Archive for October, 2009

Clarifying the Goal: Submitting Rasch-based White Papers to NIST

October 23, 2009

NIST does not currently have any metrological standards (metrics to which all instruments measuring a particular construct are traceable) for anything measured with tests, surveys, rating scale assessments, or rankings–i.e., for anything of core interest in education, psychology, sociology, health status assessment, etc.

The ostensible reason for the lack of these standards is that no one has stepped up to demand them, to demonstrate their feasibility, or argue on behalf of their value. So anything of general interest as something for which we would want univerally uniform and available metrics could be proposed. As can be seen in the NIST call, you have to be able to argue for the viability of a fundamentally new innovation that would produce high returns on the investment in a system of networked, equated, or item banked instruments all measuring in a common metric.

Jack Stenner expressed the opinion some years ago that constructs already measured on mass scales using many different instruments that could conceivably be equated present the most persuasive cases for which strong metrological arguments could be made. I have wondered if that is necessarily true.

The idea is to establish a new division in NIST, managed jointly with the National Institutes of Health and of Education, that focuses on creating a new kind of metric system for informing human, social, and natural capital management, quality improvement, and research.

Because NIST has historically focused on metrological systems in the physical sciences, the immediate goal is only one of informing researchers at NIST as to the viability and potential value to be realized in analogous systems for the psychosocial sciences. No one understands the human, social, and economic value of measurement standards like NIST does.

Work that results in fundamental measures of psychosocial constructs should be proposed as areas deserving of NIST’s support. White Papers describing the “high risk-high reward” potential of Rasch applications might get them to start to consider the possibility of a whole new domain of metrics.

For more info, see http://www.nist.gov/tip/call_for_white_papers_sept09.pdf, and feel free to reference the arguments I made in the White Paper I submitted (www.livingcapitalmetrics.com/images/FisherNISTWhitePaper2.pdf), or in my recent paper in Measurement: Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009, November). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement (Elsevier), 42(9), 1278-1287.

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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How Measurement, Contractual Trust, and Care Combine to Grow Social Capital: Creating Social Bonds We Can Really Trade On

October 14, 2009

Last Saturday, I went to Miami, Florida, at the invitation of Paula Lalinde (see her profile at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/paula-lalinde/11/677/a12) to attend MILITARY 101: Military Life and Combat Trauma As Seen By Troops, Their Families, and Clinicians. This day-long free presentation was sponsored by The Veterans Project of South Florida-SOFAR, in association with The Southeast Florida Association for Psychoanalytic Psychology, The Florida Psychoanalytic Society, the Soldiers & Veterans Initiative, and the Florida BRAIVE Fund. The goals of the session “included increased understanding of the unique experiences and culture related to the military experience during wartime, enhanced understanding of the assessment and treatment of trauma specific difficulties, including posttraumatic stress disorder, common co-occurring conditions, and demands of treatment on trauma clinicians.”

Listening to the speakers on Saturday morning at the Military 101 orientation, I was struck by what seemed to me to be a developmental trajectory implied in the construct of therapy-aided healing. I don’t recall if anyone explicitly mentioned Maslow’s hierarchy but it was certainly implied by the dysfunctionality that attends being pushed down to a basic mode of physical survival.

Also, the various references to the stigma of therapy reminded me of Paula’s arguments as to why a community-based preventative approach would be more accessible and likely more successful than individual programs focused on treating problems. (Echoes here of positive psychology and appreciative inquiry.)

In one part of the program, the ritualized formality of the soldier, family, and support groups’ stated promises to each other suggested a way of operationalizing the community-based approach. The expectations structuring relationships among the parties in this community are usually left largely unstated, unexamined, and unmanaged in all but the broadest, and most haphazard, ways (as most relationships’ expectations usually are). The hierarchy of needs and progressive movement towards greater self-actualization implies a developmental sequence of steps or stages that comprise the actual focus of the implied contracts between the members of the community. This sequence is a measurable continuum along which change can be monitored and managed, with all parties accountable for their contracted role in producing specific outcomes.

The process would begin from the predeployment baseline, taking that level of reliability and basis of trust existing in the community as what we want to maintain, what we might want to get back to, and what we definitely want to build on and surpass, in time. The contract would provide a black-and-white record of expectations. It would embody an image of the desired state of the relationships and it could be returned to repeatedly in communications and in visualizations over time. I’ll come back to this after describing the structure of the relational patterns we can expect to observe over the course of events.

