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Clusters in the tail

By Dave Snowden  ·  October 27, 2014  ·  Musings

A very satisfying first day in our Small Countries Big Ideas programme held overlooking the harbour here in Caernarfon.  The turn out has been good with a lot of potential synergies between the participants' potential projects.   Today we focused on the intractable problems and issues faced in government as well as a range of NHS issues.  Tomorrow we will create a matrix between populations, problems and perspectives from which we will define the starting point for emergent solutions.   I'll post more on that tomorrow but it's a big expansion of what we used to call a QQE matrix and a part of the new approach to scaling in systems that will be a big feature of the coming London course.

One of the key points I made in my opening comments is aptly summed up by the Gaping Void cartoon that opens this post.  Too much of what we do in both public and private sector focuses on the mean of a bell curve.  The reality is that its rarely that simple and the tails of distributions are fatter than most policy makers realise.  Something that this YouTube presentation runs through (although the slides and message need some updating when I get a chance).  

The reality is that most threat and opportunity is to be found in the tails of distributions not in their centre.  Now a lot of people have realised the dangers of working to an average or to that matter to crude categories, but their solution has been to swing the pendulum to the opposite extreme of seeking to market to the individual or to provide fully personalised healthcare.   There is a strong tendency to think in terms of either/or dichotomies rather than both/and dialectics.  The reality is that neither extreme reflects the reality of the human condition which is at one level more abstract in terms of identity (which is not co-terminus with the individual self) and contextually focused based on comparisons and expectations.  What we need is an emergent property of multiple interactions within attractors and boundaries.

So we need to focus on instead is what clusters are emerging in respect of identity and need which give us sufficient coherence to allow a structured approach to providing service/product of whatever,  To return to the title of this post we need to provide said capability to clusters of need (both actual and potential) not to individuals per se, or to broad categories other than in so far as those clusters approach extreme conditions.  The pictures above illustrate that from one development project were are looking at balanced needs and differentiating by community.  As is readily visible to the focus of community A is different form that of B.  Although they have very similar demographic characteristics they have lived different journeys, they have unique contextual aspects.  

To understand that we need human sensor networks providing real time continuous feedback and monitoring as well as peer-to-peer knowledge flow.  Both of those are key aspects of SenseMaker® design.  In allowing people to tell and more importantly self-interpret their own story we create human sensor networks quickly at low cost. The material can then be used to provide statistically valid clusters to justify investment and to identify areas for co-creation of contextually appropriate services.   The micro-narratives also provide a capability for communities to learn from each other in real time (the peer-to-peer knowledge flow) and allow adaptation and exaptation to happen without the need for hierarchical mediation.

So, it's a lot more effective to market to a cluster than to an individual and the same applies to government services.  It may also be that some communities do not have specific needs that are common elsewhere.  This type of nuanced provision of service allows a more effective process of co-creation or in my terms co-evolution than conventional solutions.   It also allows more effective use of limited resources.   All of that is one goal of the Small Countries, Big Ideas project and it was great in the various group sessions to see people exploring ideas that have immediate practical real world impact.   Tomorrow we can started in defining those so we can move into action