In 2014, we completed our largest ever Top Tasks
identification project for the European Union. It was in 28 countries and 24
languages. Almost 107,000 voted. After 30 voters, the top three tasks had
emerged. Yes, the top three tasks after we closed the survey with 106,792 voters
were the same as the top three tasks at 30 voters. (The top three tasks were:
EU law; Research and innovation; Funding and grants.)
We’ve been carrying out Top Tasks identification projects
for about 15 years now. Over 400,000 people have voted in over 100 countries
and in more than 30 languages. Certain patterns have remained consistent. We
get the same basic voting patterns whether we are trying to understand what
people in Oslo want from urban transport; what health policy professionals want
in India; what consumers want in Brazil; what people in Liverpool want from
their council; what Bot developers want; what matters to managers when it comes
to Artificial Intelligence; what people buying cars want; what IKEA,
Rolls-Royce or BBC employees want. The same patterns repeat again and again.
To get statistically reliable data, we aim for about 400
voters. However, we know that at about 25 voters, the top three tasks will
begin emerging. The more voters we get, the more stable the overall list
A typical tasklist will have between 50 and 80 tasks. We
tend to define Top Tasks as those who get the first 50% of the vote. That is
typically about 15 tasks. We want those 15 tasks to be as stable as possible,
so that’s why we aim for 400 voters. Over multiple surveys, we have seen that
at about 400 voters we get stability in the first 15-20 tasks.
For simplicity, let’s say people were asked to vote on 100
tasks. The top 5 tasks will get an average of 25% of the vote, with the bottom
50 tasks also getting 25%. In other words, the top 5 tasks get as much of the
vote as the bottom 50. After 400 people have voted, the chances of a task from
the bottom 50 of the vote becoming a top task are infinitesimal, as are the
chances of a top task dropping into the bottom 50 tasks.
We have carried out more than 500 Top Tasks Identification
surveys. To my knowledge, we have never found a situation where there are more
than 8 tasks in the first 25% of the vote. In every environment of human endeavor
we have surveyed, there are a small set of things that really matter to people,
and a large set of stuff that doesn’t matter so much.
The same stuff matters everywhere. If you’re living in a
city in Norway, Canada, the Netherlands, or the UK, you care about roads,
schools, libraries, rubbish collection. When it comes to public health, health
professionals in Nigeria care about the same things as their peers in India.
Again and again, the same stuff ends up at the bottom of the
list. The stuff that the organization often cares most about. We quite often
find inverse relationships. That which people care most about, the organization
is doing least about. That which people care least about, the organization is
doing most about. The ego and vanity of organizations is one of the most
universal and persistent patterns of all.