Sigh-metrical:  challenges & opportunities in achieving better outcomes

I believe there is a fundamental piece missing in **** as with other benchmark and assessment frameworks. The challenge and opportunity are as I have described in my presentation “The Problem With Problems” which can be found on my Slideshare page.  

 
Organizations need to understand and acknowledge that not all problems and systems are the same. The approach to understanding and improving outcomes in each domain must therefore be optimal for that type. This directly applies not only to how we act towards each type of challenge, but how we set goals and measures to assess the impact of our actions.  

The three principal types of metrics that I advise are:

1) Counts- How many? How much? How fast? At what cost? These observations of a process in action are fairly easy to define, and easy to measure. Depending on the nature of the underlying system and situation, these metrics may be able to easily drive further improvements, or may be part of more dynamical systems- those that are simultaneously affecting and being affected by the people and things they interact with. These metrics commonly reflect systems in which both Best Practice and Expert Practice offer highly reliable solutions for taking action towards better outcomes.

2) Qualities- How well? As the former acting head of SAMHSA once said to me, “we can tell the rate of underage drinking or prescription drug abuse in a place, but we can not answer ‘what is the health of that place?'” These qualitative measures are directly and deeply interconnected with the ways that people make sense of the world, and thereby form beliefs and intentions. For public organizations, such things are directly expressed in strategic plans and stated objectives. As we have said before, we can answer how quickly we fix the potholes, but it is harder to answer how well our roads are designed to move people easily and safely. These metrics may be bound up in the context and culture of an organization, making the use of imported Best Practice and Expert Practice challenging.

3) Values- How much are we “walking our talk?” As we encounter the most uncertain and ambiguous situations, we must learn to acknowledge that no one knows a solution at this time; that in fact solutions are not now knowable. We are not excused from acting to achieve desired outcomes, but we can not know in advance what will be the consequences of any action we undertake. In such cases, we must not presume to know how and why things are happening. Rather, we must identify the things that are most important to us in our own organization- our core values and operating principles. Metrics in dealing with such challenges and systems should assess the extent to which people in the organization acted in accordance with their express and shared values and operating principles. This goes hand-in-hand with devoting some portion of resources to multiple explorations of promising ideas for achieving desired outcomes in this most difficult set of challenges. Insofar as a particular organization experiences and makes sense of its environment in its own unique way, this is a space of emerging good practices. We try and we learn. We adapt and keep what is working (taking us towards our objectives) and stop what is not working (if we can).  

Given these realities of organizational life and dynamics, I believe there are clear implications for anyone seeking to establish a sustainable and useful framework of performance measurement. An organization that can both inform its stakeholders of these concepts, and create a metrics framework based on this knowledge, can be well-positioned to influence wide-spread adoption and practice.

I look forward to talking more about this.

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