Public Sector Forums: Deep Space Nine

Thursday, August 17, 2006 23:24 | Filed in Life, Public Sector, Technology

I’ve recently attended this event — well, actually, I think it was called “Government websites 2.0: the next generation!” but that’s the same sort of thing, isn’t it? Why would I attend an event like this? Well, firstly because I was asked to speak at it and it would be quite difficult to speak at it if I didn’t attend; secondly because my surname is Pickard, so as I understand it I’m obliged to attend anything which has “the next generation” in it, thirdly because there were several of speakers I have a great deal of respect for, and finally because, well, it sounded kinda interesting.

Anyway, when I told Ian Dunmore of Public Sector Forums (the lads and lasses behind the event) that I was putting my speaker notes online, he got the wrong end of the stick, thought I was doing some kind of conference review and asked me to be nice about him. I wasn’t, although it had crossed my mind. As for Ian, well, I found him to be very charming and pleasant, although I was led to believe (by Ian, as it happens) that he did manage to achieve a foot-placed-firmly-in-mouth incident at one point.

Hmm. A review might just be interesting

The Venue

The venue was the East id ands Conference Centre, at least if you believed the lettering above the door. It was far too far from my house, meaning that I had to get up at four in the morning to catch the necessary train. Four bleeding a.m. Other than that, and the lack of an open bar at the end of the day, the venue was fine: a nice site, good food quality and Ian and Emma from PSF were great for putting me at my ease and generally getting me nice and relaxed.

The Speakers

I don’t really want to talk about the speakers, or what they had to say in much detail, because then I’m either criticising someone who’s undertaken a hard job in standing up in front of everyone and saying their piece, or I’m coming over like some terrible conference luvvie, suggesting that everyone was just “wonderful, daahling!”. I’ll therefore leave it for other people to cover the speakers in detail.

Instead, I’ll just say that I felt the speakers meshed well together, with talks on usability, standards, accessibility, accessibility standards, PAS78, Governmental initiatives and so on complementing each other well.

In fact, as far as I was concerned, there were only two technical hitches. Firstly, PowerPoint decided to take a hissy fit and throw an application error four slides before the end of Paul Canning’s Guerilla Usability, leaving him needing to talk us down safely without the aid of a safety net. Secondly, there was the videos guy.

I’ll hold my hand up here and say that I may be a lone voice in the wilderness here; everyone else may have felt he suited the event perfectly, and it’s entirely possible that I’m unintentionally misrepresenting him or the purpose of his talk. As I say, all this is my opinion and quite possibly my opinion alone. For this reason, I’m not naming the guy or the company, because I don’t wish to be unfair — although I do think I’m perfectly entitled to give my opinion.

Anyway, it was really the fact that he was insisting that text was “dead” and that pre-recorded video was going to replace for everything in the next 15 years, up to and including instructions for self-assembly flat-pack furniture. Again, I personally have a very different opinion here. Bear in mind this is a conference for web professionals in the UK public sector. People who are veyr much used to using text to deliver information. People who may have been sitting there wondering exactly how local residents would be expected to pay their council tax online via pre-recorded video, or book a leisure activity online through pre-recorded video, or wondering what’s happening to those disabled residents who can’t see the video now that we’re apparently no longer going to be providing a text alternative.

Okay, so maybe the guy was just being over-enthusiastic, and over-egging video a little bit. It couldn’t help but get my back up though because it made me feel like he’d not taken much interest in understanding the needs of his audience — I would have been happier to see a discussion on teleconferencing or on pre-recorded video being used for promotional pieces — and it left me wondering whether it was intended solely as a sales pitch for his company, which could produce exactly this sort of pre-recorded video for you if you wanted them to.

I don’t think this was the case, but equally I think he’s either misunderstood the needs of his audience, or he’s over-playing the role that pre-recorded video will have in the future. Of course, this is only my opinion, and it could be that I’m totally wrong. I’ve certainly got nothing against the chap, and the videos he showed us looked nice. I just don’t think they really fitted with the rest of the conference.

Accessites Plug

There was also the fact that both Dan and myself managed to get in a reference to Accessites, the showcase for good looking accessible websites, which both Dan and myself contribute to. What was particularly nice was the fact that I didn’t even think either of the plugs were gratuitous — Dan’s fitted neatly into his slides, and mine was in direct response to a question as to whether or not it was possible for accessible sites to look good.


If I had expected to be struck by mind-numbing fear when I considered the people I’d be speaking with, especially considering it was the first time I’d done anything like this, then I would have been wrong. It was a weird feeling to be speaking at the same conference as Julie Howell from the RNIB, particularly since she’s partly responsible for my own personal interest in accessibility, as my own personal interest was first kindled at an event in Leeds in October 2003 when I heard her (and several others, to be fair) speak.

Everyone I met on the day seemed jolly nice and it was particularly good to finally meet the flesh-and-blood incarnations of some of the various online personas I’ve come across before, such as the distressingly dapper-looking Grant Broome, and Paul Canning who I actually managed to meet on the train on the way to the conference, and scrambled back onto the train via the driver’s cab with at the end of the conference.

Hanging Question

One of the biggest things that the conference left me with however was a question on self-referential links. But that’s another story

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9 Comments to Public Sector Forums: Deep Space Nine

  1. Grant Broome says:

    August 22nd, 2006 at 10:54 am

    Nice write up Jack, I totally agree with the video-guy comment. Joe Clark would be up in arms to see those non-captioned nuggets of non-disabled-audience-only wisdom splattered across the screen. I think the organisers were caught a bit by surprise too.

    “..distressingly dapper-looking?”
    Your tenner is in the post.

  2. Paul Canning says:

    August 22nd, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    also agree about the video guy, although I was mainly disappointed as I could see video being very useful from an accessibility perspective. actually very unusual and almost pleasurable to see a pitch at us so wide of the mark. we get so many that reference ticking various boxes …

  3. Stuart Harrison says:

    August 22nd, 2006 at 3:49 pm

    Have to agree with you about the video guy as well, he seemed like a nice bloke and all, but the claims about video being ‘the future’ were a tad on the ridiculous side and the fact that it followed on from Dan Champion’s talk on accessibility standard made it even more so!

    Still, ’twas a good day nonetheless and I got a helluva lot of good ideas!

  4. Jared Quesne says:

    August 22nd, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    I found most of the speakers interesting and I was glad of the help and advice on Accessibility standards and issues as I have been wrestling with it for some time now

    Good write-up Jack!

  5. Andy Mabbett says:

    August 22nd, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Video guy was a salesman, no more, and added nothing to the event. His material was drearily sexist, too. I only just managed to restrain myself from calling out, half way through the first example, “I can’t hear it” (I could, in fact it was far too loud, but we devils apricots (sic) have standards to maintain) “please can you put the subtitles on?”

    Of course, I wish, now, that I had done so.

  6. Shelley Rosenberg says:

    August 23rd, 2006 at 11:10 am

    The only fly in the ointment was the video guy – his presentation was a waste of time. Otherwise, I found the day to be very useful and relevant, but the venue – never mind you having to get up at 4am – I had to spend 2 days away from home in order to attend….

  7. Steve says:

    August 23rd, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    I was away on my hols and I’m really gutted I missed this. My boss went, though, and she came back raving about “Dan Champion and Jack Pickard”. A convert!

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