Reframing a public service problem

Abhinav Agarwal
2 min readApr 30, 2024

While discussing with a friend working in innovation for a European municipal water service that is rich in water reserves had a very interesting problem that he wanted to discuss.

The problem that he faced was that as the city was rich in water source and was also a source of revenue for the city, historically the city had contracted and externalised the maintainance of these services.

So the suggestion that this friend had for the management was to internalise this service as it would cost less to them. As a new employee, he saw things differently and saw an opportunity in cost reduction or an opportunity to do more with the available funds. However the management had a resistance to his proposal as they believed that externalising the maintainenance gave them more agility and independance to change their strategy while employing internally is a liability and often there is inneficiency.

I had proposed this friend to use frugal thinking tools to challenge the problem. The first step in my thinking was to identify polarities in the problem to identify the constraint. The polarities were between economic efficiency vs agility, internalising a service vs contracting it.

It took some time to correctly frame the problem and identify the pain point as it wasn’t a constraint driven problem as the city had enough ressources. The constraint was rather an internal, change related constraint.

So the final framing of the problem that we arrived to was how can internalising this service become a source of innovation and value creation.

Now this is a very different problem to solve than how to maintain agility by internalising the water maintenance service, or how to reduce costs related to externalising this service.

Water is a valuable resource and worldover water constraint countries are looking to innovative ways of solving this challenge, to the point that a belgian startup is looking to extract water from pig blood!

So how can internalising water management expertise become a source for sharing best practices and help the city have a better position in innovation in water management.



Abhinav Agarwal

#Frugal Innovation #Polymath #Minimalist #Biohacker #Ethical Leadership