Business and government interactions – prototyping a way to better work with business in fixing problems

[Originally published on Australian Government DesignGov under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

Can you really understand a problem if you have no experience with it? And can you really fix a problem if you don’t understand it?

The public sector plays a key role in the business environment, and sometimes that includes the generation and the resolution of problems faced by businesses. Our research as part of the business and government interactions project suggests that when businesses face issues that relate to multiple government agencies and/or multiple jurisdictions, it can be difficult for them to convey their experience. A problem that is very real for them can seem distributed and minor to the parts of the public sector that are connected with it. It is also difficult for public servants to get across the ‘whole’ of the problem and what can be done about it, when the solution may require coordination across agencies and where it may be hard to prioritise competing issues.

Through the ‘Fix-It Squads’ concept, we’re investigating how problem resolution processes might be improved:

  • To give public servants the opportunity to become immersed in the problem at hand and to share in the lived experience of it
  • To give businesses the opportunity to explain and show the problem as they experience it, rather than in the terms of public sector agencies (who might be contributing to the problem).

We are seeking your help and participation in prototyping. This post gives a quick overview of the ‘Fix-It Squads’ concept, asks for your help with the prototyping, and provides an expanded explanation of what Fix-It Squads might involve and why something like them are needed (in addition to the description provided in the Lost in Translation report and the associated prototyping prospectus).


How do you know if a problem is really a problem? How do you know which of many problems should be concentrated on first? What do you do if the solution might create other problems? And what do you do if the problem involves multiple stakeholders, has come about from the intersection of multiple rules, processes and a changing environment, and may require high-level agreement to fix?

Currently there are many different ways for an individual business or a group of businesses to raise their concerns about a specific problem area (as opposed to a broader policy or business environment issue).

However, when that problem cuts across multiple government agencies it can be hard for the problem ‘haver’ to work out who is ‘responsible’ for the problem, let alone who has the authority or inclination to address it. On the other side of the interaction, public servants are confronted with multiple problems from business, and it can be hard to discern those that are signs of the system not operating as intended from those that are misunderstandings or those that are a necessary consequence of the broader policy intent.

The concept of Fix-It Squads draws on the idea of a tiger team, and would offer a platform for agreed problem areas by which public servants could be drawn from the key relevant agencies, immersed in the lived reality of the business(es) experiencing the problem, and work together to unpick the problem and what might be done to resolve the pain around it.

Fix-It Squads could help convert a tense process of clashing interests  or passive avoidance into one of shared exploration and understanding of why the problem exists and what might be done about it.

How can I become involved in the prototyping process?

We are looking for help from individual business people, business intermediaries and public servants.1 Effective prototyping needs the involvement of the people who share in the problem, both public servants and those in industry.

If you are interested in the concept of ‘Fix-It Squads’ then the first thing we’d like to ask is that you sign up to our Fix-It Squads mailing list. We’ll be using the list to provide updates on the prototyping and to seek your input and involvement.

The second thing we’d like to ask is for you to help us with some real world examples or anecdotes of where a capability like Fix-It Squads would have helped you if it had existed.

  • Where might a Fix-It Squads capability have been useful for you?
  • Can you give an example of when you had to create a work-around because there wasn’t such a capability?

Some more specific examples of how a Fix-It Squad capability might be used would be extremely useful for us in scoping the need, and if/how it might/could work. Please email through any examples you might have.

We are also interested in hearing from businesses, industry groups or public sector agencies who might be interested in partnering to work on the prototyping of Fix-It Squads.

Some additional information about the concept follows, including a basic visual depiction of what would be the ideal (but impossible) state, what happens now, and what, hopefully, might be possible if the Fix-It Squads capability was realised.

FixIt Squads Synopsis


Background Information

What is the context for Fix-It Squads?

In an ideal world it would be possible to predict how any new piece of legislation, any new policy, or any new process would interact with the existing business environment and what potential problems that might cause businesses. It would also be easy to see how any new technology or business model might have implications for current policies and processes, and see where businesses would have problems.

In reality a business that experiences a specific problem can have trouble identifying which agency (or agencies) has ownership of their problem and may have to agitate to get their problem considered.

This is particularly the case where the business is:

  • doing something new (and thus the activity is less likely to fit neatly against a clear business reporting line for a government agency)
  • faced by rules or requirements from multiple government agencies where the impacts of any one piece may not have taken into consideration the other processes.

In either case the problem will not have one area within government that is responsible for the entirety of the issue. The segment of the problem as seen by any one agency may appear small, but the whole of the problem will be big for the business. The urgency for the problem, and the pain that it is causing, is primarily on the side of the business. The business may also be competing with other businesses to get attention for their particular concern.

For public servants who are removed from the problem, it can be difficult to assess the relative merits of the case for change or may be seen as the legitimate ‘side effect’ (or even intended result) of the existing policy framework.

If the public sector is to fully understand the problems experienced by business, and effectively assess whether they are necessary trade-offs to meet wider policy obligations or unintended irritants that can be removed through further refinement, then it needs new ways of working with businesses to explore the problem and to prioritise which problems are most important.

So the problem is?

The problem is that in a world of continuing change new problems will come about, whether they result from previous practices that now are unsuited or from the unintended combination of multiple processes. Public servants are often removed from the impact of these problems, and there are few channels for working collaboratively with business intermediaries and the businesses involved to prioritise the problems and to explore them, before deciding what should be done.

A good problem solving process is a vital component of the overall state of business and government interactions. Without meaningful and collaborative problem exploration and resolution, it is likely that the general service experience will be tarnished, with resultant disrespect on either side of the interaction.

We look forward to working with those of you interested in this topic to explore how Fix-It Squads might work and operate.

  1. Participation may mean involvement in workshops, contributing to a survey, providing feedback, or other forms of contribution. The scope of the prototyping process will depend a lot on the level and spread of interest.