‘Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible, But Not Simpler’

The above quote is widely attributed to Albert Einstein and is a favourite of mine.

It also aligns well with the concept of ‘wicked’ problems which is something that was new to me up until only few years ago and is now something I use quite extensively in my work.

The paper below will give you links to a lot of useful source references, but the basic thesis is that we should not shy away from recognising complexity.

If we assume something is far simpler than it actually is we set ourselves up for failure.

If we recognise and respect the risks and limits we can ultimately be more successful.

Digital Service Design: Seven-Principles for Sucess

Tools for tackling complexity

The challenge of public sector transformation projects can result in teams and individuals feeling overwhelmed by their complexity.  This often manifests itself as a ‘bunker mentality’ where the project is framed as an ICT project and the focus is kept almost entirely on technical milestones not realisable benefits.

However, there is a large box of tools we could deploy to make the complexity more manageable and ensure benefits realisation.  In many cases an organisation may need to commission a specialist to do the work, but the product of the work should be entirely transparent and usable by in-house teams. 

Systems Thinking

If you can use it to identify the issues and metrics that actually matter and how things link then it’s all an order of magnitude easier.   The centre of gravity of your business lies with the ‘typical’ and ‘frequent’ users, although you can’t ignore the extremes neither should you try to build your delivery model around them.   Mapping the system is often a key first step in navigating change effectively.

Demographic Profiling

In business case terms this is probably the single most valuable tool I have used.  I can’t think of any serious business that would transform itself without first commissioning demographic profiles of its current and potential customers and how their behaviour links to its viability.

Almost every local authority project I have been involved in over the last five years has involved use of demographic profiling with the Experian Mosaic public sector tools.  [CACI Acorn is an alternative but I have not used it much]

Used in combination with specialist knowledge on digital skills and inclusion they have the ability to answer the fundamental question of what proportion of residents/service users have the desire and ability to transact online.

I can’t share copyrighted data online, but will say that if you focus on essential data then it can be very good value for money.

Plymouth Dig Inc

Open Source

In the UK there are large volumes of open source data available from DWP, ONS and Census online databases.  The data is often available in a format that allows mapping at the ward or Lower Super output Area (LoSA) level.   It is a vital ingredient in any business case for service delivery as it provides quantitative insights into who and where your service users are.

Norwich Key Benefits

Geographic Mapping

Software has transformed geographic mapping and any public sector organisation should now be looking at geographic mapping as part of its delivery strategy.  In combination with demographic profiling and asset mapping it provides powerful evidence of whether provision and need are matched well.  It also provides a basis for co-location and partnership working where multiple organisations share groups of users and could share premises.

Plymouth Libraries


Process and Journey Mapping

This can be transformative, but does cost time and effort as well as being a task that requires skilled people to achieve beneficial results.  I would not necessarily recommend doing it in house, but would recommend understanding it and the links below are a good start.

journey_mapping1: Guide for Practitioners

journey_mapping2: When to Journey Map

journey_mapping3: Experience Mapping

journey_mapping4: Mapping The System

journey_mapping5 Measuring the Experience

journey_mapping6 Case Studies