Archive for the ‘data’ Category

A Second Simple Example of Measurement’s Role in Reducing Transaction Costs, Enhancing Market Efficiency, and Enables the Pricing of Intangible Assets

March 9, 2011

The prior post here showed why we should not confuse counts of things with measures of amounts, though counts are the natural starting place to begin constructing measures. That first simple example focused on an analogy between counting oranges and measuring the weight of oranges, versus counting correct answers on tests and measuring amounts of ability. This second example extends the first by, in effect, showing what happens when we want to aggregate value not just across different counts of some one thing but across different counts of different things. The point will be, in effect, to show how the relative values of apples, oranges, grapes, and bananas can be put into a common frame of reference and compared in a practical and convenient way.

For instance, you may go into a grocery store to buy raspberries and blackberries, and I go in to buy cantaloupe and watermelon. Your cost per individual fruit will be very low, and mine will be very high, but neither of us will find this annoying, confusing, or inconvenient because your fruits are very small, and mine, very large. Conversely, your cost per kilogram will be much higher than mine, but this won’t cause either of us any distress because we both recognize the differences in the labor, handling, nutritional, and culinary value of our purchases.

But what happens when we try to purchase something as complex as a unit of socioeconomic development? The eight UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) represent a start at a systematic effort to bring human, social, and natural capital together into the same economic and accountability framework as liquid and manufactured capital, and property. But that effort is stymied by the inefficiency and cost of making and using measures of the goals achieved. The existing MDG databases (http://data.un.org/Browse.aspx?d=MDG), and summary reports present overwhelming numbers of numbers. Individual indicators are presented for each year, each country, each region, and each program, goal by goal, target by target, indicator by indicator, and series by series, in an indigestible volume of data.

Though there are no doubt complex mathematical methods by which a philanthropic, governmental, or NGO investor might determine how much development is gained per million dollars invested, the cost of obtaining impact measures is so high that most funding decisions are made with little information concerning expected returns (Goldberg, 2009). Further, the percentages of various needs met by leading social enterprises typically range from 0.07% to 3.30%, and needs are growing, not diminishing. Progress at current rates means that it would take thousands of years to solve today’s problems of human suffering, social disparity, and environmental quality. The inefficiency of human, social, and natural capital markets is so overwhelming that there is little hope for significant improvements without the introduction of fundamental infrastructural supports, such as an Intangible Assets Metric System.

A basic question that needs to be asked of the MDG system is, how can anyone make any sense out of so much data? Most of the indicators are evaluated in terms of counts of the number of times something happens, the number of people affected, or the number of things observed to be present. These counts are usually then divided by the maximum possible (the count of the total population) and are expressed as percentages or rates.

As previously explained in various posts in this blog, counts and percentages are not measures in any meaningful sense. They are notoriously difficult to interpret, since the quantitative meaning of any given unit difference varies depending on the size of what is counted, or where the percentage falls in the 0-100 continuum. And because counts and percentages are interpreted one at a time, it is very difficult to know if and when any number included in the sheer mass of data is reasonable, all else considered, or if it is inconsistent with other available facts.

A study of the MDG data must focus on these three potential areas of data quality improvement: consistency evaluation, volume reduction, and interpretability. Each builds on the others. With consistent data lending themselves to summarization in sufficient statistics, data volume can be drastically reduced with no loss of information (Andersen, 1977, 1999; Wright, 1977, 1997), data quality can be readily assessed in terms of sufficiency violations (Smith, 2000; Smith & Plackner, 2009), and quantitative measures can be made interpretable in terms of a calibrated ruler’s repeatedly reproducible hierarchy of indicators (Bond & Fox, 2007; Masters, Lokan, & Doig, 1994).

The primary data quality criteria are qualitative relevance and meaningfulness, on the one hand, and mathematical rigor, on the other. The point here is one of following through on the maxim that we manage what we measure, with the goal of measuring in such a way that management is better focused on the program mission and not distracted by accounting irrelevancies.

Method

As written and deployed, each of the MDG indicators has the face and content validity of providing information on each respective substantive area of interest. But, as has been the focus of repeated emphases in this blog, counting something is not the same thing as measuring it.

