PSWMG: Another Update

Tuesday, September 11, 2007 22:30 | Filed in Accessibility, Articles, Public Sector, Standards, Technology

As you may recall, the people behind Public Sector Forums (PSF) are facilitating the creation of a new group — “The Public Sector Web Managers’ Group” (PSWMG). It’s important to stress that it’s something that they are facilitating: they have emphasised that it isn’t going to be their group, it will be an independent entity although they will be prepared to assist their knowledge and expertise when it comes to organising events etc.

A number of the issues I raised about it before — issues of governance and the like — appear to have either been partly or wholly addressed and I’m confident that, assuming that they can get enough people willing to volunteer their time to take part, the group can be a success.

However, that may be one of the issues. For a start, the group pitches itself as being:

primarily aimed at web managers in the UK’s public sectorPSWMG

That is, it’s happy to include other people, but that’s not who it’s primarily for.

Well, as someone who isn’t a public sector web manager, that already makes me feel like a bit of an unwanted hanger-on. That’s not a problem to me: I only have a finite amount of spare time and if a particular group doesn’t want me to help them out, that’s fine by me.

I also know from private conversation with one of the people from PSF that at least one of the managers who has expressed an interest has volunteered an opinion that the group should be restricted to public sector web managers.

That’s not a problem for me, and I understand where he or she is coming from. After all, the managers are the ones with the “real-life” responsibility; they are the ones who will be held accountable in their day jobs for the decisions they make; they are the ones who will need to decide whether their council website is going to follow standards set out by the PSWMG, they have a need to be practical and they are concerned about a potential risk of the group being hijacked by some other group with a slightly different agenda (probably by people they would think of as ‘standards zealots’).

Believe me, I do understand that, which is why I don’t think I should be arguing about whether the PSWMG should be primarily for managers, or be a ‘broader church’. I think this is a decision for other people.

However, I do reserve the right not to want to dedicate my free time to a group where I’m treated as a second class citizen simply because I have different responsibilities in my day job.

When I turn up to work, part of the deal with being paid is that I accept the organisational hierarchy around me. I know who my managers are, and I know that while I can raise issues or suggestions to them, they are the ones with the overall responsibility and accountability and when it comes down to it, I’ll do what I’m asked to do.

But I can’t say I’d be willing to join a volunteer group where I’m asked to respect the same hierarchy, and don’t get either an equal say, or a say proportional to the amount of work I put in. If my thoughts, works and opinions aren’t at least equally valued, then I simply won’t do it.

I can still contribute to the group from outside by talking about it publicly, by making public suggestions on my website and so on, but I don’t really see the point in volunteering to be a small, unvalued and unacknowledged cog in a different organisation, when by making by points publicly I get — assuming that they are good points, anyway — to enhance my professional reputation as well as my personal ‘brand’.

And I suspect I’m not the only non-manager who thinks like this.

Which is why I have doubts that the group as it stands will achieve in all of its aims.

The group wants to do things like:

  • Produce guidelines and white papers on subjects of interest, for example quality assurance and benchmarking
  • Publication of formal reports, including an annual “state of the nation” evaluation of the public sector web
  • The publication of performance reports, based on transparent, consensual criteria


I think those are all worthwhile objectives. I just don’t think that the majority of public sector web managers will (or should be expected to) have the technical expertise to evaluate and benchmark websites; to compile the consensual criteria to be used in the performance reports (although they should be involved in approving them) or to carry out benchmarking.

I also think it unlikely (although I’m prepared to be wrong on this one) that many public sector web managers would be willing to spend the time necessary to go through and evaluate web sites in this way. I’d presume this is something that they would expect to be done for them.

Which is really the crux of the problem. The way I see it is that the Public Sector Web Managers want to have the authority in the PSWMG, but they want the staff with the technical skills to do the donkey work. Well, no thank you. I’m quite happy to do work as instructed when I’m paid to recognise someone else’s authority, but if I’m giving up my spare time to do work then I damn well want the credit and acknowledgement for the work I’m doing.

So there are two conflicting problems:

  • If the group is just about managers, the managers won’t get everything they want because the technical resources they need may not be available
  • If the group includes everyone, then it may not head in a direction that the public sector web managers want

How do we solve them?

I don’t really know. It depends on what people want out of the group. The things I want are recognition for the work that I do and an influence proportional to that work, as opposed to being proportional to my day job.

If the managers want to get some un-named and unacknowledged ‘grunts’ to do this sort of work for them, then I don’t really know who’d be willing to give up their unpaid spare time to do under-appreciated work when they wouldn’t have any say in how that work was to be used.

One option would be to commission someone to do this work for them. The drawback with this is that it would of course cost money.

Of course, if the managers are happy that they will be able to contribute the time and experience to do this themselves, then there’s no problem…

Another alternate option is to beef up the ‘recognition’ side of things, and use something akin to the W3C‘s “Invited Expert” status.

It the PSWMG were to officially request advice or help from me, to help in devising testing methodologies, to help define standards, or to help in analysing sites, then I’d be more likely to give up some of my spare time to do it if the PSWMG formally and publicly requested my help as an expert in that field. It would be a boost to my personal standing, it would certainly make me feel valued, and it would be a way in which I’d be willing to contribute without expecting to be involved in the decision making if the group were publicly acknowledging that they considered my input to be valuable in this way, and/or that any work I was involved in would clearly indicate who I am and this status.

I would also expect to retain at least some form of shared rights over documentation or other products that was produced either by me or indirectly from work that I was asked to do.

