Progressive Place

Monday, October 23, 2006

Compliance, User eXperience, and the Trouble with Transparency

©2006 David Calloway
(This is a draft; feedback and insights appreciated.)

Compliance and User Experience are symbiotically attached, through a common lifeblood called Transparency. These thoughts on that relationship came to me in a conversation with a friend at a local compliance consultancy.

The compliance industry puts a lot of attention to enabling surveillance and disempowerment: Keep a close eye on everyone, and don’t let them do anything they shouldn’t do. This is an expensive and deadening approach. Despite what compliance literature and conference promos imply, the number of people who are intentionally non-compliant is very small.

Most people want to do the right thing, if it's not too difficult. This makes compliance primarily a User Experience issue: Make The Right Thing easy to do, and The Wrong Thing hard to do, and non-compliance may well become a non-issue. It is much more effective to focus on enablement. Systems and procedures that make it easy to comply with regulations make compliance a no-brainer. Make transactions and interactions clear, sensible, and unambiguous, and they'll be performed correctly and consistently, for the most part, by people and computers alike. Failure to comply will then become a glaring exception, and stand out like a sore thumb. That's called transparency.

Transparency is the enemy of fraud, as well as a lot of other things that hold organizations back, such as waste, ignorance, misunderstanding, and suspicion. These outcomes are compounded when procedures are messy, convoluted or error-prone, be they manual or automated. Reasonable people, in a reasonable work situation, will avoid doing anything that takes time and attention away from what they do best and are being paid to do, whether it’s selling, repairing, driving, or whatever.

Here's a typical scenario I hear over and over again. I've done a good day's work, and I'm ready to go home. As I'm updating my activity log, the system rejects a transaction code I've entered. I don't find the code I want in the online look-up table, the support desk isn't answering, and the Help page is useless. You can bet I'm going to choose an inaccurate code from the list, hit Update, and log out. I intend to correct this fraudulent mistake tomorrow, if I remember. As I leave with a feeling of dread, I know I'd feel a lot worse about missing my van pool and facing a two-hour trip home on 3 different buses.

Countless automated systems have shown that they can be quick, easy, and natural to use, making compliance a no-brainer. So then, who's creating all those compliance nightmares? Commonly, it's a poorly designed or integrated system, implemented with insufficient feedback, testing, training and support. Willing non-compliance is the rare exception, rather than the rule. Instituting compliance measures that make people's jobs harder to do just punishes those who want to do the right thing, and makes them more likely to want to do the wrong thing.
I admit it: as a tech writer, it's often fallen to me to write instructions trying to explain how to use cantankerous systems and convoluted procedures. I’d much rather have been simplifying or eliminating the bad design that made my detailed instructions necessary. But, since that wasn’t my job, more often than not my input on such things was brushed aside, sometimes with disdain.

If anything, a quality user experience can make things too transparent. Transparency is the enemy of things that a lot of people are heavily invested in— things like croneyism, passive aggression, sweetheart deals, corruption, bigotry, and so on. Not to mention outmoded ideas and world views, and economic and political systems in need of overhaul. Some of the things that can't hold up in bright light may be dear to the hearts of people at all levels in an organization.

So I say to UX people: If all are not delighted with your improved User eXperience, don't take it personally. Maybe they just see you coming, Windex and squeegee in hand, to clean some basement windows they'd rather not have other people peering through.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Holistic/Integrative Health Care: What'll it take?

Idea: A hospital, and by extension a medical complex, that actively solicits customers and employees who are committed to living healthy lives, in all possible ways. Is it possible? What would it take?

Some aspects:
Integrative, alternative, low-cost, environmentally friendly, low-tech, low-footprint, low-consumption, non-invasive, inspired, spiritual, down-to-earth, sustainable.
Compassion for the care-givers who feel the suffering all around them, and need desperately to do something with that pain besides bury and drown it.
Hospitals escape the me-too competition that's created over-capacity in glamorous, expensive specialties.
Nurses get the respect and influence commensurate with their knowledge, responsibility, and wisdom.
Physicians know, think about, and take care of patients, not insurance. Any investments in real estate, practice management firms, and such are strictly on their own time, not part of their jobs.
Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants lift the unreasonable burden of responsibility off the physicians.
Patients lose the self-destructive tendency to sue everybody at the drop of a hat.
"Integrative" comes to include things like a patient-centered, unified health information network; community involvement in lifestyle choices, such as recreational activities, diet, and addiction reduction...
And on a related subject: The P in HIPAA stands for portability, not privacy. It's distressing how few medical practitioners know that. Believe me, I've asked.

Open Source Entertainment

Open Source Entertainment:
What comes after home-made music videos and skin flicks?
Some thoughts on applying open source and peer-to-peer models to interactive and on-demand video and audio

Will interactive and on-demand video and audio evolve like cable and cellular, in which a diverse but user-hostile industry gradually consolidates into a few highly functional, but expensive and monolithically-controlled networks? Or will it become more like the Web, bringing-- in theory, at least-- all to all?

What's your guess? Extra points awarded for informed guesses!
The prize, should you amass enough points, is to get quoted in an article on the topic. You can post a comment here, or better yet, contact me directly at