The Saturday morning discussion made repeated reference to the role of chains in the combat experience: the chain of command, and the unit being a chain only as strong as its weakest link. The implication was that normal community life tolerates looser expectations, more informal associations, and involves more in the way of team interactions. The contrast between chains and teams brought to mind work by Wright (1995, 1996a, 1996b; Bainer, 1997) on the way the difficulties of the challenges we face influence how we organize ourselves into groups.

Chains tend to form when the challenge is very difficult and dangerous; here we have mountain climbers roped together, bucket brigades putting out fires, and people stretching out end-to-end over thin ice to rescue someone who’s fallen through. In combat, as was stressed repeatedly last Saturday, the chain is one requiring strict follow-through on orders and promises; lives are at risk and protecting them requires the most rigorous adherence to the most specific details in an operation.

Teams form when the challenge is not difficult and it is possible to coordinate a fluid response of partners whose roles shift in importance as the situation changes. Balls are passed and the lead is taken by each in turn, with others getting out of the way or providing supports that might be vitally important or merely convenient.

A third kind of group, packs, forms when the very nature of the problem is at issue; here, individuals take completely different approaches in an exploratory determination of what is at issue, and how it might be addressed. Examples include the Manhattan Project, for instance, where scientists following personal hunches went in their own directions looking for solutions to complex problems. Wolves and other hunting parties form packs when it is impossible to know where the game might be. And though the old joke says that the best place to look for lost keys is where there’s the most light, if you have others helping you, it’s best to split up and not be looking for them in the same place.

After identifying these three major forms of organization, Wright (1996b) saw that individual groups might transition to and from different modes of organization as the nature of the problem changed. For instance, a 19th-century wagon train of settlers heading through the American West might function well as a team when everyone feels safe traveling along with a cavalry detachment, the road is good, the weather is pleasant, and food and water are plentiful. Given vulnerability to attacks by Native Americans, storms, accidents, lack of game, and/or muddy, rutted roads, however, the team might shift toward a chain formation and circle the wagons, with a later return to the team formation after the danger has passed. In the worst case scenario, disaster breaks the chain into individuals scattered like a pack to fend for themselves, with the limited hope of possibly re-uniting at some later time as a chain or team.

In the current context of the military, it would seem that deployment fragments the team, with the soldier training for a position in the chain of command in which she or he will function as a strong link for the unit. The family and support network can continue to function together and separately as teams to some extent, but the stress may require intermittent chain forms of organization. Further, the separation of the soldier from the family and support would seem to approach a pack level of organization for the three groups taken as a whole.

An initial contract between the parties would describe the functioning of the team at the predeployment stage, recognize the imminent breaking up of the team into chains and packs, and visualize the day when the team would be reformed under conditions in which significant degrees of healing will be required to move out of the pack and chain formations. Perhaps there will be some need and means of countering the forcible boot camp enculturation with medicinal antidote therapies of equal but opposite force. Perhaps some elements of the boot camp experience could be safely modified without compromising the operational chain to set the stage for reintegrating the family and community team.

We would want to be able to draw qualitative information from all three groups as to the nature of their experiences at every stage. I think we would want to focus the information on descriptions of the extent to which each level in Maslow’s hierarchy is realized. This information would be used in the design of an assessment that would map out the changes over time, set up the evaluation framework, and guide interventions toward reforming the team. Given their experience with the healing process, the presenters from last Saturday have obvious capacities for an informed perspective on what’s needed here. And what we build with their input would then also plainly feed back into the kind of presentation they did.

There will likely be signature events in the process that will be used to trigger new additions to the contract, as when the consequences of deployment, trauma, loss, or return relative to Maslow’s hierarchy can be predicted. That is, the contract will be a living document that changes as goals are reached or as new challenges emerge.

This of course is all situated then within the context of measures calibrated and shared across the community to inform contracts, treatment, expectations, etc. following the general metrological principles I outline in my published work (see references).

The idea will be for the consistent production of predictable amounts of impact in the legally binding contractual relationships, such that the benefits produced in terms of individual functionality will attract investments from those in positions to employ those individuals, and from the wider society that wants to improve its overall level of mental health. One could imagine that counselors, social workers, and psychotherapists will sell social capital bonds at prices set by market forces on the basis of information analogous to the information currently available in financial markets, grocery stores, or auto sales lots. Instead of paying taxes, corporations would be required to have minimum levels of social capitalization. These levels might be set relative to the value the organization realizes from the services provided by public schools, hospitals, and governments relative to the production of an educated, motivated, healthy workforce able to get to work on public roads, able to drink public water, and living in a publicly maintained quality environment.

