Sludge Toolkit

Resources to help you do sludge audits and address sludge, making your government services work better for the people and communities of NSW.

A cartoon picture of sludge on a laptop and tablet screen with a crossed out sign over them.

What is a sludge audit?

Sludge audits are a way to identify, quantify and remove sludge (unnecessary frictions) from government services. 

Using the NSW Government sludge audit method, you can: 

  • understand where sludge is making your government service difficult to access

  • quantify the impact of sludge on the community

  • know where and how you can improve your service using behavioural science

  • measure the impact of your service improvements. 

Why do a sludge audit?

NSW Government departments and agencies are using the sludge audit method to improve services across the sector. It helps them remove barriers to access, and make services more inclusive.  

The goal is to make things easier and fairer for everyone who interacts with NSW Government. Sludge audits have a real impact. Teams find using the sludge audit method delivers tangible benefits for the people and communities of NSW.  

"The masterpiece is the sludge audit… it gives you clarity and centralises your thoughts and feelings and opinions about a particular process in one place and gives a measurable view of a frustrating process" 

Sludge-a-thon participant  

Start a sludge audit

Use the NSW Government Sludge Audit Method Guide alongside the Sludge Finder tool to complete sludge audits.


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The NSW Government Sludge Audit Method (PDF)

Learn how to do sludge audits to improve your government services.


A cartoon of a woman holding up a sign with an image of sludge crossed out

Sludge Finder

Use this tool to do sludge audits. Sludge Finder is available to all NSW public servants.

If you are not using Sludge Finder, use the sludge scales to assess and quantify the effort it takes people to access government services.

Sludge guides help you design service improvements

Use the sludge guides to see what ‘good’ looks like as you are designing new services or improving existing ones. Our aim is prevent as much sludge in services as we can.

The sludge guides are full of practical, evidence-based techniques for improving the customer experience in different government channels. 

After you have done a sludge audit, use the sludge guides to help you address the sludge you found.


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Reducing sludge on websites (PDF)

Make your websites accessible and easy to use.


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Reducing sludge in letters and emails (PDF)

Make your letters and emails purposeful, clear and compelling.


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Reducing sludge in forms (PDF)

Make your forms easy to find, understand, complete and submit.


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Reducing sludge on the phone and face-to-face (PDF)

Make your phone and face-to-face interactions simple, easy and effective.


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Reducing sludge in text messages (PDF)

Make your text messages clear, simple and credible.


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Reducing sludge in apps (PDF)

Make your apps accessible, clear and easy to use.

Get support to complete a sludge audit

The NSW Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) supports teams across NSW Government to identify and remove sludge from their government services. Based on your needs, this support could include:

  • providing advice and resources
  • introducing your team to the sludge audit method
  • providing tailored support as your team completes sludge audits
  • conducting rapid or deep sludge audits with you
  • supporting implementation of changes, designing and testing behavioural interventions.

Email the BIU for support

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Help us grow our method and resources

Have you done a sludge audit? We would love to hear from you!

We are continually updating our method, guides and sludge scales in response to feedback and new evidence. If you have any ideas on how we can improve, please let us know.

Email the BIU to share your feedback

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Frequently asked questions.

What is sludge?

Sludge describes the ‘excessive or unjustified frictions’ that make it harder for people to achieve their goals. It impacts satisfaction, trust and access to services. Sludge also prevents us from fulfilling the NSW Customer Commitments

By removing sludge, you can make your government services easier to access and use. You can help people achieve their goals and make your services more fair and inclusive.

What does sludge in government look like?

Sludge in government can take many forms. Here are some examples:

Information that is hard to find or understand

  • Conflicting or outdated information
  • Complex language, jargon and slang
  • Websites that are hard to navigate

Lengthy forms and processes

  • Processes with unnecessary steps
  • Forms that ask for unnecessary information
  • Excessive wait times 

Processes that lead to feelings of anxiety

  • Unexpected and unnecessary requests for sensitive information
  • Unnecessary or confusing compliance requirements
  • Rejections provided without empathy nor explanation

Design that is not inclusive

  • Websites that are incompatible with screen readers
  • Information that is only available in English
  • Steps that can only be completed in person, or only online

What if I am outside NSW Government?

Government jurisdictions outside NSW are using behavioural insights and sludge audits to make their services better. We continue to learn from how these jurisdictions are reducing sludge. 

For example, we partnered with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to invite government jurisdictions outside NSW to participate in an ‘international sludge academy’ in 2023. During the academy, 16 jurisdictions from 14 countries trialled and tested the NSW Government sludge audit method. You can read more about the lessons we learnt from the academy here.

Help us shape the future of the sludge audit method

We welcome learning from other jurisdictions about how we can improve our method and resources. Please reach out to us if you:

  • have feedback on the NSW Government sludge audit method, guides or sludge scales
  • want to understand how we assess effort and experience using the evidence we have accumulated in the sludge scales
  • are an academic who would like to conduct real world research around improving government services
  • have done a sludge audit and would like to tell us about your experience.

Email the BIU 

Other resources for improving the customer experience

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