Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What Gets Measured Gets Done

Michael O'Hanlon is a co-author (along with Jason H. Campbell) of the Brookings Iraq Index report that we have discussed in several recent posts.

In a recent Brad DeLong post

(Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: Matthew Yglesias and His Commenters Look at the Brookings Institution, Michael O'Hanlon, and Jeff Herf)

I came across the following quote (originally posted here as a comment to Matthew Yglesias post) and found it interesting and relevant to the mission of this site (emphasis added):

Also of note, the one guy in Brookings who was actually right about the whole mess, that is, Ivo Daalder, isn't working there anymore. As for the Hanlon's (sic) major contribution to the war of ideas, the Iraq index, the best I can say is that this is a very American idea: the idea that problems can be analyzed and solved if we only quantify them and measure them.

Posted by: Nick Kaufman on January 14, 2007 12:22 AM

My reading is that O'Hanlons' and Brookings' Iraq Index is useful exactly because
  1. it works hard at identifying the key factors that give us clues to how things are really going in Iraq, and
  2. it does the heavy lifting work of pulling the measurements of these factors together in a single place and making them available for others to examine and think about.
Simply quantifying and measuring key factors (while necessary) cannot be sufficient to solve the problems we face. Once we have the data, different individuals may formulate different and even contradictory analyses and that too is useful. By the way, it is clear from the Iraq Index report itself that they are only presenting some of the required data and that one would be wise to treat some of the individual measurements with due caution. So, at least for me, I don't see them saying that measurement leads automatically to solution.

The converse of the proposition that "problems can be analyzed and solved if we only quantify and measure them" is likely to be more on target. Namely something like:
If we don't identify the key factors, quantify them, measure them, make them available to others, analyze them, and discuss them, then this will severely limit our individual and collective ability to understand the problems we face.
Under this new framing (effective measurement leads to greater understanding), we also note that the identification of potential solutions will be sharply limited, much more difficult, and much more a matter of guesswork when such measurement is absent.

One other benefit of a measurement-aided approach is that when a given solution (an intervention) is initiated, the next measurements of these same key factors will provide the essential grist for determining whether that intervention is delivering on its promise.

In other words we might want to designate the idea: what gets measured, gets done as the bugle call order of the day, knowing that measurement, sharing, and collaboration can help us at each step along the way from problem definition to proof that our solutions have actually worked.

In future posts, we will make an attempt to build further on the work started in the Iraq Index and on the measurement work we can cull from other Iraq sources so as to add some substance to the theoretical statements of this post.

In my view, if we are going to find and implement a solution to the deteriorating Iraq situation, we need more quantification, measurement, sharing, analysis, and collaboration and that extensions to and improvements on the Iraq Index can help pave the way.

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