Thursday, June 7, 2007

Why Wait Till September in Iraq

We Don't Have To Wait. There's a dangerous meme circulating that says we have to wait till September before we can learn whether the "surge" in Iraq is working. This, in my opinion is simply not true.

Many dimensions of the current situation in Iraq can and are being measured and reported on in near real time. The work of Michael O'Hanlon on the weekly Iraq Index at the Brookings Institution is one excellent proof that it is possible to know were we stand literally week by week and even day by day.

Digestible Trend Data. One principal area where we are not as good as we need to be today is in making sure that the trend data that exists is readily available in a form that is digestible by the intended audience. This intended audience includes the Congress, the main stream news media, the blogosphere, and especially ordinary citizens. Some really important data such as the example of Iraqi prison population that we showed in a post earlier today may only appear in tables. My guess is that most people are not willing or able to get what they need directly from the Iraq Index or similar reports. Those who are willing and able may not have nearly enough time. We can and must make it easier so that more citizens can be included in the process.

Assembling All Key Factors in One Place. A second principal impediment is that that the data is dispersed among many sources. We need to pull it all together so that each of us then becomes able to make a reasoned evaluation of how we are doing right now (without waiting till September) . My efforts at assembling some key trend graphs in a series of posts today and in the summary zip file is a small demonstration of what is possible.

Identifying and Acquiring Any Missing but Still Important Factors. A third thing holding us back from being able to evaluate for ourselves how things are going right now is that some key factors are not being reported in easily findable places.

Twenty First Century Visualization Tools. The fourth factor limiting our possibilities today is that most trend data is presented statically. This severely limits the number of factors that an ordinary person is going to be willing and able to look at to only a handful. On the other hand, with a modern Trend Visualization Viewing Station on the order of what's already available for stock market data from the likes of Big Charts or Prophet Net means that ordinary folk can look at and understand dozens and dozens of factors in a very short space of time.

We Don't Have to Wait. All these difficulties that are blocking us can be remedied without waiting till September. Our failure to remedy them over the past four years meant that it took that long for it to sink in that what we were doing wasn't really working. It's easy to posture that everything is ok when there is no hard data to prove you wrong.

In fact, if we don't begin to remedy them now, we will be in the same boat come September. We will find that we still do not have our arms around the entire situation. The facts we need will still not have been assembled and reported in an easily digestible way. And it will still be way too easy to claim that things are going well, or that we still don't know enough to tell.

Anyone interested in helping blast our way through these obstacles to understanding where we are in near real time, please let me know so we can join forces and see if we can make a difference.

The Data is Out There. Let's go get it and assemble it and make it easy to use and then share it with all interested parties.

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