The Norwegian Computing Centre: The users know best
Users should be involved in making decisions when new ICT solutions are developed. The Norwegian standard NS 11040 deals with levels of joint decision-making during the development process.
Standards Norway entered into a joint venture agreement with the IT Project for the Disabled (IT Funk) at the Norwegian Research Council and a standardisation committee was set up. This committee draws up overall standards for user involvement, with the emphasis on processes. NS 11040 recommends that users should be jointly involved in making decisions. It is not enough to simply receive information or to have a consultative role. Users could have joint decision-making powers in their own right, and represent an organisation or a user group. The Chairperson of the committee was Kristin Skeide Fuglerud from the Norwegian Computer Centre.
"ICT solutions have often been adapted to suit the young people who created them, but we need the expertise of users in order to ensure that everyone can use such solutions. These standards are necessary in order to prevent chaos and ensure democratic opportunities for everyone. Just imagine holding electronic parliamentary elections where no-one was able to vote, or someone was not able to participate in a political debate, just because they did not have access to important documents," says Ms. Fuglerud.
"Another example is the sequence of numbers of a keyboard. If the numbers are in the wrong order, then most people would key in the wrong PIN number."
This standard explains the various stages of the development process, from planning and organising, to specification of usage context, user requirements, and the design of solutions. It deals with ICT-related goods and services, but can also be used for other product areas. It describes the various stages and activities contained in a human-oriented process. Step by step this standard accounts for how users can become involved. It is also a tool used for identifying knowledge and roles, making demands on developers and dealing with conflicts. Information about functional impairment and barriers has also been included in this standard.
"As far as I am concerned user testing is all about finding out when the user gets lost. Research shows that highly diverse user groups can reveal a high percentage of user problems. For comparative purposes, up to half of such problems are revealed by experts, while less than a quarter are revealed by ICT tools. Having various disabled users has been shown to be effective. They reveal problems quickly, provided that they are allowed to participate right from the start," says Ms. Fuglerud.
She believes that there are many good ways of bringing in users. They can participate in working groups, write diaries, test solutions, and they can be observed while they are using these solutions.
Original text in Norwegian: Siv Ellen Omland, Empower Communication
Picture: Standard Online AS