In other words, I’ll work for one of three things, and I don’t honestly mind which one it is:

  • I’ll work with others if I’ll be given an equal say in how things are going to work, because then I can help steer it to do what I think is best
  • I’ll work for others and accept a hierarchy of importance if I’m being paid to do so
  • I’ll work in exchange for a decent bit of public recognition, and retaining some form of rights over the work I carry out

If the PSWMG don’t want to give me any of these things, then I’m sure I’ll still stick my oar in from time to time on my site, telling them what I think they’re doing wrong as and when I see fit (and indeed where they are going right, if appropriate!), as I can still “work for the greater good” by doing this, but if they want to be able to ask me to carry out specific tasks, then it’s not unreasonable for me to expect one of the above in return.

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9 Comments to PSWMG: Another Update

  1. Anthony says:

    September 12th, 2007 at 9:53 am

    There are some good points you’ve made there.

    I like the idea of this group, but I don’t like the manager tag either. Especially as most of the web related managers I have met over the years tend to be the last people I would want to see in charge of governing any sort of body related to the future of Local Authority web development. (Present job excluded of course!)

    However looking at the agenda for the first meeting I can see why the manager tag is there…

    :: Choosing a suitable CMS
    :: Panel / Floor Discussion – ‘What is the perfect council website?’
    :: The local authority webteam and standards
    :: Intranets in Local Government – The Future? (do we actually need them?)

    Well… it’s not very technical is it? In fact, the sucking of eggs comes to mind.

    Also scanning through the forum it’s already becoming apparent that we have the same few well recognised BIG voices coming out over everyone else. Some voices I’m more comfortable with than others.

    Oh and the PublicSectorForums involvement also means that the events do bear a massive resemblance to every other PublicSectorForum event… not always a bad thing (that’s were I first encountered your good self after all…), but it would be nice to get a different view that was obviously seperate.

    Maybe even with less focus on the Local Gov aspect, and more on the real world.

    I’m rambling now but, basically, though my interest has been piqued but I don’t think this is going to be for me.

    The clue was in the title really.

  2. paul canning says:

    September 12th, 2007 at 11:50 am

    I don’t think it can be managers only and I wouldn’t participate if that’s the case. I haven’t heard this from anyone and I doubt it’s envisaged by the initiators as such. i’ll ask someone to confirm me on this for you Jack.


  3. Ian Dunmore says:

    September 12th, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    Anthony, I don’t agree the PSWMG event bears a great resemblance to others PSF does – for a start there aren’t any commercial slots involved as we would normally have (the private sector speakers that are there have been invited due to expertise in the field), at least two of the sessions (‘what is the perfect council website’ & ‘Web 2.0′) will be dealt with via panel / floor discussions and the sessions will all be longer than the usual 30-35 minutes. It’s a completely different format (deliberately). As for the ‘big voices’ you talk about on the PSWMG site what do you suggest? I regularly (well, as regularly as I can) send out updates to the list I have of those interested but you can take a horse to water as they say.

    One thing is for sure – unless people are prepared actually to DO something where this Group is concerned rather than waiting to be spoon-fed and just looking on chances are it will go nowhere.

  4. Peter Wardley-Repen says:

    September 12th, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Seems to me like we’re getting hung up on the M-word. The word in the title is Management, after all, not Managers. Technically, I’m a manager, since I currently manage/supervise one staff member (soon to be reorganised into a different department – don’t get me started…). However, my function, regardless of who I’m in charge of, is to manage the website, for which I don’t need to be classed as a manager per se. Indeed, I’m officially designated Corporate Web Editor, though my actual functions go much farther than that.

    If the group is called the Public Sector Web Management Group, then that indicates to me that it should be open to anyone who’s involved with the management of websites, rather than the management of web teams. That opens it to techies, PR people and independent experts as well as Web department managers.

    (I’m also posting this at PSWMG, btw)

  5. Anonymous says:

    September 12th, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    A really useful response to yours too from Carl Haggerty posted on PSWMG:

    Jack, what do you think?

  6. paul canning says:

    September 12th, 2007 at 6:35 pm


    my opinion is that it can’t be just ‘managers’ – for one thing this would currently exclude me as my title says ‘officer’! It also can’t be just webbies because that would exclude our head, our ‘web manager’, which I wouldn’t want to see, even though he’s not a ‘webbie’. the core has to be webbies though, web-people, and as Jack points out, this could be people who’s not got Manager in their title.

    Ian is totally right though about participation, it won’t happen without it.

    I’ve also posted elsewhere that it should be open to commercial people but only by invitation of a member – for one thing, if the commercial person uses the opportunity to sell, sell, sell then we can take it out on the inviter ;]


  7. Anthony says:

    September 13th, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Sorry Ian (and Jack for hijacking your comments…), maybe I didn’t state my point as clearly as I should have?

    It’s just that some of the topics covered at the first meeting… well they cover areas that, really, the members of the group should really know a lot about already.

    If you have enough interest to join a group as such as this then I would have thought/hoped that perhaps you should, for example, already know what to look for in CMS.

    The discussion panels are a good idea. (Though I get the feeling that the Perfect Council Website one may as well be called How Long is the Perfect Piece of String!)

    Personally I’d like to see some more focus on the practical design and code elements – but I think that’s where the management angle comes in and moves away from that side of the job.

    I’d personally find presentations and discussions about accessibility techniques, design techniques, grid layouts, web typography, semantics, HTML 5, CSS 3, WCAG 2 etc. much more useful – and that’s not really management.

    That’s practical getting the job done stuff.

    That is why I find the Management tag off putting – and, for that matter, why I mentioned the similarities to the PSF events I have been to.

    It’s perhaps not a problem of the group itself, it’s just that I just don’t feel it’s being aimed at me – as someone who actually does the coding and design of sites.

    There are lots of really good conferences and events out there that already deal for that side of things… but not from a local government angle.

    As for the voices thing… well, yeah, I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ve checked back at the forum a lot but haven’t really had anything to say on any of the subjects! I promise I will try…

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