It is understandable with all the complexity around decision making that organisations seek the comfort of a balanced scorecard or a gated development process, but in doing so all too often avoid the detail of the individuals they are trying to serve.
When I speak to colleagues who have been working in the field of design and research for as long as I have, there are inevitably more lessons learnt than really successful uses of insight to make decisions. This is by and large a frustration borne with a smile by the research community but one that I feel which we increasingly have the skills and knowledge to avoid.
To do this, we need to be mindful of the complexity where organisational decisions are guided (or warped) by often-unwritten organisational constructs – referred to as Myths by Betty Sue Flowers, from the University Of Texas, but adapted as ‘drivers’ here for our purposes. When thinking about an organisation’s decisions we have to grapple with the interplay between economic drivers (think growth at all costs), heroic drivers (think the war on drugs), ecological drivers (think protectionism – both the pros and cons), religious drivers (think fevered ideology) and even scientific drivers (think reason blind to common sense.
Public services should be built around a new person centred approach to help specific groups and individuals with multiple and complex needs”- Pat Richie (Panel co-chair from the Service Transformation Challenge).
Even if we can figure out the organisation beast we still have to deal with the human drivers that fuel the process. When thinking of humans within the limiting scope of consumerism we also need to handle the fact that as a ‘super social species’ our behaviour is unconsciously, and sometimes even consciously, influenced by what other people do. When faced with uncertainty we see how others behave and often follow their lead. Even if we then sidestep the issues of cognitive bias, freewill and biological pre-determinants for certain behaviours we still need to accept a large dose of irrationality. As Dan Ariely (2009) points out in his book Predictably Irrational, “everything is relative”. People often don’t know what they want until they see it in context. We compare things that are easily comparable, and the way in which we present them heavily skews our response to them. Priming, anchoring, and framing are key to how we respond to choices we make.
It is understandable with all the complexity around decision making that organisations seek the comfort of a balanced scorecard or a gated development process but in doing so all too often avoid the detail of the individuals they are trying to serve. It’s this understanding that inspires me to be explicit and clear from the outset about the decision being made, trying to ensure that the best insights are applied and the best design ideas are adopted.
What is at stake here is immense; the ability to make practical and informed decisions around the provision of healthcare and public services means we have a real opportunity to help improve people’s quality of life. Calls for action are numerous, with Pat Richie – co-chair from the Service Transformation Challenge Panel – noting in the panel’s November 2014 report that “Public services should be built around a new person centred approach to help specific groups and individuals with multiple and complex needs”. Even so, recent major publications such as the National Information Board’s vision for Personalised Health & Care in 2020 does not clarify the role of the end user in the decision making process, nor does it cite any practical steps to address this.
Questions remain: How can those responsible for public services make sure decisions truly reflect the complexity of the end user? How can those involved in design research help it live up to its promise and ensure better user-centered decisions take place? How do we share these approaches to ensure they are embedded throughout public service decision making?
- Design researchers are well placed to help better decision making but are yet to deliver on this promise.
- The study of organisational and individual decision making could help user-centred design researchers be more effective in applying their understanding.
- Calls for a user centred approach to service development are difficult to realise without clarification of the decision making process.
Ariely, D. (2009) "Predictably Irrational: The hidden forces that shape our decisions". London: Harper
Earls, M. (2009) "Herd: How to change mass behaviour by harnessing our true nature". Chichester, UK: Wiley
Kleiner, A. (2013) The Duelling Myths of Business (strategy + business)
HM Government, NHS (2014) "Personalised Health and Care 2020: Using Data and Technology to Transform Outcomes for Patients and Citizens".
Service Transformation Challenge Panel (2014). "Bolder, Braver and Better: why we need local deals to save public services".