Choices, promises and client experience
Like an awful lot of people I know, I've been spending time working through the manifestos of the main political parties, in what feels like an increasingly vain attempt to establish which of these rather unimpressive candidates it may be worth voting for. Things would be an awful lot easier if there was some kind of consistent relationship between the Party Leader, the policies, and the local candidate. This is rarely the case. We end up voting for that nice man in our constituency, even though his own party's policies are only slightly more humanitarian in their focus than Stalin's.
Or - and this, in my experience, is a rarer outcome - we vote for the party whose policies make most sense, despite the fact that they are fielding an imbecile as the local candidate. My wife, returning from a hustings on Monday evening was clearly disillusioned with the nature of the choices available, and indeed with the prospects for western civilisation, if this is the best we can do. If those who aspire to lead us exhibit the kind of intellectual quality that makes a housebrick look alert by comparison, one wonders what difference a cross in a box is going to make in the wider context.
It is when we get down to the nuts and bolts of democracy when the gap between rhetoric and reality is most conspicuous.
There are lessons for us, as IFAs, to be learned here. One area of commonality across several parties' manifestos, was a commitment to make services "more accessible", which is policyspeak for losing people to people interaction, and replacing it all with the interweb. Of course, it is entirely possible that this could be implemented well, in a way that would actually benefit the public. Even the most minimalist web-interface is preferable to some surly "Computer says no" character whose preferred vocation in life was probably bludgeoning seals, but lacked access to decent career advice.
As someone who has recently invested more blood, sweat and tears than I care to recall in negotiating the US Embassy's online student visa system, these kinds of proposals provide a compelling stimulus to relocate to a hovel in the remote fastness of the Welsh countryside, where I will devote myself to throwing every computer I own off a cliff. It is, of course, entirely possible that teams of dedicated civil servants might create online systems which are a joy to use, where we would flit serenely from one satisfactory solution to the next - but real experience tells us that what politicians and bureaucrats actually produce is an online experience where physically removing one's own teeth would provide a welcome relief. Dante's Inferno reads like a holiday brochure, compared to the US Embassy's system which seems intentionally designed to dissuade people from ever going to the USA.
Online systems and services can be good. But because ours is a people business, where the best things happen when two human beings talk to each other over the table (preferably with decent coffee), we have to take very great care when designing them. Poorly-conceived online services are actually counterproductive, disenfranchising people with real needs, and removing personal qualities such as care, compassion, service and thoughtfulness from the business of intermediation.