Counts or rates of literacy or unemployment are not, in and of themselves, measures of development. Their capacity to serve as contributing indications of developmental progress is an empirical question that must be evaluated experimentally against the observable evidence. The measurement of progress toward an overarching developmental goal requires inferences made from a conceptual order of magnitude above and beyond that provided in the individual indicators. The calibration of an instrument for assessing progress toward the realization of the Millennium Development Goals requires, first, a reorganization of the existing data, and then an analysis that tests explicitly the relevant hypotheses as to the potential for quantification, before inferences supporting the comparison of measures can be scientifically supported.

A subset of the MDG data was selected from the MDG database available at http://data.un.org/Browse.aspx?d=MDG, recoded, and analyzed using Winsteps (Linacre, 2011). At least one indicator was selected from each of the eight goals, with 22 in total. All available data from these 22 indicators were recorded for each of 64 countries.

The reorganization of the data is nothing but a way of making the interpretation of the percentages explicit. The meaning of any one country’s percentage or rate of youth unemployment, cell phone users, or literacy has to be kept in context relative to expectations formed from other countries’ experiences. It would be nonsense to interpret any single indicator as good or bad in isolation. Sometimes 30% represents an excellent state of affairs, other times, a terrible one.

Therefore, the distributions of each indicator’s percentages across the 64 countries were divided into ranges and converted to ratings. A lower rating uniformly indicates a status further away from the goal than a higher rating. The ratings were devised by dividing the frequency distribution of each indicator roughly into thirds.

For instance, the youth unemployment rate was found to vary such that the countries furthest from the desired goal had rates of 25% and more(rated 1), and those closest to or exceeding the goal had rates of 0-10% (rated 3), leaving the middle range (10-25%) rated 2. In contrast, percentages of the population that are undernourished were rated 1 for 35% or more, 2 for 15-35%, and 3 for less than 15%.

Thirds of the distributions were decided upon only on the basis of the investigator’s prior experience with data of this kind. A more thorough approach to the data would begin from a finer-grained rating system, like that structuring the MDG table at http://mdgs.un.org/unsd/mdg/Resources/Static/Products/Progress2008/MDG_Report_2008_Progress_Chart_En.pdf. This greater detail would be sought in order to determine empirically just how many distinctions each indicator can support and contribute to the overall measurement system.

Sixty-four of the available 336 data points were selected for their representativeness, with no duplications of values and with a proportionate distribution along the entire continuum of observed values.

Data from the same 64 countries and the same years were then sought for the subsequent indicators. It turned out that the years in which data were available varied across data sets. Data within one or two years of the target year were sometimes substituted for missing data.

The data were analyzed twice, first with each indicator allowed its own rating scale, parameterizing each of the category difficulties separately for each item, and then with the full rating scale model, as the results of the first analysis showed all indicators shared strong consistency in the rating structure.

Results

Data were 65.2% complete. Countries were assessed on an average of 14.3 of the 22 indicators, and each indicator was applied on average to 41.7 of the 64 country cases. Measurement reliability was .89-.90, depending on how measurement error is estimated. Cronbach’s alpha for the by-country scores was .94. Calibration reliability was .93-.95. The rating scale worked well (see Linacre, 2002, for criteria). The data fit the measurement model reasonably well, with satisfactory data consistency, meaning that the hypothesis of a measurable developmental construct was not falsified.

The main result for our purposes here concerns how satisfactory data consistency makes it possible to dramatically reduce data volume and improve data interpretability. The figure below illustrates how. What does it mean for data volume to be drastically reduced with no loss of information? Let’s see exactly how much the data volume is reduced for the ten item data subset shown in the figure below.

The horizontal continuum from -100 to 1300 in the figure is the metric, the ruler or yardstick. The number of countries at various locations along that ruler is shown across the bottom of the figure. The mean (M), first standard deviation (S), and second standard deviation (T) are shown beneath the numbers of countries. There are ten countries with a measure of just below 400, just to the left of the mean (M).

The MDG indicators are listed on the right of the figure, with the indicator most often found being achieved relative to the goals at the bottom, and the indicator least often being achieved at the top. The ratings in the middle of the figure increase from 1 to 3 left to right as the probability of goal achievement increases as the measures go from low to high. The position of the ratings in the middle of the figure shifts from left to right as one reads up the list of indicators because the difficulty of achieving the goals is increasing.

