Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Lessons Learned

No discussion of the transformation of system design is possible at the moment without recourse to the severe nature of the research funding environment; currently, the recession has replaced necessity as the mother of invention. Given this, what practical change could take place?

System development could take a more open, public approach, and usability techniques could prove extremely useful here as they enable interaction with users in multiple ways, from surveys and interviews to blog postings of results. This would create more information which a project could publish through its lifecycle rather than aggregating and (to a certain extent) generalising in a final report.

Publishing the project plan and outcomes provides a useful starting point for the project; however, the language used in them will likely come directly from the original application for funding which will be highly specialised and reliant to a certain degree on jargon and technical understanding. Far more preferable would be to ensure that all public project communications could be accessible to as wide an audience as possible (this should include, of course, budget holders within the projects' own organisation).

To further exploit the work undertaken, an open library of evidence collected at first hand could be created from each project. Put simply, if a project undertakes a survey of, say, 100 researchers in a specific academic discipline then that survey must be made available for re-use. The same concept could be applied to interviews, focus groups or transect walks provided that data protection legislation was adequately followed. This would make available a knowledge base upon which other projects could instantly draw for informing their own usability strategies. Furthermore, with much research being ploughed into text mining, the first hand evidence materials here would form an excellent candidate for approaches such as sentiment analysis.

By applying research practice, this field could be transformed from one predominantly made up of narrative reflections of practitioners to a data store (perhaps accessible via an API) on which projects could draw for the modelling and evolution of user behaviour; thus corroborating or challenging results, and even for constructing funding applications (for instance, if particular sections of the academic community have not been adequately served or covered in prior research).

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