Devolve responsibility for your customer experience at your peril


In the world of customer experience, there are certain topics and industry sectors which, if you’re looking for examples of terrible customer service, are like shooting fish in a barrel. Consider, for example, the courier company.

It’s not a trivial thing, every single graph one finds when searching for online shopping shows a precipitous upward curve. We’re all doing it and as a fundamental part of our relationship with brands, it’s a curious thing that something so critical to the customer journey is outsourced to external companies – often at the lowest possible price.

The trouble is, it’s so often the point of the user experience that is most broken. eCommerce retailers have woken up and begun to spend big sums on the optimisation of their digital interaction design. They’re talking choice architecture, multi-variate testing, ethnography, eye-tracking and so on and so on. All very noble, but once we’ve slipped down their wide-necked and increasingly-greasy conversion funnel we’re left at the mercy of the cowboys they have contracted to send us our products.

Many of us are now experiencing that sinking feeling when the confirmation email drops into our box and proudly announces that [insert courier company here] are going to be delivering the purchase. Today on Twitter the comedian Richard Herring began tweeting his experiences of Yodel’s service. It opened a rich vein of commentary on the company’s undeniably appalling fulfilment of orders. Amongst the numerous comical and fantastical examples of their failures, a few posts stood out [ Why I’m boycotting Yodel and Yodel are an incompetent shower ]. It’s quite apparent that customers are now sufficiently motivated by the toxicity of their previous experiences with companies like Yodel, to take this out on the original vendor/provider.

From Terence Eden

Well, the solution’s simple – from now on I don’t accept deliveries from Yodel.

If I buy something and I receive a Yodel tracking ID, I’m cancelling the order.
If a Yodel driver turns up, I’ll refuse to accept delivery.

In short, I am firing them – and I suggest you do the same.

In simple terms, customers will actually refuse to purchase from you if they know you’re using a courier who has failed them in the past.

This attribution of responsibility, the guilt by association or the sheer unwillingness to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous delivery companies, anecdotally at least, is an opportunity for eTailers. Consider the benefit of giving customers the confidence that their shipping fee will be going to a highly-rated and ultra-low-failure-rate delivery company? Imagine that your customer can have complete confidence – underwritten by you as vendor – that their parcel will arrive safely, in good time.

If we as experience-obsessed strategists, are mapping and considering the service from end to end, we must insist that significant time and attention is paid to all touch points, including those that businesses choose to outsource (for perfectly legitimate reasons) and that the same care and attention to exceptional user experience is applied to those moments. The critical moment of delivery is too valuable to leave to the cold moneyed hand of procurement decision makers writing contracts with universally-derided delivery partners.

And, if you’re a courier company, perhaps using your twitter feed to merrily announce competition winners while disgruntled customers pick up the pieces (often literally) of your failed service, might not be the most sensible strategy…

UPDATE Richard Herring’s Metro piece on the failed delivery is a good read

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Tanda Predictions for Marathon Times

With the Asics Stockholm Marathon just a few weeks away it’s time to take stock of a few things in my running year.

Although not documented on this blog, I’ve set myself a challenge of running every single day this year (at least 3.2k – two miles in old money). This was loosely inspired by Advent Running and the Tracksmith poster, but the origins are neither here nor there. So far I’ve hit it.

Doing a challenge like that has naturally impacted my traditional marathon build-up. I’ve followed a Garmin plan this time around and on rest days I’ve just done light runs but other than that I’ve tried to stick to tempo or threshold training on the selected session days. The big ‘but’ of all this has been the effect it’s had on my overall quality of session: tempo runs are often on tired legs, intervals are not even harder to complete and the long runs in recent weeks have seen some incredibly slow pace and high heart rates.

To make sense of this, or at least allow me to predict what this might all mean for Stockholm I have been fretting about the long runs in particular. In recent weeks, I’ve hit 32.1, 35, 31.1, 33.6 km each weekend. I’ve done 5 runs over 30k this year and a further 5 over 20k. All of which is much more than I’ve done in the past but I’ve been intentionally running them slower. I’ve tried to stick to Zone 2 Heart Rates, under 140bpm which means around 5:10-5:40 pace per km. It should feel easy but after a while it does fatigue you regardless and it begins to hurt as I run more heavily by slumping into slower cadences and mentally I struggle with the discipline of keeping the HR low especially now the days are 15-20 degrees warmer than those first runs of the year.

