Thursday, November 16, 2006

The last 24 hours: Information at decision points

The last 24 hours have been interrupted by mis-communication, bad communication and no communication. Of course, lots of things have gone right, but as I scan back over what I've been doing, it is the communication problems that stand out to me. Of course, we (you and I) never communicate badly , but let's see what we can learn from one of the mis-communications.

Yesterday afternoon, I was driving on the New York State Thruway (a toll road) and heard on the radio that part of the Thruway was closed due to a fatal accident. This closure was going to affect my route, so I tried to keep close tabs on its status. The problem? The Thruway's notification system (AM radio) only works in specific areas on the Thruway and not everywhere, and the normal radio stations only give traffic reports during rush hour. So at my most critical decision point, I had no/bad information and ended up being stuck in traffic. A drive that should have taken me 2 - 2.5 hours took 4.5 hours instead.

The lesson: We need to provide information when people need it, which is often at a decision point. Even if the information has been provided earlier, how does the person know if it is still valid when that person gets to the decision point? At that decision point, could the person gain access to the information again (or even updated information)?

An easy library example, is telling patrons the library's layout. Often this is done at the front door or near the elevators, if there are any. Yet a person can be anywhere in a library and need to decide where to go next. Could those facility maps (or whatever you use) be placed at other locations?

Thinking about our online environment, this could translate into giving people easy access to site maps, etc., so that they do not get lost on a web site.

Another example has to do with our digital collections. When a person is looking at an image and deciding what to do next (print, save, etc.), can that person easily tell what s/he can do with it legally? Is there a link to the Terms & Conditions?

I'm sure you can think of other decision points where you could provide better information. If not, ask your users. I bet they'll have suggestions for you.

As for me, time to e-mail a suggestion to the Thruway Authority!

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