There will be a lot more to say on this latter piece, following up on previous blogs here that take up the topic. The contractual groundwork that sets up the binding obligations for formal agreements is the thought of the day that emerged last weekend at the session in Miami. Good stuff, long way to go, as always….

References
Bainer, D. (1997, Winter). A comparison of four models of group efforts and their implications for establishing educational partnerships. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 13(3), 143-152.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1995). Opportunism, a first step to inevitability? Rasch Measurement Transactions, 9(2), 426 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt92.htm].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1996, Winter). The Rasch alternative. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 9(4), 466-467 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt94.htm].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1997a). Physical disability construct convergence across instruments: Towards a universal metric. Journal of Outcome Measurement, 1(2), 87-113.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1997b, June). What scale-free measurement means to health outcomes research. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation State of the Art Reviews, 11(2), 357-373.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1998). A research program for accountable and patient-centered health status measures. Journal of Outcome Measurement, 2(3), 222-239.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2000). Objectivity in psychosocial measurement: What, why, how. Journal of Outcome Measurement, 4(2), 527-563 [http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com/images/WP_Fisher_Jr_2000.pdf].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2004, October). Meaning and method in the social sciences. Human Studies: A Journal for Philosophy and the Social Sciences, 27(4), 429-54.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2005). Daredevil barnstorming to the tipping point: New aspirations for the human sciences. Journal of Applied Measurement, 6(3), 173-9 [http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com/images/FisherJAM05.pdf].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2008). Vanishing tricks and intellectualist condescension: Measurement, metrology, and the advancement of science. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 21(3), 1118-1121 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt213c.htm].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009, November). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement (Elsevier), 42(9), 1278-1287.

Wright, B. D. (1995). Teams, packs, and chains. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 9(2), 432 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt92j.htm].

Wright, B. D. (1996a). Composition analysis: Teams, packs, chains. In G. Engelhard & M. Wilson (Eds.), Objective measurement: Theory into practice, Vol. 3 (pp. 241-264). Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex [http://www.rasch.org/memo67.htm].

Wright, B. D. (1996b). Pack to chain to team. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 10(2), 501 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt102s.htm].

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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Posted in response to October 5, 2009 Business Week Viewpoint: “Problems with Obama’s Innovation Strategy”

October 8, 2009

Everything you (Jeneanne Rae, the author of the Viewpoint) say is quite true, but in the end you don’t offer any more in the way of details than the administration has. Everyone repeats the mantra of needing clear accountability metrics but no one is focusing on the need for a metric system and reference standards for all of the new forms of intangible capital we’re trying to manage. The collective mind needs a common language of shared terms and objects to innovate effectively. But our measures of innovation, risk, governance, trust, abilities, health, and environmental quality are all expressed in incommensurable, instrument-dependent units. THEY DON’T HAVE TO BE!! Measurement science has 80 years of experience in calibrating and equating tests, surveys, and assessments into measurement systems that retain their metric properties over time, space, respondent samples, different collections of questions asked, etc. If measurement is so important to management, why aren’t more people talking about investing in the infrastructure we need for managing human, social, and natural capital? For more information, see https://livingcapitalmetrics.wordpress.com, http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com, or http://www.rasch.org.

Rae’s article as at http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/oct2009/id2009105_684520.htm?link_position=link1.

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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On the alleged difficulty of quantifying this or that

October 5, 2009

That this effect or that phenomenon is “difficult to quantify” is one of those phrases that people use from time to time. But, you know, building a computer is difficult, too. I couldn’t do it, and you probably couldn’t, either. Computers are, however, readily available for purchase and it doesn’t matter if you or I can make our own.

Same thing with measurement. Of course, instrument design and calibration are highly technical endeavors, and despite 80+ years of success, most people seem to think it is impossible to really quantify abstract things like abilities, attitudes, motivations,  trust, outcomes and impacts, or maturational development. But real quantification, the kind that is commonly thought possible only for physical things, has been underway in psychology and the social sciences for a long time. More people need to know this.

As anyone who has read much of this blog knows, I’m not talking about some kind of simplistic survey or assessment process that takes measurement to be a mere assignment of numbers to observations. Instrument calibration takes a lot more thought and effort than is usually invested in it. But it isn’t impossible, not by a long shot.

