On Recommendations & Being Done

Just a quick shout-out to an older — dare I say classic? — publication by now-defunct British NGO Doteveryone. Like a great many things Doteveryone published throughout their few years of operation, it’s worth revisiting every so often. Or if you haven’t encountered it before, now’s as good a time as ever.

Their report Finding the “So What?” How to get to the Doteveryone Definition of Done (PDF) is short and accessible, and full of hands-on advice on how to do research and get from research to concrete, actionable recommendations.

The whole thing is worth reading, and a quick read. A few quotes I’d like to pull out.

One, what makes for a good recommendation? (Highlights mine):

A Doteveryone recommendation is an understandable, memorable and achievable suggestion, directed at an individual, a body, or a sector. Doteveryone makes three different kinds of recommendations:

  1. policy recommendations – clear, actionable and succinct next steps for policy makers
  2. service recommendations – prototypes that show how a service could be
  3. recommended new ways of working – easy-to-use methods, tailored for different groups of users
    When we give a recommendation, we are asking someone or a group of people to do something differently. Most of the time, people don’t want to do things differently, so our recommendations have to be achievable, appealing and easy to understand.

The bit about policy recommendations is most relevant to my area of work, and nails it. clear, actionable and succinct but also, and I can’t stress this enough, next steps. It’s not about lofty goals, it’s about which steps to take. Great!

Also, note how clearly written these are, too? There’s no jargon here. Anyone understands this, which is essential.

So, more elaboration on what makes a good recommendation:

Recommendations are actionable and understandable suggestions, directed at an individual, a body, or a sector. They build on the insight and draw on the observations, but are clear and succinct enough to stand alone and out of context, if necessary.
For instance:

  • Free wifi in every NHS building by 2018
  • The UK needs an Office of Responsible Technology to build regulatory capacity
  • Responsible businesses must monitor the unintended consequences of their products and services

Focus here on the target audience. I can’t stress this enough, you need to know who you want to address, and tailor the recommendations accordingly. A policy maker isn’t likely to benefit from design guidelines, just like a designer isn’t likely to be able to incorporate policy recommendations into their daily work. If you can, do that work for them, make it clear what it means for them. (If you can’t do that, you might be working on a project that’s a bad fit for your skill set.) If people, or organizations, fail or succeed is often dependent (among other things, of course) on if they’re set up with the mandate and capacity to succeed.

Also, not how explicit these recommendations are? They tell us what’s needed; but also, they spell out what’s needed. There’s no conjecture, no room for interpretation. It’s a concise description of what needs to be done. Not “everyone should have internet” or something vague like that, but “free wifi in every NHS building”. They’re similar, but not the same. This version is better.

Next up, values. I can’t state this strongly enough: The more experienced (and cough cough, older I get), the more I’m convinced that values are a foundational piece of just about any work worth doing. Between scientific (or experiential, in some cases) knowledge and values, you’re all set. In some contexts, notably when discussing complex social issues, there often isn’t a hard scientific basis on which to decide, values (what you consider a society worth living in) is all you got.

So, start with values:

Start with Values Root the work in Doteveryone’s mission and values, and get into the practice of considering whether the project is bringing our values to life.

And finally, when is something done? When is something like research done, that could go on forever?

The Doteveryone definition of done
You can test for whether the work is realising our values by asking these questions:

  1. Does the thinking set out a clear challenge to a specific person, organisation or sector?
  2. Is the work shining new light on a complex problem, not just restating accepted truths?
  3. Are the proposed solutions to the problem achievable by the person, organisation or sector we are asking to create change?
  4. Is the supporting work understandable and succinct?
  5. Have we given credit where it is due?

The authors suggest that when you can answer at least 3/5 of these questions with yes, you’re done.

That kinda works for me, but more importantly, I think these are good questions to ask as a piece of work progresses.

Anyway, seemed worth re-sharing.

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