Saturday, 14 February 2009

Service Innovation Part 3a: Frontstage Tools

At times Lady Fortune seems to exist. Just after finishing my previous blogpost I learned that the Civil Services in Singapore has started a narrative sensemaking project to better understand their employees' perception of working in the Civil Services

So what is going on there? Well, we are all used to surveys to dig deeping into problems. Questions like "how would you rate our service" or "please indicate which problems/items belong to you as a Civil Servant" are routinely asked. Such an approach assumes the researcher is supposed to know what problems to look for. He/she has probably formulated an hypothesis or a set of hypotheses of possible problems in the target group.

And no wonder - lo and behold - this is what the result will look like too. Some hypothesis are proven, others are discarded, thereby  supposedly confirming or discarding the hypothesis, often accompanied by some statistical proof about the validity of the results. But what is the hypotheses are wrong upfront. What if there are other issues in the target group. What about weak signals (that only a few respondends fill in under the "what else do you want to share with us box") that are signored because that box is hard to interpret or suppressed by the statistical methods used to analyse the results (that in general look of majorities, not minorities)?

In such cases (and in my view this is always the case), one should use research methods that are in the pre-hypothesis class: no up-front problem list, no upfront filtering.

This is the approach taken by the Singapore Civil Service. They state:

This project will collect stories from a wide variety of College and other civil service staff, capturing their perspectives on work life within their organisations. The project is expected to reveal insights for new initiatives that influence staff engagement and will provide deeper meaning to the existing climate surveys already in place.

And that is how it works. These methods are attached to an existing practice of surveying to "provide deeper meaning" and "reveal insights for new initiatives". Both are achieved because pre-hypethesis research methods always easily surface new issues that surveys cannot pickup by design and they also provide real-time insight into how people as a collective respond to developments, even if these are from outside the organisation. 

Next, trough a process of emergence, patterns are formed from the narrative input, thereby producting of meaningful results in which the weak signals are showing up too.

If you want to know more about how such methods can be applied in the front-stage of your organization, please have a look at the Cognitive Edge website or contact me for more information.

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