Do you Strip?

Courtesy of Dr Craig on Flickr

If you want to people on side and working together, less is always more.

Tom Steinberg knows that. He runs MySociety, the very successful charity which punches above it weight using the internet to help people collaborate to improve civil society.  Among tips on how to build websites for social good he includes this one:

Take whatever your first website plan is and remove 90% of the features you want. Then build it and launch it and your users will tell you which features they actually wanted instead. Build them and bask in the warm glow of appreciation.

It is easier for people to add than for them to take away. Provide a solid platform and others can innovate on it. Not only that, they all have a clear sense of shared aims.  Offer endless choice or demands and we get confused and wonder off to pastures more edifying.

Bob Sutton also knows this.  Here he describes in some detail how a small charity again used clarity and simplicity to achieve far beyond what we might expect of them.  I’ll quote at length.

We analyze an astounding effort by a small non-profit in Boston called The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) to lead a campaign to reduce medical errors in U.S. hospitals.  Their goal was to stop over 100,000 preventable deaths in hospitals over a one year period. And, although there is some controversy about the campaign’s effects, it appears that they ultimately involved hospitals that included over 75% of the beds in the U.S. and exceed their goal by about 20,000 lives.

You can get the article here at the McKinsey website (it is free, you just have to register) or here is the pdf:

Download the_ergonomics_of_innovation.pdf

Even if you get the pdf here, I suggest poking around the McKinsey site as they have lots of great free stuff.

We call this article “the ergonomics of innovation” because the IHI staff did such a brilliant job of designing the campaign so that it reduced the cognitive and emotional load on their tiny staff (about 100 people) and, especially, on the thousands of hospital staff members who participated in the campaign.  For example, IHI focused everyone’s efforts on six relatively simple behaviors that had been shown to be big causes of preventable deaths in prior research.  They developed very concrete guidelines that hospitals could use to stop these causes — which reduced load on everyone because, although the list could have contained hundreds of evidence-based practices, instead, it helped people focus their efforts and also made it more efficient for hospitals to share what they had learned because they were working on a limited numbers of problems.

Of course the whole article is worth reading.  This is about putting in effort early to make good decisions about what is needed.  The rest is a question of clear communication and naturally enough, stripping.

Image courtesy of Dr Craig. Hat Tip for thought son MySociety and also the wonderful neologism of decrementalism Public Strategy. I first published this over on the Caret blog.