User Centricity in Designing Public Policies
4 Apr 2018

One of the main characteristics of our digital revolution and the success of startups is their user-centricity. As a new company today you cannot afford fooling your customers or to letting them wait in line. Users are kings and queens. Startups are masters of feedback loops and fast development cycles including not only active but also passive feedback from users. Not clicking a feature might say just as much as clicking it. Companies that have understood this will excel while others might be able to ‘milk the cow’ for a little longer before they die out.

Users realise their newly gained voice and influence and become more active and responsible (as opposed to being cultivated around eat-or-die products). One of the most impressive recent examples is the petition to revoke a new snapchat design. It gathered far beyond a million signatures in a few days only. When browsing job ads, you’ll see ever more jobs around user centered jobs like experience, design, happiness, feedback or care than ever before. The NPS (Net Promoter Score), the key metric for the empowered and influential user, asks: How likely are you to promote the product? Anything below an 8 should tell you to change things.

While successful businesses have made the customers queens and kings, public policy and privacy law have not adapted. Sometimes they even stand against this logic. Privacy and data policies, which tend to govern the majority of user relationships, don’t focus on the user - or not on today’s user to be most precise. Why do I have to repeat my phone number when I call my mobile provider’s customer support from my cell phone? Or why do I always see the product advertised that I just bought? Such questions cannot be answered with the logic of today’s users and frankly speaking, do not make sense unless they follow an alien logic or the company does not focus on the customer. The market will solve the latter case, but governments have to understand and change the alien logic in favour of today’s customers.

Focus unswervingly on the customer. – Jesse Hertzberg, Former COO at Squarespace 

When it comes to modernising privacy rules the European Union recently has made a big step towards a new, harmonised and updated ruleset across the bloc of 28 countries, called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). While one component of these rules are ruthlessly user-centric, others are the contrary. As the effects of this become apparent, governments around the world can watch - and collect feedback - to improve their own products, i.e. their privacy legislation. Will governments focus on their self interest or user experience?

Most business models have focused on self interest instead of user experience. – Tim Cook, CEO at Apple 

The only part where the GDPR is truly user-centric is the fact that it applies to any company that sells to European customers. Unfortunately this may also prevent important changes for many other regions as businesses around the world become locked in on European rules. Other aspects of the GDPR focus on a static and passive set of rights by the user. These will ask the user more often to say “yes” or “no” rather than establishing logical domains and following user journeys. Every instance of data processing has to be upfront, explicit and unambiguous - a logic that may prevent you from sending a surprise present to someone else because the vendor needs the recipients consent before sending something.

By not recognising user journeys and domains of innovation these European rules risk creating a consent fatigue. This basically means that users are asked so often that they become annoyed and click-through, rather than understanding and actively consenting. As the GDPR was written over 2 years ago and only now enters into force, there are no insights on actual effectiveness of consent techniques yet. However, while is too late to draw lessons for Europe, lessons can still be learnt by other governments as they adapt new privacy rules.

Looking back at how the European Union adopted these laws, the inner circle of decision makers was criticised for lengthy and complex procedures that did not reflect actual business and user needs but only special interests. Startups, as early movers and disruptors, have fallen into a blind spot of the regulation that will make it harder to compete for them. Has the EU ultimately failed to talk and listen to its citizens and by doing so, will make it harder for startups to talk to their customers?

If you don’t talk to your customers, how will you know how to talk to your customers? – Will Evans, Design Thinker in Residence @NYUStern 


Lenard Koschwitz

Senior Director Global Public Policy

Lenard Koschwitz joined Allied for Startups in 2015. Since then he built up and led the organisations’ public policy activities in Europe. He’s… More