Because the ratings of the 64 countries relative to these ten goals are internally consistent, nothing but the developmental level of the country and the developmental challenge of the indicator affects the probability that a given rating will be attained. It is this relation that defines fit to a measurement model, the sufficiency of the summed ratings, and the interpretability of the scores. Given sufficient fit and consistency, any country’s measure implies a given rating on each of the ten indicators.

For instance, imagine a vertical line drawn through the figure at a measure of 500, just above the mean (M). This measure is interpreted relative to the places at which the vertical line crosses the ratings in each row associated with each of the ten items. A measure of 500 is read as implying, within a given range of error, uncertainty, or confidence, a rating of

  • 3 on debt service and female-to-male parity in literacy,
  • 2 or 3 on how much of the population is undernourished and how many children under five years of age are moderately or severely underweight,
  • 2 on infant mortality, the percent of the population aged 15 to 49 with HIV, and the youth unemployment rate,
  • 1 or 2 the poor’s share of the national income, and
  • 1 on CO2 emissions and the rate of personal computers per 100 inhabitants.

For any one country with a measure of 500 on this scale, ten percentages or rates that appear completely incommensurable and incomparable are found to contribute consistently to a single valued function, developmental goal achievement. Instead of managing each separate indicator as a universe unto itself, this scale makes it possible to manage development itself at its own level of complexity. This ten-to-one ratio of reduced data volume is more than doubled when the total of 22 items included in the scale is taken into account.

This reduction is conceptually and practically important because it focuses attention on the actual object of management, development. When the individual indicators are the focus of attention, the forest is lost for the trees. Those who disparage the validity of the maxim, you manage what you measure, are often discouraged by the the feeling of being pulled in too many directions at once. But a measure of the HIV infection rate is not in itself a measure of anything but the HIV infection rate. Interpreting it in terms of broader developmental goals requires evidence that it in fact takes a place in that larger context.

And once a connection with that larger context is established, the consistency of individual data points remains a matter of interest. As the world turns, the order of things may change, but, more likely, data entry errors, temporary data blips, and other factors will alter data quality. Such changes cannot be detected outside of the context defined by an explicit interpretive framework that requires consistent observations.

-100  100     300     500     700     900    1100    1300
|-------+-------+-------+-------+-------+-------+-------|  NUM   INDCTR
1                                 1  :    2    :  3     3    9  PcsPer100
1                         1   :   2    :   3            3    8  CO2Emissions
1                    1  :    2    :   3                 3   10  PoorShareNatInc
1                 1  :    2    :  3                     3   19  YouthUnempRatMF
1              1   :    2   :   3                       3    1  %HIV15-49
1            1   :   2    :   3                         3    7  InfantMortality
1          1  :    2    :  3                            3    4  ChildrenUnder5ModSevUndWgt
1         1   :    2    :  3                            3   12  PopUndernourished
1    1   :    2   :   3                                 3    6  F2MParityLit
1   :    2    :  3                                      3    5  DebtServExpInc
|-------+-------+-------+-------+-------+-------+-------|  NUM   INDCTR
-100  100     300     500     700     900    1100    1300
                   1
       1   1 13445403312323 41 221    2   1   1            COUNTRIES
       T      S       M      S       T

Discussion

A key element in the results obtained here concerns the fact that the data were about 35% missing. Whether or not any given indicator was actually rated for any given country, the measure can still be interpreted as implying the expected rating. This capacity to take missing data into account can be taken advantage of systematically by calibrating a large bank of indicators. With this in hand, it becomes possible to gather only the amount of data needed to make a specific determination, or to adaptively administer the indicators so as to obtain the lowest-error (most reliable) measure at the lowest cost (with the fewest indicators administered). Perhaps most importantly, different collections of indicators can then be equated to measure in the same unit, so that impacts may be compared more efficiently.

Instead of an international developmental aid market that is so inefficient as to preclude any expectation of measured returns on investment, setting up a calibrated bank of indicators to which all measures are traceable opens up numerous desirable possibilities. The cost of assessing and interpreting the data informing aid transactions could be reduced to negligible amounts, and the management of the processes and outcomes in which that aid is invested would be made much more efficient by reduced data volume and enhanced information content. Because capital would flow more efficiently to where supply is meeting demand, nonproducers would be cut out of the market, and the effectiveness of the aid provided would be multiplied many times over.

