Ensuring Access to Information

October 13, 2023 5 Min Read

The growth of the Internet, the largest source of information and discussion in history

It’s a daily occurrence to video call people on the other side of the world on my mobile as I sit drinking expresso in some artisan coffee shop connected to the largest repository of information ever.

But as a child, I remember sitting on an old Mac (then a new one), watching still/slow video from a camera in the Panda enclosure at San Diego Zoo. My mom shouted that I needed to get off the dial-up as she needed to make a phone call, thinking this was mind-blowing. 

Why is this important? It shows how the Internet has changed the world and us relatively quickly. Our ability to connect to the Internet and access information has removed many of the geographic and financial barriers we have in learning more things, looking for answers and connecting with people.

Exchange and Interaction with Information

This open exchange of information and ideas will ultimately lead to finding all the answers to today’s and tomorrow’s problems. It also has changed how we think and interact as humans as we no longer see the transmission of information as a single-liner message but as a dynamic and growing interactive source of knowledge; as humans, many of the factors that kept us apart are now of no importance.

Humanity and the Internet are now linked, with the growth of the information on the web or the machine; as anthropologist Michael Wesch said, “The Machine is Us/ing Us.” With this in mind, This obligates us to make this available to anyone and remove as many limiting factors as possible. 

We have to design a way for people to attach thoughts and content to information; we no longer have the information in the linear form found in books. It now lives as a network of individual points that relate to other pieces of information, and we can quickly jump from one to another.

The problem is that it becomes easy to miss some contexts and the progressions of people’s thoughts and understanding. We need a different way to understand how to present thoughts that allows the presentation of information in a linear fashion with links depth on specific elements and mix this with the more extensive web of no-liner information comfortably. 

This change creates the need for an Information Curator, someone or a group who looks at how information is curated, its relationships and its presentation. A field that, although it has advanced quickly, is still in its infancy as we are all trying to find our way.

Presentation of Information

Accessibility to information has always been a concern, and the printing press was responsible for the first significant leap. Later, the work of Louis Braille made the same information available to people who were blind.

With the growth of technology, it is possible to present information in many different ways, such as screen readers. Still, as I discovered in a training session, A lot of planning and testing needs to be done for a screen to work well for both the visual user and the screen reader. 

The correct tagging of images and many other things needs consideration; it is no longer just visual design, and as technology and our understanding of how people can interact with information grows, this area of expertise will grow almost daily.

What does this mean?

For an individual or organisation to present a piece of information is no longer just someone writing or filming a piece of content. To be appropriately done, it’s the work of several people with a wide spread of skills and knowledge. Or, at the very least, an established and defined process that tries to encompass everything.

We need to think about our interactions differently and how easily the recipient will understand them, even to the point of perhaps presenting the information in different ways and levels to make it accessible.

What it means is that it is now something that we need to consider whether we are pushing out information to market a company or adding to the ever-growing database of human thought and understanding.

What are we doing in CIVIC?

We began by forming a Usability Team that started to work on each project to ensure we considered useability at each step. Initially, we created an internal training programme to raise awareness and then moved on to role-specific training.

The UX Team began to work with clients more closely to structure and better understand the information they are presenting, how best to do this and ensure that the interactions allow for the needed two-way exchange.

The Development Teams introduced new techniques and technology and removed some old technologies. Development starts with a better understanding of the needs of the user/s and their limitations.

We have developed our User-generated content engine, which is used heavily in education and have begun to look at how we can create answers to some of the questions that we and others see.

Accessibility and information structure are now linked, and there is no perfect answer; all we can do is keep asking questions and find answers.

Let’s talk about Accessibility and Your Information

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