Today I stumbled across the Tanda discussions from Christof Schwiening‘s blog which I found via Charlie Wartnaby and the sub 3hr Facebook Group. I printed out this graph and started to plot my weekly distance against average pace to see where I sit. Fortunately, Strava’s log page gives me the weekly duration and distance figures so I did a few calculations on and plotted 12 weeks’ worth of data. To my amazement it had me sitting along the 3hr 15′ contour and, given the strength of this model, I’m quite encouraged by that.



Black x marks indicate my training weeks


There’s no question that the long runs have really frustrated me, on the days I’ve run slow I’ve wondered how I could even run at paces I was comfortable at in 2015, 2012 and 2011 for the full distance. But then this year I’ve also hit a parkrun PB of 19:03 and regularly go sub 3:45 on my commute runs and in interval sessions. My Garmin VO2 max has been as high as 60 and is currently hovering at 58/59. So I’m fit and, touch-wood, largely injury free. A niggling sciatic nerve, a bit of gluteus numbness and some hints of ITB all might flare up on the day but equally, could not, and if they don’t? Well, to hit 3:15 would be a dream and put me firmly on the road of my 5-year plan to sub 3 with a good opportunity to go quicker in York in October. However, that means averaging 4′ 37″ /km for the entire race and that is a pace which I exceeded for just 25 minutes on Sunday (after 2 hrs 20 mins of slower running). Even with adrenaline and a lighter few weeks ahead I’m not sure I’ve got that in me, and that in itself is a revelation: physiologically the data says I should be able to do it, but my own sense of perceived effort says it’s not. 2016-05-16 19-15-52.png

I’ve got time to set that goal, create the pace band and work out what I’ll go at. Keeping an eye on the temperature (average 18 C) and wind on the day will have a bearing but when you’ve spent a fair amount of coin flying out there, hotels and food, do you really want to risk having 4 hours of hell on the road because you took a risk and went out at a punchy pace?

On the 4th June, we’ll know…

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Using exercise icons on food labels is not the answer to the obesity epidemic

It’s well understood that the country is facing an obesity epidemic. There are few topics in public health as well covered in recent years. The sugar tax is happening and much debate is underway about the role governments and responsible bodies should have in modifying our irrational and damaging behaviour.

I have a vested interest in the subject from several perspectives: As a concerned citizen, as an endurance runner, as a proud supporter of the UK’s biggest mass exercise movement in parkrun and as a behavioural psychologist working in persuasive consumer design.

My empirical background adds a healthy dose of cynicism when I read today that the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) suggest the use of exercise labels for food to replace or augment the nutrition labelling.

The reason this is being suggested is that nutrition labelling isn’t working. The arguments here concern the fact that the detail is too complex for the general public, that it causes an unhealthy focus on calorie content that there is considerable ambiguity on how this information should be used by the consumer and the presentation of portion sizes.

I contend that the solution proposed by RSPH is also doomed to failure because it doesn’t affect the decision at the point of sale and allows our inner defence lawyer to contend and justify the purchase because ‘i’ll deal with the consequences of this bad choice later with some exercise’. It’s the same reason that carbon offsetting is an acceptance that we make the wrong choice with travel. This is what behavioural economists call the default norm, we are not affecting the ingrained status quo of the bad choice. It’s better than nothing, perhaps, but it avoids dealing with the real problem – which is that we don’t promote real nutritious and healthy food anywhere near enough.

The evidence, interrogated

To explain why this was felt to be a worthwhile intervention, some well-meaning commentators and the RSPH have pointed to a study in Baltimore, widely reported in October 2014 [CNN, Washington Post], and published in the American Journal of Public Health. This study placed 20 cm x 28 cm signs in a point of sale (PoS) display in stores that drew attention to the amount of exercise required to ‘burn off’ the carbonated drinks in the adjacent cabinet. It worked, and less drink was sold. However, there are a handful of reasons we cannot extrapolate the findings from this to the RSPH proposition.

  •  The Baltimore study was a confrontational intervention, it arrested the purchase process with a highly visible sign. Nudges here are just enough to bump people away from their behaviour.
  • It isn’t sustainable, even if we accept the execution worked this time, like the note on the fridge to not forget your lunch, you’d ignore it very quickly on repeated presentations.
  • This is before the purchase, packaging labels are not universally observed until post-purchase.
  • The demographic tested was limited (urban, black, adolescents) and the cultural effects of their consumption and susceptibility for intervention have not been accounted for.

