November 22, 2017
The Goldilocks Zone: Just right for social services delivery
By: Brian Lee-Archer

"Ahhh, this porridge is just right," she said happily and she ate it all up.
The Story of the Three Bears, Joseph Cundall (1849).

The Story of the Three Bears is an iconic 19th century English fairy-tale where Goldilocks goes into the house of the three bears, and explores what is “just right.” In the 20th century, astrophysicists have adopted the term “Goldilocks Zone,” to describe “the habitable zone around a star where the temperature is just right – not too hot and not too cold – for liquid water to exist on a planet.”

While interstellar exploration may seem a far stretch when discussing the social services industry, this analogy is helpful in transforming service delivery.

In the case of service delivery, “not too hot, not too cold” becomes “not too onerous, not too easy” – the aim is to deliver just the right amount of service according to the context of the situation.

For some people “just right” means intensive servicing with experienced caseworkers. Others can largely manage their own service needs and only require low touch intervention. Providing the correct level of servicing is a combination of the context of the situation the person is in and what the state can deliver and is prepared to fund. This calibration of the service response, according to the context of the circumstances and the capacity of the state, is what I propose as the Goldilocks Zone of social services delivery.

Traditionally, a one-size-fits-all approach has been followed when delivering social services as it is easier to defend the perceived fairness of a standard service to all recipients. However, this approach leads to over servicing and under servicing, as getting the right social outcome according to policy intent requires a mass personalisation model.

Being citizen-centric aligned to circumstance, however, does not mean creating individual solutions for every person. For the majority, mass personalisation via the Goldilocks Zone will align to standard service offerings.

Achieving better social outcomes requires more than ensuring the level of input and servicing is equal for all citizens. It requires a deeper understanding of what is the right service intervention, at the right time, to achieve the right outcome. I saw evidence of this trend emerging within US state government administrations at the recent American Public Human Services Association conference for Information Solutions Management.

Having a holistic view of the social services user through the aggregation of digital data from various sources provides the insight required for a differential service response. It allows segmentation through clustering analytics to identify the Goldilocks Zone for individuals and/or cohorts. This enables:

  • A mainly self-managed option for those who desire and are capable in managing their affairs.

  • An increase in tailored support to address disadvantage and exclusion.

  • Automation of straight-forward and low risk cases.

My colleague Louise May recently wrote an article on achieving excellence in social services delivery by leveraging digital data to enable a differential service response. This differential service response has to fall within the Goldilocks Zone of the individual in order for it to be effective.

This new way of thinking offers threefold benefits – for government to achieve societal outcomes, for the individual and family to meet immediate needs and goals, and for the social services organisation to optimise its resource allocation.

For some people, their Goldilocks Zone incorporates their desire to have human contact situations. By following the Goldilocks Zone principle, capacity should be made available from where over servicing occurs to ensure that these people who need or want the personal touch can get it. A social services organisation that seeks to deny people this service option in the quest for a digital-first strategy, takes the risk of triggering a consumer backlash.

The risk of a consumer backlash can be mitigated when organisations adopt a digitalisation mindset, when transforming service delivery. As noted by Professor Marek Kowalkiewicz from QUT Business School, we often use the terms “digitisation” and “digitalisation” interchangeably.

Digitisation, “helps organisations automate processes and transactions,” whereas digitalisation, “allows businesses to focus on understanding customers and their life events deeply … Digitalised businesses are focused on mass personalisation.”

Finding the Goldilocks Zone requires a digitalisation mindset rather than a digitisation mantra. So do you know the Goldilocks Zone of your social services recipients?

To find out how we at Accenture can help you to find the Goldilocks Zone to achieve better social outcomes for citizens, visit us at or contact me directly.

See this post on LinkedIn: The Goldilocks Zone: Just Right for Social Services Delivery

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