The capacity to harmonize counts of different but related events into a single measurement system presents the possibility that there may be a bright future for outcomes-based budgeting in education, health care, human resource management, environmental management, housing, corrections, social services, philanthropy, and international development. It may seem wildly unrealistic to imagine such a thing, but the return on the investment would be so monumental that not checking it out would be even crazier.

A full report on the MDG data, with the other references cited, is available on my SSRN page at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1739386.

Goldberg, S. H. (2009). Billions of drops in millions of buckets: Why philanthropy doesn’t advance social progress. New York: Wiley.

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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.
Based on a work at livingcapitalmetrics.wordpress.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com.

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A Technology Road Map for Efficient Intangible Assets Markets

February 24, 2011

Scientific technologies, instruments and conceptual images have been found to play vitally important roles in economic success because of the way they enable accurate predictions of future industry and market states (Miller & O’Leary, 2007). The technology road map for the microprocessor industry, based in Moore’s Law, has successfully guided market expectations and coordinated research investment decisions for over 40 years. When the earlier electromechanical, relay, vacuum tube, and transistor computing technology paradigms are included, the same trajectory has dominated the computer industry for over 100 years (Kurzweil, 2005, pp. 66-67).

We need a similar technology road map to guide the creation and development of intangible asset markets for human, social, and natural (HSN) capital. This will involve intensive research on what the primary constructs are, determining what is measurable and what is not, creating consensus standards for uniform metrics and the metrology networks through which those standards will function. Alignments with these developments will require comprehensively integrated economic models, accounting frameworks, and investment platforms, in addition to specific applications deploying the capital formations.

What I’m proposing is, in a sense, just an extension in a new direction of the metrology challenges and issues summarized in Table ITWG15 on page 48 in the 2010 update to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (http://www.itrs.net/about.html). Distributed electronic communication facilitated by computers and the Internet is well on the way to creating a globally uniform instantaneous information network. But much of what needs to be communicated through this network remains expressed in locally defined languages that lack common points of reference. Meaningful connectivity demands a shared language.

To those who say we already have the technology necessary and sufficient to the measurement and management of human, social, and natural capital, I say think again. The difference between what we have and what we need is the same as the difference between (a) an economy whose capital resources are not represented in transferable representations like titles and deeds, and that are denominated in a flood of money circulating in different currencies, and, (b) an economy whose capital resources are represented in transferable documents and are traded using a single currency with a restricted money supply. The measurement of intangible assets is today akin to the former economy, with little actual living capital and hundreds of incommensurable instruments and scoring systems, when what we need is the latter. (See previous entries in this blog for more on the difference between dead and living capital.)

Given the model of a road map detailing the significant features of the living capital terrain, industry-specific variations will inform the development of explicit market expectations, the alignment of HSN capital budgeting decisions, and the coordination of research investments. The concept of a technology road map for HSN capital is based in and expands on an integration of hierarchical complexity (Commons & Richards, 2002; Dawson, 2004), complex adaptive functionality (Taylor, 2003), Peirce’s semiotic developmental map of creative thought (Wright, 1999), and historical stages in the development of measuring systems (Stenner & Horabin, 1992; Stenner, Burdick, Sanford, & Burdick, 2006).

Technology road maps replace organizational amnesia with organizational learning by providing the structure of a memory that not only stores information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, but makes it available for use in new situations. Othman and Hashim (2004) describe organizational amnesia (OA) relative to organizational learning (OL) in a way that opens the door to a rich application of Miller and O’Leary’s (2007) detailed account of how technology road maps contribute to the creation of new markets and industries. Technology road maps function as the higher organizational principles needed for transforming individual and social expertise into economically useful products and services. Organizational learning and adaptability further need to be framed at the inter-organizational level where their various dimensions or facets are aligned not only within individual organizations but between them within the industry as a whole.

The mediation of the individual and organizational levels, and of the organizational and inter-organizational levels, is facilitated by measurement. In the microprocessor industry, Moore’s Law enabled the creation of technology road maps charting the structure, processes, and outcomes that had to be aligned at the individual, organizational, and inter-organizational levels to coordinate the entire microprocessor industry’s economic success. Such road maps need to be created for each major form of human, social, and natural capital, with the associated alignments and coordinations put in play at all levels of every firm, industry, and government.