The people that read labels and packaging tend toward higher levels of education and are already motivated by a health goal: fat loss, protein intake etc. so the people making use of labels to change behaviour are already past the trigger point. RSPH cite Dr. Hamlin’s paper about the attention given to front of pack (FOP) labelling but even this paper acknowledges the profound limitations of FOP in the context of the myriad of marketing pressure applied to the persuasion for sale. They also acknowledge [Cowburn, G., Stockley, L., 2005] that the interpretation of labelling is going to be challenged by levels of education and nutritional sophistication.  Finally, although the RSPH present research that indicates people would be ‘three times more likely to indicate they would undertake physical activity’, there is no evidence this intent is or would be followed-through.

Distracting us from the task at hand

Solutions may be found by modifying packaging and one could argue that it’s just part of a broad approach to changing perception and behaviour but I contend that it’s actually damaging to press ahead with it. To spend time considering and executing this is to distract from the real solution which is to make healthy food choices the norm. Considerable time and effort must be expended in the persuasive design industry to work with our natural biases and present good food as the obvious, natural and common choice. To dilute the salience of bad food in preference for clean, natural unprocessed alternatives.

I look forward to Public Health sector that recognises that until we confront the universally damaging food we sell in the same way we’ve confronted tobacco (i.e. through demonisation), we’re not going to be able to educate people away from their irrational desire to pursue the forbidden fruit. We cannot go around treating exercise, worthy and valuable as it is, as the cure for a problem we’ve not had the guts to deal with at source. You wouldn’t promote chemotherapy on cigarette packets … would you?

The RSPH paper itself acknowledges that the solution needs to tackle both sides of the obesity equation (ie. “When calories in … exceeds calories out” and “modifying both energy intake and energy expenditure”) but their solution will not change ‘calories in’ and does not have realistic prospect of effecting ‘calories out’.

EDIT: On the 9th May 2016 a piece by Nick Triggle was posted on BBC News which highlights the disparity alluded-to in the final section of this blog: “Some 58% of advertising spend is on confectionery and convenience food, compared to only 3% on fruit, vegetables and pasta” What Yoghurt Tells Us About The Obesity Fight retrieved 09/05/2016.

Artisanal food: an update

After an opportunity opened up in Charlie‘s workload we have finally managed to get our artisanal food generator coded and on a public-facing URL. We’d love you to give it a try. There is a previous post on this blog which tells you the story of why we think it demonstrates good persuasive thinking.

Late in 2015, we attended a Dare Sessions event with our friends The Foundry. The theme of the event was automation and David Atkinson from The Foundry referenced a wonderful bit of automation work where wine reviews were constructed using Markov Chains. This gives us some future direction perhaps in the logic although there is plenty to be getting on with as it is.

Finally, we’re proud to say that the associated Twitter account @shinyplums is gaining popularity although we’re not sure that everyone has worked out that it’s satirical. Which we rather like.

The only ‘disappointment’ personally was that Amanda Bacon’s food diary in US Elle shows us that no matter how ridiculous our strings might appear, the reality is much worse.

Look for the helpers

Some of you will change your profile photo, express solidarity, perhaps write something in French. Others might go somewhere French, light a candle. You might quietly blame policies, religions or individuals (rarely do we feel confident enough or sure enough to do it publicly). It’s your choice to do those things, it’s always heartfelt and I criticise none of it.

Those things don’t help me personally. This morning I’ve spent time looking at the photos and watching the footage as I have done time and time again in recent years after similar events to take comfort in the direct and immediate response of the helpers. The people rushing to assist, with scant consideration of the immediate perceived danger.

These people and my reflections of admiration for them are the only things that make me feel positive and hopeful. Even though I know I’ll never see an end to this carnage in my lifetime I do know that each time it happens I’ll always find more people helping.

The Experience Gap

Thoroughly enjoyed this Harvard Business Review post about something we call at Dare, ‘The Experience Gap’. That is the huge gulf that often exists between a company’s perception of its customer experience and the reality of it. [The article isn’t entirely about this topic but is hugely valuable to consider the difference listening to customers and understanding]

Of course, much of what we consider marketing is about pushing the aspirational or intended experience from a product or service and caring less about the reality of it (which is generally something controlled by operations or product development teams).

A nice articulation of this gap can be seen in these two videos for Les Mills Grit Strength gym class. I shall leave them both here for direct comparison.

What you think you’ll experience

… and what you will almost certainly experience

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UK Running events: Are the fees excessive?

