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Section 2: Recruit and equip your sludge audit committee

Step 1: Create the committee

Sludge audits for large-scale organizations such as government or healthcare are often led by dedicated behavioural design and user experience experts. Don’t have any of those folks in your workplace? Not to worry. Excellent things can be accomplished by a group of employees committed to ferreting out clunky processes, unclear communication, and psychologically unpleasant aspects of the application experience.

Sludge-busting is best thought of as a team sport, where careful attention is paid to recruiting people with differing strengths and capabilities. When creating an audit committee, try to get input from people involved at all stages of the funding experience, from the design of the application forms through to customer support and onto loans reviews, administration and follow up. It is vital to enlist the support of staff who understand compliance and regulatory requirements, since they will need to sign off on any major changes proposed.

Finally, since sludge audits are designed to improve the customer experience, it’s vital that potential customers and past loan applicants be included, too. If it is not possible to have all such stakeholders serve on the committee throughout the entire process, consult with them at critical points along the way.

Step 2: Define sludge

Committee members will need an overall orientation to the problem of sludge. How is it defined and what are its effects?

What is sludge? Any element of a process that increases its difficulty or unpleasantness, thereby impeding progress.

Step 3: Humanize the issue

Having an emotional connection to the end user can fuel the motivation to serve them better. Help your committee put a human face on the issues you are addressing. Encounters with real people’s stories help cement the learning about the nature of sludge, and increase the commitment to reduce it.

Step 4: Harvest existing data

If you are auditing a funding initiative that has existed for some time, you will have the opportunity to look at the effectiveness of the protocols in place. There is often a great deal of relevant information that can be examined such as, the dollar amount of loans available; number of loans given; ratio of successful to unsuccessful applicants; average amount of loan applied for versus awarded; average length of time from applying to receiving an answer; number of applications started but left unsubmitted; etc.

With this information in hand, the committee should explore the following questions:

  • What was the original mandate for these funds?
  • Have there been other ways in which we have missed/ met the mark?

Step 5: Identify the hits and misses

Create a list of what seems to have been working well, and what is off target.

  • What problems are of greatest concern to the committee thus far?
  • What bright spots have been revealed? 

At this stage, you may not have identified specific instances of sludge; nevertheless, this list will be one that provides you with future possibilities for exploration. For example, you may have uncovered some biased outcomes in lending patterns. That bias could be the result of failed hiring initiatives or a lack of representation in the promotional literature. But since we know that sludge has the worst consequences for applicants who are already beleaguered or disadvantaged in some way, you will want to consider the possibility that sludge is an additional contributor to the problem.