It is a basic fact of contemporary life that the technologies we employ every day are so complex that hardly anyone understands how they do what they do. Technological miracles are commonplace events, from transportation to entertainment, from health care to manufacturing. And we usually suffer little in the way of adverse consequences from not knowing how an automatic transmission, a thermometer, or digital video reproduction works. It is enough to know how to use the tool.

This passive acceptance of technical details beyond our ken extends into areas in which standards, methods, and products are much less well defined. Managers, executives, researchers, teachers, clinicians, and others who need measurement but who are unaware of its technicalities are then put in the position of being passive consumers accepting the lowest common denominator in the quality of the services and products obtained.

And that’s not all. Just as the mass market of measurement consumers is typically passive and uninformed, in complementary fashion the supply side is fragmented and contentious. There is little agreement among measurement experts as to which quantitative methods set the standard as the state of the art. Virtually any method can be justified in terms of some body of research and practice, so the confused consumer accepts whatever is easily available or is most likely to support a preconceived agenda.

It may be possible, however, to separate the measurement wheat from the chaff. For instance, measurement consumers may value a way of distinguishing among methods that is based in a simple criterion of meaningful utility. What if all measurement consumers’ own interests in, and reasons for, measuring something in particular, such as literacy or community, were emphasized and embodied in a common framework? What if a path of small steps from currently popular methods of less value to more scientific ones of more value could be mapped? Such a continuum of methods could range from those doing the least to advance the users’ business interests to those doing the most to advance those interests.

The aesthetics, simplicity, meaningfulness, rigor, and practical consequences of strong theoretical requirements for instrument calibration provide such criteria for choices as to models and methods (Andrich, 2002, 2004; Busemeyer and Wang, 2000; Myung, 2000; Pitt, Kim, Myung, 2003; Wright, 1997, 1999). These criteria could be used to develop and guide explicit considerations of data quality, construct theory, instrument calibration, quantitative comparisons, measurement standard metrics, etc. along a continuum from the most passive and least objective to the most actively involved and most objective.

The passive approach to measurement typically starts from and prioritizes content validity. The questions asked on tests, surveys, and assessments are considered relevant primarily on the basis of the words they use and the concepts they appear to address. Evidence that the questions actually cohere together and measure the same thing is not needed. If there is any awareness of the existence of axiomatically prescribed measurement requirements, these are not considered to be essential. That is, if failures of invariance are observed, they usually provoke a turn to less stringent data treatments instead of a push to remove or prevent them. Little or no measurement or construct theory is implemented, meaning that all results remain dependent on local samples of items and people. Passively approaching measurement in this way is then encumbered by the need for repeated data gathering and analysis, and by the local dependency of the results. Researchers working in this mode are akin to the woodcutters who say they are too busy cutting trees to sharpen their saws.

An alternative, active approach to measurement starts from and prioritizes construct validity and the satisfaction of the axiomatic measurement requirements. Failures of invariance provoke further questioning, and there is significant practical use of measurement and construct theory. Results are then independent of local samples, sometimes to the point that researchers and practical applications are not encumbered with usual test- or survey-based data gathering and analysis.

As is often the case, this black and white portrayal tells far from the whole story. There are multiple shades of grey in the contrast between passive and active approaches to measurement. The actual range of implementations is much more diverse that the simple binary contrast would suggest (see the previous post in this blog for a description of a hierarchy of increasingly complex stages in measurement). Spelling out the variation that exists could be helpful for making deliberate, conscious choices and decisions in measurement practice.

It is inevitable that we would start from the materials we have at hand, and that we would then move through a hierarchy of increasing efficiency and predictive control as understanding of any given variable grows. Previous considerations of the problem have offered different categorizations for the transformations characterizing development on this continuum. Stenner and Horabin (1992) distinguish between 1) impressionistic and qualitative, nominal gradations found in the earliest conceptualizations of temperature, 2) local, data-based quantitative measures of temperature, and 3) generalized, universally uniform, theory-based quantitative measures of temperature.

The latter is prized for the way that thermodynamic theory enables the calibration of individual thermometers with no need for testing each one in empirical studies of its performance. Theory makes it possible to know in advance what the results of such tests would be with enough precision to greatly reduce the burden and expenses of instrument calibration.

