Reading Bill Gates’ article this week actually inspired me while writing an essay for an internship application. Needless to say I agree with much of what he says as it applies to nearly everything that we want to be successful — measurement is key to finishing what we’ve started. My essay, which I’m writing on the evidence-based approach in communication campaigns, shows how Gates’ theories can mean a better investment for a large corporation or small, nonprofit business whenever they’re seeking to improve their reputations or send a message in way that will attract the attention of their audiences. Research needs to be conducted at both the beginning, so there is something to be measured against, and the end, to see how over time if there was positive, negative or no change.
What I was concerned about when I first starting reading his article was that it was going to mostly focus on the negative aspect of measurement — how measurement can show us what went wrong and what needs to be fixed. I especially liked the example of the Eagle County teacher evaluations because that not only focused on areas to improve, but it gave the teachers opportunity to see what they were doing right and how they could build on their strengths. I think that in order for measurement to be effective, we have to focus in some way on how successful something was so we have the incentive then to replicate it. While always wanting to do better can be a motivation, measurement can be harmful if it only points out our failures. I liked the way Gates found ways to tie in the need for critical change with the need for high-quality, trustworthy systems that utilize positive reinforcement more than negative.
Not everything is measurable, Gates acknowledges. It would take a lot more money (or, a lot more philanthropists like Gates) to quantify data like disease exposure’s effect on children’s potential. But clear goals, along with a healthy dose of optimism, can help us get there. And if we can find in some way to do our due diligence and provide measurement tools at all steps of any programming with appropriate feedback systems, we can replicate the progress that things like the polio vaccination have seen — but that will take time. I’m certain that creating awareness about the need for measurement and the role of any sort of evidence-based strategic planning will help us get there.