I decided some time ago that I wouldn’t ever compete in my most local of races, the Garmin Kingston Run and the Lidl Kingston Breakfast Run. These events cover the route that I run most often and it just seemed silly to pay £28-34 to cover the same paths I cover each week for free. That was a rational decision and although I thought it was expensive, it was more in the context of it being local and familiar rather than a moral comment on the rising cost of races, after all, £34 was for a 20 mile course, so £1.70 per mile or 24p a minute [see below].

It planted a seed in my mind. That seed germinated last year when the cost of the Winter Run was announced. This is just a 10k run and the price soared to an eye-watering £40. Ok, Ok, I thought, it’s London passing some of the busiest and most secure environments in the country and it’s for charity and they’re putting on a fake snow machine and ‘free polar bear hugs’. So, perhaps, the £4.50 per km cost [£1.13 per minute at 6’26” mile (4’00” /km) pace] can be justified. I’m not going to enter obviously but somebody might.

Then last month the little seedling grew another few cm when I received an invite for the Vitality West London 10k. £40 plus a £2.40 booking fee. What on earth are they talking about? This time there was no snow being promised, no bears and the charity bit is optional (albeit reducing the cost if you do). It’s getting ridiculous.

Milton Keynes Marathon cost me £40, London in 2012 was about £35 from memory. At London you can understand the cost – this is a race having to pay high fees to attract the world’s very best runners. London Marathon provide security, medical and logistics support to hundreds of thousands of people across one of the most expensive and congested cities in Europe. With most people finishing in 4 hours or so it works out at a quite generous 15-20p per minute (less if you include the pre and post race support), that’s £1.50 per mile or thereabouts.

The marathon is over four times the length of the 10k; Now you’d assume some costs are fixed and others based on mileage and there are going to be economies of scale, with that in mind the fact that the Vitality West London 10k is the same cost as one of the World’s top Marathons just seems a little excessive doesn’t it?

Breakdown of event costs

I know I need more detail. I have to understand what proportion of the race fee goes on which elements of event support. I want to know for these pricey commercial events (even with their veneer of charity fundraising):

  • What proportion of the support is offered on a volunteer basis?
  • What fees do St John Ambulance charge and the various chip-timing systems?
  • When drinks are provided, is this at cost to the manufacturer or is it a wholesale buy?
  • What about ped barriers, gantries, baggage transport/storage, signage?
  • How about professional fees, local authorities and insurances?

Now, here’s the crux, how does the experience differ – in real terms – to the more spit-and-sawdust events? Admittedly some of these are not on closed roads, but to many runners the difference between a regional city/town marathon and club-organised event is predominantly a case of baggage handling, signage and goody-bags. The distance is the same.

Change in event prices over time

How has the cost of the UK’s top-tier closed-road events changed in the past 20 years (Great North Run, London Marathon, Edinburgh Great Winter Run). Do you know what you paid for one of these events in the distant past?

Are key event costs rising or falling? Of those items listed above, some of these must surely have benefitted from technology and efficiency savings?

Some example race prices
(assuming my current race pace)

Provider Closed Roads Distance (km) Typical time (min) Cost (full) per km per minute
Winter Run (London) Human Race YES 10 40 £45.00 £4.50 £1.13
West London 10km Vitality YES 10 40 £42.40 £4.24 £1.06
Great British 10km Vitality YES 10 40 £50.00 £5.00 £1.25
Bath Half Vitality YES 21.08 90 £43.00 £2.04 £0.48
Reading Half Vitality YES 21.08 90 £38.00 £1.80 £0.42
Virgin London Marathon London Marathon YES 42.16 210  £35.00 £0.83 £0.17
Kingston Breakfast Run Human Race PARTIAL 13 52 £28.00 £2.15 £0.54
Kingston Breakfast Run Human Race PARTIAL 26 110 £31.00 £1.19 £0.28
Kingston Breakfast Run Human Race PARTIAL 32.3 140 £34.00 £1.05 £0.24
Great Winter Run (Edinburgh) Great Run YES 5 19 £21.00 £4.20 £1.11
Great North Run Great Run YES 21.08 90 £53.04 £2.52 £0.59
Bedford Half Bedford Harriers NO 21.08 90 £20.50 £0.97 £0.23
Halstead Marathon Halstead Road Runners PARTIAL 42.16 210 £33.50 £0.79 £0.16
Sittingbourne 10km Rotary Club NO 10 40 £14.00 £1.40 £0.35
Bullock Smithy Hazel Grove Scouts PARTIAL 56 660 £30 £0.54 £0.05

What do you think? Are race prices a fair reflection of the organiser’s effort? Is it fair to compare such ‘different’ events?

