Efficient Friction

by | Sep 15, 2019 | ICT4D

Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it. Usually discussions about efficiency are about reducing the friction between steps and processes. So why would or how could friction be efficient?

Sometimes we want friction in a system or process because we want people to pause and think about what it is they are doing. For example, if you want to look at your phone less while in bed, leave your phone in a different room at night. If you want to eat less cake or drink less of certain drinks, do keep them in the house. Friction allows us to walk, to skate, to brake, to climb, to turn corners; sometimes we just call it grip.

When we are trying to change behaviours individually or as a team, ‘adding’ friction into existing processes to make them less desirable or less smooth can help increase the appeal of the new behaviours we seek to see. Other times friction can help highlight the importance of a task or step as it helps to ‘slow us down’ or jolt us out of ‘autopilot’.

In the data world, when we are designing a project involving data collection, we want the project team to pause and ask a few questions around the data collection – why do we need this data, what is the purpose of it, could we do without or with less data, where is it going to be stored and why, with whom will it be shared and why, and how will we communicate all this in multiple ways to the person from whom we are collecting the data?

Even the data collection process itself, we want to be frictionless as possible except the point where the collector is discussing with the data subject about why we are collecting the data, how we are using it, with whom we are sharing it, and what their rights are. At this point we want friction so that there is pause, there is a discussion that occurs, and that it is not just a tick box.

It is easy to view this type of friction as bad or inefficient, but then we are likely defining efficiency incorrectly.

Photo by Joshua Earle

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