase the likelihood of companies commissioning short videos on all manner of issues, only using higher production values for productions that may have a customer facing aspect to them or will have a diversity of uses and a long shelf life. The analogy is an artist’s study – we can now paint not only with oils or water-colours, but everything in between.
Here, line managers, to justify their investment, need to be able to measure the effectiveness of their chosen information tool. There are many ways to do this, but a simple measure of performance, before then after, is often the best.
CD-ROMs are used in a diversity of ways.
For a simple way to mass distribute a short video presentation a CD-ROM is cheaper than videocassette. CD-ROMs make versatile training tools, but because they can hold such huge amounts of data, have also become invaluable supplements to the product catalogue. CD-ROMs account for 15% of visual communications projects commissioned.
The Internet is not replacement technology; it offers something new which overlaps the corporate brochure and the trade advertisement, while acting as a live means to communicate with users.
Intranets might overlap with staff magazines, but it is the functionality of computer based communications which allows them to serve a different role, for example, increasingly Human Resources Departments are using Intranets not simply to inform employees, but to make everyday records transparent so freeing up HR staff. The Internet, at first nothing more than a hybrid communications link between computers to allow sharing of information has gradually evolved, improved upon and been exploited. Whilst it has invaded all other media, it non the less draws on the familiar, it is a conduit for all that has been done before, as well as producing it’s own language.
It’s still possible to distinguish between a TV programme, a film, a radio show, a newspaper, a video game, a magazine, a telephone call, a face to face meeting and a conference – the edges are becoming blurred as the digital ocean washes across everything.
Though the Internet is just one platform which allows us to send and be sent packets of digitised information. It is fast developing in a way that is neither magazine or video, not the telephone or a fax, to a library, a gallery, or a filling cabinet … but all of these and more.
With over 60 million hosted websites and 176 million Internet users, whether in business or at home, increasingly we are falling back on technical or human information intermediaries when using the Net. We need browsers and search engines to find our way to sites of value. That said, precision searching has far to go, which is where a new breed of intermediary has emerged: “infomediaries,” teams of Net-savvy people who take your search request, just as a telephone call may be taken over the phone by your bank.
Websites, at first little more than corporate vanity sites, have developed to satisfy the differing needs of a business.
As a PR and recruitment tool they are invaluable. E.commerce is a huge growth area too, with the likes of Amazon.com blazing the way to show how books and CDs can be sold and marketed over the Net. Less ambitious though equally important for the businesses concerned, entire product catalogues are made available to buy over the Net via limited access extranets. Other business examples find supply chains monitored and updated on extranets to streamline supply. Here, the diversity of uses of the Net is most clear, it isn’t simply a platform for below the line or above the line advertising, or for in-house communications, but as a medium it can form an important part of the production process.
Together, Internet and Intranet creation now account for 35% of the UK visual communications business.
Whilst not denying its value as a conduit of information, it is just a resource or tool like any other devised and utilised by human kind, from the train to the telephone, the internal combustion engine to the Dictaphone.
Exposure to the same tools and information will result in similar solutions being offered.
Perhaps until recently it was easy to see that a brochure, a conference, a video would provide the solution – today with such a wide number of options it becomes all the more important to consider each communication problem in isolation.
Care needs to be taken to identify the nature of the problem; write precise briefs and so put forward a variety of appropriate solutions. As such solutions are tried and prove effective then the expectations of those commissioning work, as well as the audience change – they may call for the same response to a similar response, or in a climate of change expect further innovations.
In the broadcast arena commission editors want the same programmes for less, because they know hardware costs keep dropping and production innovations have speeded up so reducing the labour costs – I wish the same could be said for having the car serviced.
For cost –effective and fast solutions to broadcasting information (video, audio and data) around the globe the World Wide Web is too slow – it cannot deliver the quality of TV transmission we expect. Instead we can call on the immediacy of transmission by satellite, which these days includes the multicasting of all data, as a TV show or with the interactivity of a CD-ROM. CD-ROMs provide a high level of interactivity, which makes them ideal for training purposes, and they’re good for cheap distribution for large mail-outs too.
Live Events are part of the communications mix we haven’t mentioned yet, but account for 20% of the business. Here, as with the printed word and video production, whilst the tools to create, produce and manage such events have changed, their purpose is just as valid. No technology has replaced the importance and value of bringing people together to take part in an event, have questions answered, and to network. We value the proximity of live events and face to face meetings, we are reassured by seeing someone in the flesh and making value judgements about their aptitudes, experience, manner and approach.
Left to a computer no business relationship would create a long lasting bond – we need exposure to different people, in fact a balance between the familiar and the new, between different mind sets is how to create synergy.
All forms of visual communication must be seen in context, we are social beings who love to interact, love to be informed and entertained, tested and intrigued; there are many different ways of doing this and each tool has its strength.
New ways of working are being developed.
Because computers enable us to share so much suppliers and clients could make everything they do for each other transparent. This is already the case in many sections of the automotive trade where an entire supply chain is revealed to all those who impact upon it in order to make constant improvements which impact on the customer.
In the past the role of the producer in corporate communications was a bit like that of a doctor; the client came to them with a problem which the doctor would diagnose and then propose a treatment. Increasingly patients are being encouraged to understand their condition, the symptoms and the prescribed course of action so that their knowledge can work with that of the doctor. The relationship becomes symbiotic. If clients and producers are to benefit fully from the bewildering choice of solutions and take full advantage of any innovations they need to get under each other’s skin.
I liken e.mail to electronic Ping-Pong, it enables people who are working together – be it across a desk or across the world, to share in the thought process, the strategic thinking process, the creative thinking and the production process as it happens.
