The completeness question

It’s easy enough for people to critique what’s in front of them. But it’s equally easy for them to overlook the things that should be there, but aren’t. This is what I call the completeness question. And it’s the key to unlocking insight in pretty much everything.

Back in my auditing days, we were used to being handed lists of numbers to check. But the first thing we always – always – checked was whether the list of numbers added up to the figure we were expecting. In other words, making sure the list was complete.

And now, when I share a draft publication with people to look over, they generally come back with comments on specific words I’ve used or ways in which I’ve phrased things. They very rarely come back with suggestions for topics I should have covered, but haven’t. Topics that would make the publication complete.

I see the same with aspects of the public services. They work for sufficient numbers of service users to give the impression that they’re working well. But when you look in more detail, you find whole subsets of service users – or potential service users – for whom they don’t work at all. The inclusivity of these services is not complete.

The completeness question compels us to ask what should be there, but isn’t. And this isn’t easy. After all, we’re looking for things that, by definition, aren’t there.

It is, however, worth the effort. Because the things that aren’t there quite frequently tell us more than the things that are.

Just ask an auditor.

Simon Perks is the founder and director of Sockmonkey Consulting. He helps organisations with a social purpose to make better decisions, to improve their performance and to drive positive change. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter here.

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