Returning back from a seminar on Citizen Engagement in DC this week, I am excited to see how many technologies are out there to connect citizens around the world with their federal, state or local government. Among the technology providers were Salesforce.com, Adobe, ReadSpeaker and GovDelivery.com. During this morning event in downtown DC, only a block away from the Whitehouse, government leaders, policy makers, technology providers shared their best practises on how to engage with citizens, from a government perspective. The time has long passed for most parties to solely rely on facebook and twitter for their social media interactions. Sophisticated tools have been developed to handle public calender management, to crowd source for local solutions, to connect marines from across the world with their homes. In this context, one of our clients presented what they had done with ReadSpeaker as a way to create interaction and deeper understanding of the content on their website. The client is the National institute for Drug Abuse, and their advisor Palladian Partners has done an outstanding job to create a website that deeply engages with the target audience. After several focus groups in under privileged areas of the DC metro, they came to the conclusion that the website had to be build up in a very accessible way. For the NIDA website that meant 3 things :

  • creating easy to read texts without jargon and difficult lexicon
  • using simple icons and pictures to tell the story as much as possible
  • providing a read-aloud function that helps the visitor to listen to the text as well as read it.

Since ReadSpeaker works on any device that is connected to the internet, since it does not require a download (especially for those who look up the information at public computers in libraries etc) and since its user interface is extremely simple, it was the selected choice for the read-aloud function. After a painless implementation, it was launched when the new website went live. Usage has been very good so far, with around 5% of all pageviews generating a click on the ReadSpeaker listen icon, equating to somewhere between 15-20% of all website visitors using ReadSpeaker. During a panel session that preceded the presentation held by Beth Maloney, CEO of Palladian Partners, Stefani Cuschnir from ReadSpeaker discussed the ease of use and the general benefits of ReadSpeaker as a tool on websites to open the content up for the roughly 20% of the population that has reading difficulties. In the panel with her was the keynote speaker for the event, who is a lt colonel for the marine corps, working as their social media director, who explained the challenges of the marine corps members to stay in touch with their beloved ones at home in a safe and secure way. He is a very strong user of the new social media technologies that are on offer today. We might see some of the marines’ websites use ReadSpeaker in the near future. It is encouraging to see how some organizations are really at the forefront of the new technologies, but I wonder why I seldom see them being used in my hometown, for day-to-day engagement with the local government about issues that we all care about ?