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New technologies: Keeping up without being killed in the attempt

[Spanish readers might want to read the original post in Spanish]

GUEST BLOGGER: Today is a big day in the life of the ep-webeditors blog. Nay, a rite of passage, a coming of age, an arrival in the sunlit uplands of Parliament bloggerdom. Today, our big boss, Jaume, Director and EP official spokesman, no less, appears for the first time on this blog. What’s more, he wants to talk about us! I read words like: “mischievious”, “smurfs”, “irresponsible” – but I’m reading nothing into it! Anyway, as they say, we are honoured to welcome onto our humble stage…┬áThe Director.

Keeping up without being killed in the attempt

One of the scariest moments in the professional life of the European Parliament’s Media Director comes when the people in charge of the Web Communication team storm in his office with the faces of mischievous children and a folder marked “new project” under their arms. It could be anything ranging from some doubtless vital overhaul of the website’s on line archives to the appearance on his desk of a group of strange blue-and-yellow little dolls resembling overweight smurfs that answer to the cryptic name of “YaBs”.

When the Director is introduced to a new internet project is a double test for him. Firstly, in relation to his capability or incapability to understand what the topic is. The Director is aware that he needs to understand at least one out of every three concepts and avoid letting his facial expression unmask his enormous ongoing neuronal effort.

Nevertheless the Director soon developed the conviction that a poor knowledge of the topic in question is often an advantage when it comes to proposing solutions which are acceptable for all the parties involved.

Secondly, because he will feel obliged to decide where to set the limits when it comes to accepting undoubtedly attractive proposals that however do not always reflect the degree of seriousness required of institutions such as the European Parliament.

The famous T-Shirts for the new website's launch

The famous T-Shirts for the new website's launch

With regard to the first challenge, the Director is already the lucky survivor of a similar experience when, some years ago, he supervised the construction of a new press room full of electronic gizmos, hardware and software. Sounding intelligent in permanent discussion with audiovisual technicians, IT experts, architects and representatives of the press is not something you generally learn in any prestigious European Academy, nor would this ability be requested in a European Personnel selection competition.

Nevertheless the Director soon developed the conviction that a poor knowledge of the topic in question is often an advantage when it comes to proposing solutions which are acceptable for all the parties involved.

The second challenge is much more complicated because web teams, following their instinct and their duty, are continuously proposing tools that in most cases have “just arrived from the other side of the Atlantic” and which haven’t quite been used yet in institutional communication, let alone in Parliamentary communication. The Director will find himself quickly trapped between a rock and a hard place. The rock being those who rightly think that we have to adapt to new times – “Boss, Obama is doing this” – and the hard place being our hierarchy in the Parliament who do not necessarily accept ipso facto,the use of tools that don’t seem to correspond, a priori, to the solemnity of the Parliament.

Back in time it all started with something as innocent as overseeing the redesign of the main website so that it paid more attention to the ordinary citizen and less to European experts. But then it was about launching the new website surrounded by people in black t-shirts with surreal messages on them such as “A hemicycle is not half a bike”, or as militant as “Who cares for Europe? I do”.

In less than five years the way the European Parliament communicates has dramatically changed. It has become more modern, more accessible and more plural. Probably more coherent as well. But there is still a lot to be done and to be improved, especially if we don’t want to miss the train of the internet – one that resembles a Japanese bullet train.

Next came the production of audiovisual content (“Why should a Parliament be able to send press releases but not videos?”), or organising chats with the Parliament’s President. Later, taking advantage of the everything-is-possible principle of the European elections, a (partial) transition to full Web 2.0 interactivity took place. The Parliament explored social networks, blogs, wikipedia, online questions and debates. It also had viral campaigns with hysterical girls and gregarious cyclists and the use of all kinds of multimedia platforms. The majority of these instruments have demonstrated that they are valid and, after the elections, have been integrated with almost no discussion in the spectrum of the communication services of the Parliament.

In less than five years the way the European Parliament communicates has dramatically changed. It has become more modern, more accessible and more plural. Probably more coherent as well. But there is still a lot to be done and to be improved, especially if we don’t want to miss the train of the internet – one that resembles a Japanese bullet train.

Don’t worry. One of these days the Director’s desk will be filled once more with strange projects and his screen with intriguing slideshows. All the while, several expectant eyes in his office will try to guess from his face if he understands anything of what he sees, if he likes what he sees – and if he will be irresponsible enough to accept it.

But next time I will tell them the truth, I promise.

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