Just as you would not despair of ever having your own computer just because you cannot make one yourself, those who throw up their hands at the supposed difficulty of quantifying something need to think again. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and scientifically rigorous methods of determining whether something is measurable are a lot more ready to hand than most people realize.

For more information, see my survey design recommendations on pages 1,072-4 at http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt203.pdf and Ben Wright’s 15 steps to measurement at http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt141g.htm.

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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Comments on the National Accounts of Well-Being

October 4, 2009

Well-designed measures of human, social, and natural capital captured in genuine progress indicators and properly put to work on the front lines of education, health care, social services, human and environmental resource management, etc. will harness the profit motive as a driver of growth in human potential, community trust, and environmental quality. But it is a tragic shame that so many well-meaning efforts ignore the decisive advantages of readily available measurement methods. For instance, consider the National Accounts of Well-Being (available at http://www.nationalaccountsofwellbeing.org/learn/download-report.html).

This report’s authors admirably say that “Advances in the measurement of well-being mean that now we can reclaim the true purpose of national accounts as initially conceived and shift towards more meaningful measures of progress and policy effectiveness which capture the real wealth of people’s lived experience” (p. 2).

Of course, as is evident in so many of my posts here and in the focus of my scientific publications, I couldn’t agree more!

But look at p. 61, where the authors say “we acknowledge that we need to be careful about interpreting the distribution of transformed scores. The curvilinear transformation results in scores at one end of the distribution being stretched more than those at the other end. This means that standard deviations, for example, of countries with higher scores, are likely to be distorted upwards. As the results section shows, however, this pattern was not in fact found in our data, so it appears that this distortion does not have too much effect. Furthermore, being overly concerned with the distortion would imply absolute faith that the original scales used in the questions are linear. Such faith would be ill-founded. For example, it is not necessarily the case that the difference between ‘all or almost all of the time’ (a response scored as ‘4’ for some questions) and ‘most of the time’ (scored as ‘3’), is the same as the difference between ‘most of the time’ (‘3’) and ‘some of the time’ (‘2’).”

This is just incredible, that the authors admit so baldly that their numbers don’t add up at the same time that they offer those very same numbers in voluminous masses to a global audience that largely takes them at face value. What exactly does it mean to most people “to be careful about interpreting the distribution of transformed scores”?

More to the point, what does it mean that faith in the linearity of the scales is ill-founded? They are doing arithmetic with those scores! There is no way a constant difference between each number on the scale cannot be assumed! Instead of offering cautions, the creators of anything as visible and important as National Accounts of Well Being ought to do the work needed to construct scales that measure in numbers that add up. Instead of saying they don’t know what the size of the unit of measurement is at different places on the ruler, why don’t they formulate a theory of the thing they want to measure, state testable hypotheses as to the constancy and invariance of the measuring unit, and conduct the experiments? It is not, after all, as though we do not have a mature measurement science that has been doing this kind of thing for more than 80 years.

By its very nature, the act of adding up ratings into a sum, and dividing by the number of ratings included in that sum to produce an average, demands the assumption of a common unit of measurement. But practical science does not function or advance on the basis of untested assumptions. Different numbers that add up to the same sum have to mean the same thing: 1+3+4=8=2+3+3, etc. So the capacity of the measurement system to support meaningful inferences as to the invariance of the unit has to be established experimentally.

There is no way to do arithmetic and compute statistics on ordinal rating data without assuming a constant, additive unit of measurement. Either unrealistic demands are being made on people’s cognitive abilities to stretch and shrink numeric units, or the value of the numbers as a basis for action is seriously and unnecessarily compromised.

A lot can be done to construct linear units of measurement that provide the meaningfulness desired by the developers of the National Accounts of Well-Being.

For explanations and illustrations of why scores and percentages are not measures, see https://livingcapitalmetrics.wordpress.com/2009/07/01/graphic-illustrations-of-why-scores-ratings-and-percentages-are-not-measures-part-one/.

The numerous advantages real measures have over raw ratings are listed at https://livingcapitalmetrics.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/table-comparing-scores-ratings-and-percentages-with-rasch-measures/.

To understand the contrast between dead and living capital as it applies to measures based in ordinal data from tests and rating scales, see http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt154j.htm.

For a peer-reviewed scientific paper on the theory and research supporting the viability of a metric system for human, social, and natural capital, see http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1016/j.measurement.2009.03.014.

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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