Fears over undue client interference have been unfounded as everyone recognises the need to work towards set stages within the production process. The advantage in the creative world is to ensure that all those working on a project share the same vision. The process and convenience in the past has meant that, like locks across a river, client and producer or account handler would fix a date for a presentation then get together to consider the brief, then the proposal, then a treatment, then scripts based on this treatment would be presented, whilst in the meantime budgets and schedules are confirmed. Further meetings are then held to sign off draft and final versions of the creative execution, whether it’s a poster campaign, double-page spread or TV commercial. Today, in many instances the gates that form these locks can be removed to allow the process to flow uninterrupted. In this way the main client can sit like a passenger as the producer drives the project forward, but also a host of support staff can also tap into the information. The result is that the client is able to contribute throughout the process and it is far easier to make slight adjustments to the itinerary without having undue impact on costs or schedule, indeed, there is a far greater chance that the chosen destination will be reached.
Whilst the convergence of print, video and computers may be creating a bewildering choice of hybrids, it is reassuring to see that we are entering traditional territory as the kind of mixed media solutions we have used for many years serve the same purpose.
For example, business programmes distributed by cassette are often supported with printed support materials and questionnaires to generate feedback. Over the last 10 years those companies using satellite distribution for live regular staff programmes have used the telephone to feed questions to a board director or panel of experts. Digital transmission by satellite offers both programme output, if necessary to desktop screen, as well as interactivity of data.
The advantages to distributing such programmes on video cassette, where it is appropriate, for example in the car trade where offers, models and revisions are made frequently up to the minute LIVE satellite transmissions have become a regular feature. Here an interactive element is easy to introduce, originally by taking phone calls and faxes, but increasingly by fielding questions using the spare capacity within the digital transmission. Indeed, in some instances, important business decisions are taken by inviting the audience, whether staff or customers, to vote on various matters which will impact on their business. Here, if the interface looks like something off the Net, it is because the TV graphics skills are similar whether the images end up on a computer screen or on TV.
Reassuringly the process of thinking through a communications problem, preparing a brief and putting forward a solution, remains much the same whether it is a video, a publication, Website or live event, the difference today is that tools we have in our tool box are being improved constantly and new tools are added all the time.
Returning to the analogy of an ocean formed by universal digitisation creating distinct, valuable and durable pockets of expression will remain – our senses, our interest in story telling and our social experience will make TV, radio, the printed word and live performance as valid in the next century as it has in this. At the same time new platforms are coming to life.
If the ocean represents digitisation then different layers within this ocean represent public access Internet sites restricted access (by subscription) extranets and closed access Intranet sites.
If someone can dream it up and there’s a market for it, it will sell. Computers have simplified tasks, so has the Internet. We can learn more, faster and our knowledge can be put to the test. Just as in the past innovations like paper clips or “post it” notes came along to solve problems in the office, so today innovations which make information more effective because it gets wider distribution, more memorable because the audience are tested on what they have learnt will be exploited.
There’s too much on the Net, so search engines improve and we let newswires, personalised pages, and intermediaries do the searching for us.
Vernon.J (1999) What’s new about new media? Not much. http://www.jonathan.diaryland.com/newmedia1.html (accessed 29 November 2012)
Fig.1. Sample production screen-grabs from Jonathan Vernon’s show-reel (that’s him on the far left)
Develop the craft skills of a storyteller.
Use a creative brief from the outset to nail down the topic, coming up with ideas, flesh out a treatment and deliver a script.
Pace and variety are crucial.
The industry standard creative brief that I have used in a career in advertising, corporate communications and training is:
- What is the problem?
- Who are you speaking to?
- What do you want to say?
- How should they respond to this message?
- What else do we need ro know?
Keep this to a single sheet of A4 then hand it to a professional writer/art director team.
- Expect back a selection of synopses. Choose one.
- Get a treatment from this.
- Once approved writing the script is easy.
- Only then think of execution.
It pays to have a professional graphics person who can make the platform used sing, or video production, or web design …
Death by power point is far, far too common.
Be sensitive to pace, have variety.
Rehearse and change stuff that doesn’t work or is dull.
If in doubt a good presenter should be able to deliver without any AV support as it is the message delivered with conviction, authenticity and enthusiasm that is more important that how slides wipe, or the music track on a piece of video.
There’s too much ‘death by papermation’ out there
Too long, long winded, rambling presentations with the artist trying to keep up and offering nothing at all new other than translating it – about as useful as having someone sign with no one in the audience with a hearing impairment. A literal expression of text is pointless – the imagination does a better job. Rather the images must juxtapose, complement even conflict with what is being said. You are trying afterall to get and retain attention – controversy, irony and inventiveness works.
The software never solves your problem.
Have something worthwhile to say first, then choose from a plethora of delivery mechanisms the one which has the most appropriate fit.
China Britain Business Council – Business Development Event – Free for IVCA Members (£40 for non-members)
The China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) would like IVCA Members to join us THIS EVENING for the Wuxi City Creative, Cultural, Media & Digital Event.
This is an excellent opportunity for you to meet key government officials in the creative and media industry. Wuxi City, and the surrounding area is home to many major players in the creative and media industry in China. Further to this there may be some good contacts made for you and the International Visual Communications Association which can hopefully lead to excellent business opportunities in the future.
The event is taking place in the London Film Museum and will start at 4.00pm and finish at 7:30pm.
We would be grateful if you could attend, or even pass this information on to anybody in your company who would be interested in attending. Our delegation from Wuxi has specifically asked for members in the creative industry or people who are just have a general interest. It would be a pleasure to host the IVCA at this high-profile event.
For more information about the event please click here. Also, please give me a call if you wish to hear more about the event and if you would like to register.
CBBC Events Team
China-Britain Business Council
Tel: +44 (0)207 802 2006