Turning away from a truckload of bureaucracy

The skills of identifying costly regulations and how to improve them are essential to the competitiveness and growth of enterprises. By combining the standard, quantitative method with design anthropology we were able to understand how regulation works in practice — and achieve results faster.

The article is written in collaboration with apolitical and The Danish Business Authority

Better regulation has been on the agenda of European governments for years. Better regulation means lower compliance costs for enterprises, so the first step on this path is to be able to measure the costs that regulation actually imposes on enterprises. Since 2004, the key method for this in Denmark has been the Standard Cost Model, a quantitative methodology that can measure the compliance costs of laws and legislation.

One thing this method can’t do, though, is tell you how to improve regulations. The key issue here is how to obtain lower compliance costs without sacrificing the purpose of the regulation. In the spring of 2017 MindLab worked together with the Danish Business Authority on developing a methodology that would meet these needs. Our strategy of introducing design anthropology was honed in a rapid, iterative process in the Danish road freight industry, focusing on safety regulations.

Why design anthropology?

With a focus on social relations and dynamic situations, design anthropologists are concerned with how people perceive, create and transform their environments through everyday activities. Through a design-anthropological lens, user needs are continually in the making through everyday interactions with social relations, technology, policy and the material world.



Wendy Gunn, Ton Otto and Rachel Smith in the book Design Anthropology: Theory and Practice from 2013.
Joachim Halse in the book Rehearsing the Future from 2010.

Standard Cost Model, meet design anthropology

Design anthropology takes on-site interaction as the starting point for policy design. We visited 10 hauliers to understand how safety regulations materialise in practice. We were shown around their trucks and premises, tagged along on rides and witnessed on- and off-loadings.


“The trucks with cranes need to be taken out of operation for test requirements more often than trucks without cranes. If I do the math, half a day quickly adds up to a revenue loss of €400. Why can’t the crane be tested during the annual check like the rest of the truck?”

Christopher – one of the truck drivers we visited


By talking and observing, we uncovered what the regulations really required, and were able to identify regulations that were perceived as costly. We then used the Standard Cost Model framework to measure the costs of those regulations in terms of time spent, direct costs and foregone production. Altogether, we identified 15 regulatory burdens that could probably be reduced through changes to regulations. Some of these were incredibly simple – like combining numerous annual tests into one, saving millions of euros in the process.

Three strengths of combining the Standard Cost Model with design anthropology

Firstly, the combination makes for a cheap and fast way to identify costly regulation. Instead of laboriously mapping the costs of all relevant laws with the Standard Cost Model, it specifically identifies laws that are costly in practice and could be improved.

Secondly, looking at the compliance process from the company’s perspective gave us new ideas for how to improve regulation – not from a distance but from within the context where the regulation is intended to work efficiently.

And finally, the Standard Cost Model let us quantify both the cost associated with a given regulation and any potential savings an adjustment to it could make.

Add design anthropology to your toolbox

The methodology we have described showcases two pivotal – and potentially transformative – actions to take if civil servants are serious about designing better regulation:

First, involve end users and hire an anthropologist. Anthropology provides systematic methods and tools to understand how regulations work in practice for people and businesses – and how they could work better.

Second, set the stage for ongoing collaborative learning between policy makers and businesses. In this case we used on-site business visits, interviews with authorities and collective cross-professional workshops where those who were affected took centre stage.

Like the annual truck tests, most regulations exist for good reasons. Simply removing them is rarely an option. That said, modifications to laws and enforcement processes have the potential to reduce costs, while at the same time respecting the underlying policy objectives. Infusing the Standard Cost Model with design anthropology let us do just that. We found the potential for saving millions in the trucking industry; spread across other industries, it could save even more.

Download the method guide including tools: Revisiting regulations


Explore our other design anthropological methods here