Reflecting on the history of psychosocial measurement in this context, it then becomes apparent that these three stages can then be further broken down. The previous post in this blog lists the distinguishing features for each of six stages in the evolution of measurement systems, building on the five stages described by Stenner, Burdick, Sanford, and Burdick (2006).

And so what analogue of Moore’s Law might be projected? What kind of timetable can be projected for the unfolding of what might be called Stenner’s Law? Guidance for reasonable expectations is found in Kurzweil’s (2005) charting of historical and projected future exponential increases in the volume of information and computer processing speed. The accelerating growth in knowledge taking place in the world today speaks directly to a systematic integration of criteria for what shall count as meaningful new learning. Maps of the roads we’re traveling will provide some needed guidance and make the trip more enjoyable, efficient, and productive. Perhaps somewhere not far down the road we’ll be able to project doubling rates for growth in the volume of fungible literacy capital globally, or the halving rates in the cost of health capital stocks. We manage what we measure, so when we begin measuring well what we want to manage well, we’ll all be better off.

References

Andrich, D. (2002). Understanding resistance to the data-model relationship in Rasch’s paradigm: A reflection for the next generation. Journal of Applied Measurement, 3(3), 325-59.

Andrich, D. (2004, January). Controversy and the Rasch model: A characteristic of incompatible paradigms? Medical Care, 42(1), I-7–I-16.

Busemeyer, J. R., & Wang, Y.-M. (2000, March). Model comparisons and model selections based on generalization criterion methodology. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 44(1), 171-189 [http://quantrm2.psy.ohio-state.edu/injae/jmpsp.htm].

Commons, M. L., & Richards, F. A. (2002, Jul). Organizing components into combinations: How stage transition works. Journal of Adult Development, 9(3), 159-177.

Dawson, T. L. (2004, April). Assessing intellectual development: Three approaches, one sequence. Journal of Adult Development, 11(2), 71-85.

Kurzweil, R. (2005). The singularity is near: When humans transcend biology. New York: Viking Penguin.

Miller, P., & O’Leary, T. (2007, October/November). Mediating instruments and making markets: Capital budgeting, science and the economy. Accounting, Organizations, and Society, 32(7-8), 701-34.

Myung, I. J. (2000). Importance of complexity in model selection. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 44(1), 190-204.

Othman, R., & Hashim, N. A. (2004). Typologizing organizational amnesia. The Learning Organization, 11(3), 273-84.

Pitt, M. A., Kim, W., & Myung, I. J. (2003). Flexibility versus generalizability in model selection. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 10, 29-44.

Stenner, A. J., Burdick, H., Sanford, E. E., & Burdick, D. S. (2006). How accurate are Lexile text measures? Journal of Applied Measurement, 7(3), 307-22.

Stenner, A. J., & Horabin, I. (1992). Three stages of construct definition. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 6(3), 229 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt63b.htm].

Taylor, M. C. (2003). The moment of complexity: Emerging network culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wright, B. D. (1997, Winter). A history of social science measurement. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 16(4), 33-45, 52 [http://www.rasch.org/memo62.htm].

Wright, B. D. (1999). Fundamental measurement for psychology. In S. E. Embretson & S. L. Hershberger (Eds.), The new rules of measurement: What every educator and psychologist should know (pp. 65-104 [http://www.rasch.org/memo64.htm]). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Creative Commons License
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.
Based on a work at livingcapitalmetrics.wordpress.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com.

Stages in the Development of Meaningful, Efficient, and Useful Measures

February 21, 2011

In all learning, we use what we already know as a means of identifying what we do not yet know. When someone can read a written language, knows an alphabet and has a vocabulary, understands grammar and syntax, then that knowledge can be used to learn about the world. Then, knowing what birds are, for instance, one might learn about different kinds of birds or the typical behaviors of one bird species.

And so with measurement, we start from where we find ourselves, as with anything else. There is no need or possibility for everyone to master all the technical details of every different area of life that’s important. But it is essential that we know what is technically possible, so that we can seek out and find the tools that help us achieve our goals. We can’t get what we can’t or don’t ask for. In the domain of measurement, it seems that hardly anyone is looking for what’s actually readily available.

So it seems pertinent to offer a description of a continuum of increasingly meaningful, efficient and useful ways of measuring. Previous considerations of the problem have offered different categorizations for the transformations characterizing development on this continuum. Stenner and Horabin (1992) distinguish between 1) impressionistic and qualitative, nominal gradations found in the earliest conceptualizations of temperature, 2) local, data-based quantitative measures of temperature, and 3) generalized, universally uniform, theory-based quantitative measures of temperature.