Bear in mind that the runners’ fees are not the only income source at several of these events. Sponsors contribute and charities are often charged significant fees to have spaces for runners and their own tents at the event (e.g. Great North Run).

Other perspectives

By contrast, here’s a BBC News piece about how obstacle events (ugh, don’t get me started on this particular craze) are increasing in popularity and how they leave organisers out of pocket at least initially.

A Guardian assessment on race prices from March 2015 – the comments on this piece are revealing. 

I’d love to have a race director’s view – can you give us a breakdown of costs in terms of a percentage of where race fees go? For a brief insight, Marathon Talk episode 300 had some details on the scale of logistics behind the Bournemouth Marathon Festival (multi-distance) event.

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Drawing Fire: How transparency in User Centred Design brings out the worst in our users.

There are certain roles in digital user-experience design that are coveted. Coveted for the opportunity they present to have your work seen and interacted with by a huge number of people, coveted because they represent Britain at its best, most accessible and world leading.

Jobs like the Government Digital Service and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The new homepage across three screen sizes.

In that context, I’m a keen reader of the blogs both these organisations put out that explain and add authenticity to their work; the rigour and integrity of which is inspirational. [GDS & BBC]

Imagine then, having spent weeks and months developing user-centred solutions, using all the best thinking you can bear to the project. Deploying some of the brightest UX, Information Architecture and interaction design minds, commissioning (extensive) user testing and getting the buy-in and agreement of savvy and critical stakeholders. Imagine the end result being pushed to the expected audience and, in the spirit of transparency, sharing that journey online.

And then you read this response:

So another blog by another name showing all the hard work that has gone on the background, trying to justify the latest reason for the ‘responsive’ redesign. Just like the news app, just like the news page, you may have spent weeks shuffling you coloured bits of paper round on the wall and getting each other so excited that the toilets have never seen such use before, but the fact remains, you work has been pointless. The home page is crap, the news site is still crap and the news app still remains so crap, that those of us who still have access to version 2 now refuse to update.

And what will we see as a response to comments in this blog? Dismissal of those telling you that you have got the change wrong and continued insistence that this is the way forward. At least it’s something you can proudly tell you grandchildren in years to come, “I used to work for a Great British institution called the BBC and was involved in its downfall.”

Granted there is just a group of detractors and critics who are so full of hatred for a ‘biased’ BBC that one will never convince them, but even so, does this not make your heart sink? Sink at the ignorance, the stupidity at a group of people that cannot see how a truly incredible digital public service is designed entirely around the users. The undermining of the craft of the people that work on sites like this is deplorable. Patronisingly assuming that it’s just a self-congratulatory exercise involving coloured paper makes my blood boil.

When I read Hugh Gummett‘s original post I read about competitor analysis, stakeholder reviews, detailed requirements capture and interrogation of data. I can see there was more than cursory user testing, namely:

32 in-depth qualitative sessions and collecting quantitative feedback from around 400 people through surveys. Those recruited to provide feedback covered a wide range of demographics, had varied interests around areas such as news, sport, entertainment, lifestyle and learning..

Furthermore, the testing included a BETA site (opt-in) and multivariant testing of the implementations for the homepage. To give the team credit one really has to acknowledge that this was not a design done in a sealed room and foisted on a gullible public. But they can’t even win there, other commenters assert that 400 users aren’t sufficient as the BBC has 8 million users – not understanding how representative sampling works at all. Design a site for each one of those 8 million users? How does that work then? Sigh.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have looked at the comments, perhaps the UX team doesn’t either, nothing good ever comes from comment threads after all but my goodness me, as a way to demotivate this afternoon’s reading takes some beating.

Of course, if your head is as far above the parapet as it is at the BBC this kind of attack is inevitable. In our industry, we do have to stay strong and continue to work with confidence that we’re going about user-centred design in the right way. I take comfort from the fact that as practitioners we have raised the bar and are getting some many things right now that it takes a bit of pedantry and comment flaming to stir us and increase our resolve to ensure each implementation gets better and better for those that care about what we do.

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Evoking the spirit of running, two short films.

Those of us in advertising and marketing know that communications often resonate strongest when there is an emotional connection. Something about a message or the way that it’s presented that evokes the primal or limbic response.

