Complexity, says Brookings Institution social mobility expert Richard V. Reeves, “is the friend of the upper middle class.” To me, Reeves’ observation provides insight into the insidious way governments can, even without realizing it, work against the bulk of the people they seek to serve. It reminds me of my days as a social worker, when a lot of my clients would ask me to interpret government letters and forms for them. I worked for the state of Pennsylvania, but the forms they brought to me were from the city, the county, the state, the feds. It didn’t matter -- it was all “the government” to them, and the special skill I brought was that I could interpret bureaucratese.
If what Reeves says is true, then what Nick Macchione, director of health and human services for San Diego County, Calif., calls “potent simplicity” is the friend of everyone else. Macchione and his colleagues used the concept to create a clear, empowering message to underpin Live Well San Diego, the county’s strategic community health plan. They came up with notion of “3-4-50” to communicate the idea that three behaviors -- smoking, lack of exercise and poor nutrition -- contribute to four chronic diseases that cause more than half of the county’s deaths.