Theory-based temperature measurement is prized for the way that thermodynamic theory enables the calibration of individual thermometers with no need for testing each one in empirical studies of its performance. As Lewin (1951, p. 169) put it, “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.” Thus we have electromagnetic theory making it possible to know the conduction and resistance characteristics of electrical cable from the properties of the metal alloys and insulators used, with no need to test more than a small fraction of that cable as a quality check.

Theory makes it possible to know in advance what the results of such tests would be with enough precision to greatly reduce the burden and expenses of instrument calibration. There likely would be no electrical industry at all if the properties of every centimeter of cable and every appliance had to be experimentally tested. This principle has been employed in measuring human, social, and natural capital for some time, but, for a variety of reasons, it has not yet been adopted on a wide scale.

Reflecting on the history of psychosocial measurement in this context, it then becomes apparent that Stenner and Horabin’s (1992) three stages can then be further broken down. Listed below are the distinguishing features for each of six stages in the evolution of measurement systems, building on the five stages described by Stenner, Burdick, Sanford, and Burdick (2006). This progression of increasing complexity, meaning, efficiency, and utility can be used as a basis for a technology roadmap that will enable the coordination and alignment of various services and products in the domain of intangible assets, as I will take up in a forthcoming post.

Stage 1. Least meaning, utility, efficiency, and value

Purely passive, receptive

Statistics describe data: What you see is what you get

Content defines measure

Additivity, invariance, etc. not tested, so numbers do not stand for something that adds up like they do

Measurement defined statistically in terms of group-level intervariable relations

Meaning of numbers changes with questions asked and persons answering

No theory

Data must be gathered and analyzed to have results

Commercial applications are instrument-dependent

Standards based in ensuring fair methods and processes

Stage 2

Slightly less passive, receptive but still descriptively oriented

Additivity, invariance, etc. tested, so numbers might stand for something that adds up like they do

Measurement still defined statistically in terms of group-level intervariable relations

Falsification of additive hypothesis effectively derails measurement effort

Descriptive models with interaction effects accepted as viable alternatives

Typically little or no attention to theory of item hierarchy and construct definition

Empirical (data-based) calibrations only

Data must be gathered and analyzed to have results

Initial awareness of measurement theory

Commercial applications are instrument-dependent

Standards based in ensuring fair methods and processes

Stage 3

Even less purely passive & receptive, more active

Instrument still designed relative to content specifications

Additivity, invariance, etc. tested, so numbers might stand for something that adds up like they do

Falsification of additive hypothesis provokes questions as to why

Descriptive models with interaction effects not accepted as viable alternatives

Measurement defined prescriptively in terms of individual-level intravariable invariance

Significant attention to theory of item hierarchy and construct definition

Empirical calibrations only

Data has to be gathered and analyzed to have results

More significant use of measurement theory in prescribing acceptable data quality

Limited construct theory (no predictive power)

Commercial applications are instrument-dependent

Standards based in ensuring fair methods and processes

Stage 4

First stage that is more active than passive

Initial efforts to (re-)design instrument relative to construct specifications and theory

Additivity, invariance, etc. tested in thoroughly prescriptive focus on calibrating instrument

Numbers not accepted unless they stand for something that adds up like they do

Falsification of additive hypothesis provokes questions as to why and corrective action

Models with interaction effects not accepted as viable alternatives

Measurement defined prescriptively in terms of individual-level intravariable invariance

Significant attention to theory of item hierarchy and construct definition relative to instrument design

Empirical calibrations only but model prescribes data quality

Data usually has to be gathered and analyzed to have results

Point of use self-scoring forms might provide immediate measurement results to end user

Some construct theory (limited predictive power)

Some commercial applications are not instrument-dependent (as in CAT item bank implementations)

Standards based in ensuring fair methods and processes

Stage 5

Significantly active approach to measurement

Item hierarchy translated into construct theory

Construct specification equation predicts item difficulties

Theory-predicted (not empirical) calibrations used in applications

Item banks superseded by single-use items created on the fly

Calibrations checked against empirical results but data gathering and analysis not necessary

Point of use self-scoring forms or computer apps provide immediate measurement results to end user