Only one of these films is really an advert, and even then you could argue it’s a brand film. Both, however, are absolutely brilliant at reminding me of what it feels like to run and why the bloody hell I do it. Autumn is a cracking season for running. A few weeks ago I ran in the early morning through Windsor Great Park. The sort of run that was so steeped in English history it was almost a parody of itself. I ran through Windsor, past the tremendous, perfect, castle and down through the mists and mellow fruitfulness to the Great Park. In utter silence and solitude I shared the empty dewy paths with only deer for km after km. It was one to hold in the memory banks for years to come.

It reminded me of the video Julia Bleasdale and her partner shot in Bushy Park last winter. A park still technically in Greater London and yet from the shots you could be forgiven for thinking it was in a great rural idyll. Julia’s latest effort is even grander and even more inspiring. It’s not as familiar to me as Bushy of course but what wouldn’t make someone aspire to run this free than this glorious two minutes of high definition drone footage?

By contrast, Tracksmith’s effort draws us back to the turning season. Stealing us for a season of cross-country, this vision of picturesque, smokey New England is about as far from the cross-country I remember as a boy as it’s possible to get. Photogenic, fit and breathless athletes grace the well-considered shots with muffled sounds and an thoughtful narrative. Nothing’s made me want to get up early and run as much as this film.

In a world of athletics dominated by conversations of unnatural performances and Instagram feeds drowning in thousands of lurid neon boys and girls in their active wear, it’s so great to find two bits of creativity that speak to me about why and how I run.

Julia Bleasdale, Switzerland, August 2015 videos.

Tracksmith, Ode to Cross Country, Fall campaign 2015

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What can VW USA tell us about drug cheats?

Another blog post I must caveat with ‘I don’t know a huge amount about this but’, I might have to invent an acronym that asserts this for all future posts. A sort of defensive skin to deflect the more obvious criticisms.

Well, let’s imagine a scenario. You build a product that can be used in an almost infinite number of ways by your customers. A car that can be driven fast or slow, in the city or on the open road for long journeys or short trips, for example. Now imagine that a well-meaning person decides that your car mustn’t be damaging to the world we live in and that it should be  low impact. They design a test that will prove if your car is low impact by picking one particular example of how it can be used and uses that as a benchmark. A set speed or sequence of speeds and a set duration. This protocol is widely publicised.

You know that your car has to undergo this test so you work night and day to make sure that when it’s being driven to those parameters it will pass the test. What this means is you focus in on your objective, my car must pass this test.

Which is not the same as ‘my car must be low impact on the environment’. Because the test is not representative of how the car would ever be used. It’s a formula designed to be repeatable and comparable with the cars your competitors make. It’s a scientific assessment, pure and simple.

Now, you’re no longer making cars, you’re making elite athletes. Once again you need to make sure your product is clean, that it compares favourable to the rest of the competition. You do this by submitting your athlete to tests. Scientific, repeatable tests performed under conditions you know will be consistent and repeatable. You focus your efforts on ensuring your athlete always passes those tests.

But your athlete doesn’t need to be clean all the time. When this test isn’t being performed the athlete can be as dirty as you like, you just need to ensure when it’s tested it avoids a positive test.

In both cases it’s easy to see that the burden has shifted. By making the test the thing you need to pass you dilute the purpose of the test in the first place, you lose sight of the desire that cars and athletes run clean. That regardless of when and how we assess them they will always be ethically sound.

VW, sports federations and coaches should clearly have the moral fortitude to see that the test is not ‘the thing’, the aspiration for a universally clean product is the objective, however, the testers and test setters have a far more significant role to play than many of us have so-far assumed.  Testers and regulators must design, facilitate and communicate assessment regimes that reflect a wider range of behaviours. A regime that communicates less about simple pass and fail but more about a universal, undeniable commitment to provable fairness, any time any where.

More cars and athletes will be shown to have done just enough to pass the test and we’ll admonish them for not being clean outside of those tests. We must at this time look hard on the people that let this scenario develop. Right now I don’t really think badly of VW for what they did, and by virtue of the fact that it did happen, neither did quite a lot of people at VW. The fact is they worked damn hard to build an engine algorithm that produced a fantastic efficient output under the laboratory test conditions. That the parameters didn’t represent real world usage was not their fight. So when a coach and an athlete conspire to beat a test, can we empathise and understand that it’s the test setters that have brought this situation about, albeit for very noble and ethically sound reasons?

I don’t have the answer, of course, but I hope the question itself is worth considering.

With thanks to Edward Borrini for inspiring the original thought.


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