Saturday, September 22, 2007

Measure What Matters

A bit of wisdom, which I can back up from my own observations of the world, from Alan Durning*, of The Sightline Institute (when talking at a "Seattle Sustainability" presentation at City Hall, 2007-09-12):

Measure what matters -- or you'll end up valuing what you can measure.

What gets measured gets fixed.

In my own observations, e.g. from working in groups where metrics played a roll in management review of employee performance, people would change their behaviors in ways which would make whatever metrics they were having applied to them look good. Often, this was a good thing: e.g. quicker completion of trouble tickets. Often, though, it was a good thing on the surface, with a corresponding loss of something else that was valuable: e.g. quicker close of tickets may just have meant that tickets were being closed without the underlying issue actually being fixed.

So if we take the time to figure out what actually matters, and measure those things, then those things can get fixed, instead of just "valuing" something which happens to be getting measured.

One metric I'd like to see getting measured and having attention paid to it, which very clearly (in my mind) relates to "sustainability" of all kinds, is the birth:death ratio (i.e. population growth). I think we need to have this ratio be no greater than 1 (i.e. zero growth) in order to be sustainable. How we convince people to stop procreating is something I don't have an answer for. For my part, I intend to perhaps not have kids, and certainly if I do have kids, keep the number of them very low (1, maybe 2), and perhaps tie that to deaths in my immediate family or something. As medical advances let us live longer and longer, we need to be having fewer and fewer kids to keep this ratio at 1. Not that it's been anything close to that in recent memory, mind you... sigh.

* note: possibly paraphrased.