From needs to patterns

Developing strategy, the assumption still exists that you can develop and deliver it in a linear way, as if there weren’t external factors that were unexpected that could change the direction or even need for the strategy. Secondly, there’s an assumption that whoever creates the strategy is going to dominate the process and their world view, without any dialogue or challenge. Thirdly, there’s an assumption the strategy will assume it’s assumptions are correct even if when it’s delivered it might fail the test of reality.

However, strategies exist in a living and changing world, in spaces which are contested by different people, influences and environments.

If we take needs for example, at the start of my career, I thought that starting with people’s needs was the most important starting point for any strategy or service. I then recognised that people are more than just what they say they need, where they live, what they do and what demographic group they’re in. There are also other more psychological factors, like their attitudes (from recycling to use of technology), their values (from their openness to change to their view on the world), their behaviours which can often contradict their attitudes, and their networks of support.

These help create sophisticated customer segments that assume that with all that data you could have an exact snapshot to be able to anticipate people’s needs, influence their views and behaviours and respond in a way that make them better citizens and contributors to their local community, and makes your service more efficient as a result — as your “users” use digital rather than face to face, they recycle more, smoke less, walk more and volunteer more. You can orchestrate reduction in cost, improved customer satisfaction and strengthen resilience and cohesion.

You can stratify residents too so your organisation can better prioritise who should get support when. If you have multiple needs, you’ll get crisis support in a more paternalistic way. If you’re starting to develop risky behaviours, like drink or smoke more or not pay your rent, you’ll get a much more nurturing early intervention — which may make you feel more special and yet be reminded you’re on the wrong course. If you’re the general public, you may not be bothered but be nudged to do the right thing.

We might even bring this life through personas, an imaginary, exaggerated and stereotyped version of yourself to life through design, role play or fiction. We might use transactional data or ethnographic research.

What about focusing more on patterns and trends and how they evolve? If we take a trend like people having greater transitions or changes in their life we can see these trends where the transition is voluntary, i.e. people changing jobs & partners more frequently and also imposed on them, through recessions, disruptions in a particular sector, and…the pandemic.

These trends can be challenges we try and anticipate or mitigate (i.e. consumer trends, economic forecasts) or opportunities we create or influence (i.e. storytelling around the identity of a local area, like Wigan’s The Deal, Staffordshire’s Do Your Bit, Newham’s Quid Pro Quo). You can turn them into design principles like Government Digital Service has done or even social codes like Welfare 5.0 by IIPP has done, or even types of organisations that embody the new trend, like is described in Reinventing Organisations.*