“The School Web is Not Primarily a Matter of Communication…”

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Thanks to all for your interest in yesterday’s post about Forsman & Bodenfors, Svenska Kyrkan, and Google. It led to many interesting conversations both in the comments of the post, on Twitter in my email inbox, on Facebook, and over the phone. Wasn’t quite prepared for that kind of response. So, thanks!

Today I want to talk to you about something else. I want to talk to you about clients. Because even though it is our responsibility as consultants to provide know-how and ideas, clients also need to take their share of responsibility. In short – everybody needs to do their job.

Yesterday I met a prospective client who had great knowledge and understanding of communication and the internet. He almost cried over how he had to actually teach his expensive consultants how to do their jobs. Clients such as this one are a pleasure to meet, and the projects with them always turn out great. They have passion and they understand their role in a successful project.

But sometimes… just sometimes… you bump into something dark and completely different. Let me tell you one of these stories:

On one April morning earlier this year I sat on the balcony with at cup of coffee and a copy of Dagens Nyheter in my hands. I started reading about a topic that I have a particular interest in – computers and learning. The project described in the article is called Skolwebben (The School Web) and is intended to be an information hub for teachers, students, and parents alike. A great idea to be sure! The internet could be an amazing tool to move
learning into a whole new era, but only if competence and ability is
blended into the mix. Here, this didn’t happen.

As I continued reading,  I almost choked on my coffee. This project took on enormous costs. 17 000 000 SEK was poured into the project which was to be carried out by TietoEnator. For anyone of us who has ever worked with communication systems 17 000 000 SEK is a huge sum. For that kind of money we could create amazing strategy, amazing tactics, and amazing implementation. The money would be put into streamlining efficiency for the users based on their actual behaviors, and would be built on open source technology. But this is not what TietoEnator does. Instead, the produce a buggy, complicated and expensive system, hated by teachers, students, and parents alike. From what I could tell from the article in Dagens Nyheter, the project was on it’s way to the garbage can and would then be restarted from scratch.

There is plenty to read about this project and you can find much on Google. Try for example this search. But be prepared to get upset.

"Det är flera typer av problem som påtalas", säger Anette Holm om Skolwebben.As I was sitting there on my balcony, I felt I had to do something. I picked up my computer and wrote an email to Anette Holm, the IT-director of Stockholm City, and also the person who had been commenting the story in Dagens Nyheter, explaining to her my ambition to help out. I told her that I would put mine and my agency’s resources at her disposal to figure out how to turn this catastrophe into something useful. I offered to do it for free*(see edit below).

When I received her answer I had to read it over and over five times before I could believe what it said. I could have understood if she wasn’t willing to involve a new agency into the project, but I had never expected this. It was just too much. Here is the email:

“The School Web is not primarily a matter of communication. Thanks for your offer, but I don’t see the need.” I read in the email.

Not primarily a matter of communication! What?!?! Suddenly it didn’t seem so strange anymore that projects governed by this kind of thinking would make communications projects crash, and take 17 000 000 SEK of tax money with them in the fall. How could anyone with the title of IT-director even write something like this, apparently without flinching? It’s almost Kafta-like.

I sat there looking at the email for a while, trying to figure out what to do with it. It just felt so hopeless. I printed the email and posted it on my wall for while see if I would eventually figure this out. “Not primarily a matter of communication…” echoed in my head. What is it a matter of then? If not communication?

A client like Anette Holm is one that I wouldn’t take on. Good projects can’t emerge from somebody who’s philosophical view of the internet doesn’t include the word communication. I would recommend you all not to take on such projects either. Eventually, we’ll get the clients we deserve, and our clients will get the brilliance they deserve.

Excellence is a business of ideals.

FYI, here is a link to the email I sent.

The offer was intended as free, though I realize now that I’m looking back at the email that it could possibly have been interpreted otherwise, as commenters “vän av ordning” and Magnus Nilsson have rightfully pointed out. The main point however, is not whether or not we actually did offer our services for free, but that Anette Holm’s thoughts on the project were that “…the school web is not primarily a matter of communication…”.

About the Blog

This blog is written by Walter Naeslund and has been around since 2007. The blog is about the journey of starting an advertising agency and a sneak peek behind the scenes of what goes on at the Honesty HQ in SoFo, Södermalm. It is also a blog about communication & technology. The blog has gathered almost a thousand posts over the years with several longer and shorter breaks. Welcome and enjoy.
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