Information is a task

One of the greatest challenges organizations face is truly understanding the importance of, and managing the completion of, information-based tasks.

I am forever going on about managing the task, not the content or the technology. Once I was speaking at a conference about the importance of managing a website based on task success. A lady put up her hand.
“This task approach sounds interesting but we don’t have any tasks on our website. We just have information.”
“And what sort of website do you have?” I asked.
“A health website,” she replied.
“Let’s say I have a rash on my hand,” I replied. “If I go to a health website, I’m not looking for information. I’m looking to get rid of the rash.”

Many organizations have a strange attitude towards information. Its creation is nearly always disassociated from its use. Information is rarely seen as useful or purposeful. It’s just there because people need it. It doesn’t help you do things. It’s simply there for you to read just in case you need some information.

The fact that you need to read some information has no connection with the fact that you need to do something. Information gets created for information-purposes only. No liability. No accountability. And the job of the people who created the information is finished once they have created it. They are not even responsible for its findability. Saying it’s up on the Web is enough.

This attitude has driven so many government websites to the point of uselessness. The Freedom of Information Act definitely has good intentions. An unintended consequence, however, is that stuff that serves no useful function, is never maintained, never reviewed and never deleted gets published in large quantities. But it’s there, this information, because it’s important to have lots and lots of information.

Organizations have a fabulous capacity to produce massive quantities of low grade, aimless, pointless information. Much of the information that should have a point is useless because it is not useable. People don’t understand it. They can’t act on it. It doesn’t result in someone completing a task.

Why do people come to your website? What are they trying to do? We must reconnect information with its purpose, with its function. Information is supposed to be the communication of intelligence or knowledge.

Telling me how to make a pancake is useless information to me because I don’t want to make a pancake. But if you tell me that, yes, there is a flight from London Heathrow to Dublin at 8.10 pm, then I can use that.

We cannot judge information on the fact that it physically exists in some content form. We must judge it on the results it delivers. To understand what the results should be we must first understand the tasks of the people this information is intended for.

The world we work and live in is becoming more information-based. What that means is that we complete more and more of the tasks of our lives as a result of accessing information. This information is active, driven, purposeful, and measured. How is it measured? By whether it has helped people complete the tasks that they have used this information to help them complete.



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  1. Substitute “journalism” for “information” in this column and you have an insightful description of what ails much of journalism today. Many journalists describe their purpose as “providing information” without taking any responsibility for whether it enables people to do whatever they need to do.

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