Designing for Connection Rather Than Transaction

Health is not made in health systems, it’s made in homes, in communities, in workplaces.

So unless we can build horizontal bonds between communities and the kind of expertise and resource in health systems, we can’t really make change. Hilary Cottam

In a world that has become obsessed with efficiency , speed, and digitisation, a new movement is emerging that is more focused on humanity, personalisation and connection.

Increasingly, people are recognising that many of the systems we have set up to address health, housing, social care and the other related sectors have become distanced from the very people they were set up to serve. The drive to ‘improve services’, and the subsequent consumerisation (we even refer to markets!) has led many down a path far away from their original purpose.

Our latest Let’s Talk Ideas podcast is with Dan Minchin, the CEO of Chorus, a social purpose organisation in Western Australia. They have been on a remarkable transformation to revitalise their business through a mix of ‘boldness and humility’. Dan talks about a ‘good life being a connected life’ with teams operating on principles of kindness, delivered by small empowered teams who are organised around place with a locally tailored approach. Importantly, the ‘back office’, whose occupants so often end up in the driver’s seat, have been recast as ‘enablers’.

When we asked why Chorus had begun this shift, rather than just deliver the ‘services’ commissioners demanded, Dan explained:

“There was a sense that there must be a better, more decent way of doing things that focuses on the belief that people have needs, but a good life is a connected life. And in many cases it was about what might they need to connect to, stay connected to or reconnect with within a local community. And so the connectivity and the community focus was where we started rather than where the system was driving us – which was individualization, segmentation and commercialisation.”

It’s interesting to consider how and why ‘the system’ drives this behaviour. No-one enters the world of housing, or care, or health to deliver a production line response to human need, however that does appear to be the default way of operating.

Indeed, many of our systems are designed along the lines of manufacturing principles. They are designed for the “average” person. An average person that has never existed.

As Ron Charlton said when discussing the work Mark Smith and colleagues are doing at Gateshead Council and Changing Futures Northumbria “The system does not allow context which is needed for holistic support and results in repeated failure demand concentrating on efficiency instead of efficacy – with little discernible impact on outcomes. In fact, in the case studies undertaken, they make matters worse”.

This is what happens when cost-driven demand management decides how users must interact with the system. Humanity , and sheer common sense, have been designed out in the name of efficiency.

But what price efficiency?

Back in the nineties call centres were designed with the express intent to keep the customer away from who they actually wanted to speak to. It was never ever about customer service – just managing demand. Unfortunately – rather than seeing the call centre as an aberration, many organisations have decided to build out from it and enshrine it in digital form as part of a ‘transformation’.

I wrote a few weeks ago that being efficient is not half as effective as conventional management would like to think. If your business has anything to do with real human relationships you have to recognise that building long term relationships isn’t very efficient initially and pays off only in the long term.

It’s incredibly hard for individuals to change a system, but individuals can form a collective and challenge processes that are profoundly anti-customer and anti-employee.

What Dan and the team at Chorus have done is to collectively take on the system:

“It’s an important thing to say we’re an enabling organization. But there’s almost nobody, myself included, my board included who aren’t all in and fully committed to this vision. We’re all trying to unlearn 25, 30, 40 years of baggage of being a corporate functionary who directs traffic and tells people what to do and run things through a command and control mindset.

This is the crux of it; we’ve all got to unlearn a load of corporate management BS and design for connection: for people not process.

As Simon Penny says in his latest post:

“If we’re designing for humanity, we have to remember what we value about being human – our relationships, empathy for others, and a need to feel present and connected with ‘the real world’ around us.”

Designing for transaction led us to quota’s, waiting lists, KPI’s, 10-minute appointments, rules and protocols that encourage, even necessitate, a fractured view of a human being – where we focus only on a person’s deficits and the problems that need to fixed by the system.

During an AI revolution the most radical thing you can do right now is to take on the system and lean into your humanity.

Related: The Importance of Connectors