why the emphasis on simplicity?

november 2021

We emphasise simplicity in our initial work for several reasons.

1. A lot of value can come from fairly simple categorisations.

  • For instance, if you know that a legal matter involves arbitration concerning a mining business in a certain country, there is real value in being able to articulate that relatively simple description in a consistent, structured way throughout an organisation and between organisations over time.

  • Further elaborations - what rules of arbitration, what place of arbitration, what governing law, what kind of mining, what natural resource, which part of the country - and many other things can be added over time. But the simple description has value in itself.

2. Complication increases the risk of losing people

  • Some topics - such as countries' territorial sub-divisions - can be defined with reasonable certainty, though even then there are edge cases (e.g. disputed sovereignty).

  • But other concepts relevant to the legal world require a considerable amount of judgement and testing, because things can reasonably be categorised in different ways.

  • And, as detail increases, the likelihood increases that groups with different needs will find it useful to divide things in different ways.

3. Complication increases the risk of bad data

  • Risks of ambiguity and gaps tend to increase. And the burden placed on users expected to categorise matters in very detailed ways becomes unreasonable.

4. Complication requires more work to maintain

  • Failure to maintain is a risk which we propose to mitigate by approaching the detail in stages.

5. Detail is best developed over time

  • There is a real risk in legal work that the dominant legal tradition in which an individualis most experienced influences their mind in making distinctions which, unknowingly, render the material less relevant to others. Groupthink can also be a danger.

  • We think that starting with something fairly high level, consulting sensitively on it, then getting it into use before building out too much detail is a good strategy.

6. Detail is best developed in specialist groups

  • All that said, there is a place for more detail. But we think it is best handled as specific modules developed within specialist communities (private or public, commercial or open source), and which can be slotted into the main, high level taxonomy, and quite easily replaced if found unsatisfactory.  

  • In short, trying to centrally prescribe in great detail seems to us to be a bad idea, whereas laying down a fairly high level central taxonomy is, we think, feasible if done with a well-judged set of stakeholders doing their best to listen to each other and to incorporate a wide range of relevant perspectives.

  • Over time, we'll consider what we can do to support specialist communities, for example by suggesting best practices as we develop them.