Used routinely in commercial applications

Awareness that standards might be based in metrological traceability to consensus standard uniform metric

Stage 6. Most meaning, utility, efficiency, and value

Most purely active approach to measurement

Item hierarchy translated into construct theory

Construct specification equation predicts item ensemble difficulties

Theory-predicted calibrations enable single-use items created from context

Checked against empirical results for quality assessment but data gathering and analysis not necessary

Point of use self-scoring forms or computer apps provide immediate measurement results to end user

Used routinely in commercial applications

Standards based in metrological traceability to consensus standard uniform metric

 

References

Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science: Selected theoretical papers (D. Cartwright, Ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Stenner, A. J., Burdick, H., Sanford, E. E., & Burdick, D. S. (2006). How accurate are Lexile text measures? Journal of Applied Measurement, 7(3), 307-22.

Stenner, A. J., & Horabin, I. (1992). Three stages of construct definition. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 6(3), 229 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt63b.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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How bad will the financial crises have to get before…?

April 30, 2010

More and more states and nations around the world face the possibility of defaulting on their financial obligations. The financial crises are of epic historical proportions. This is a disaster of the first order. And yet, it is so odd–we have the solutions and preventative measures we need at our finger tips, but no one knows about them or is looking for them.

So,  I am persuaded to once again wonder if there might now be some real interest in the possibilities of capitalizing on

  • measurement’s well-known capacity for reducing transaction costs by improving information quality and reducing information volume;
  • instruments calibrated to measure in constant units (not ordinal ones) within known error ranges (not as though the measures are perfectly precise) with known data quality;
  • measures made meaningful by their association with invariant scales defined in terms of the questions asked;
  • adaptive instrument administration methods that make all measures equally precise by targeting the questions asked;
  • judge calibration methods that remove the person rating performances as a factor influencing the measures;
  • the metaphor of transparency by calibrating instruments that we really look right through at the thing measured (risk, governance, abilities, health, performance, etc.);
  • efficient markets for human, social, and natural capital by means of the common currencies of uniform metrics, calibrated instrumentation, and metrological networks;
  • the means available for tuning the instruments of the human, social, and environmental sciences to well-tempered scales that enable us to more easily harmonize, orchestrate, arrange, and choreograph relationships;
  • our understandings that universal human rights require universal uniform measures, that fair dealing requires fair measures, and that our measures define who we are and what we value; and, last but very far from least,
  • the power of love–the back and forth of probing questions and honest answers in caring social intercourse plants seminal ideas in fertile minds that can be nurtured to maturity and Socratically midwifed as living meaning born into supportive ecologies of caring relations.

How bad do things have to get before we systematically and collectively implement the long-established and proven methods we have at our disposal? It is the most surreal kind of schizophrenia or passive-aggressive avoidance pathology to keep on tormenting ourselves with problems for which we have solutions.

For more information on these issues, see prior blogs posted here, the extensive documentation provided, and http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com.

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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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Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com.

How Evidence-Based Decision Making Suffers in the Absence of Theory and Instrument: The Power of a More Balanced Approach

January 28, 2010

The Basis of Evidence in Theory and Instrument

The ostensible point of basing decisions in evidence is to have reasons for proceeding in one direction versus any other. We want to be able to say why we are proceeding as we are. When we give evidence-based reasons for our decisions, we typically couch them in terms of what worked in past experience. That experience might have been accrued over time in practical applications, or it might have been deliberately arranged in one or more experimental comparisons and tests of concisely stated hypotheses.

At its best, generalizing from past experience to as yet unmet future experiences enables us to navigate life and succeed in ways that would not be possible if we could not learn and had no memories. The application of a lesson learned from particular past events to particular future events involves a very specific inferential process. To be able to recognize repeated iterations of the same things requires the accumulation of patterns of evidence. Experience in observing such patterns allows us to develop confidence in our understanding of what that pattern represents in terms of pleasant or painful consequences. When we are able to conceptualize and articulate an idea of a pattern, and when we are then able to recognize a new occurrence of that pattern, we have an idea of it.

Evidence-based decision making is then a matter of formulating expectations from repeatedly demonstrated and routinely reproducible patterns of observations that lend themselves to conceptual representations, as ideas expressed in words. Linguistic and cultural frameworks selectively focus attention by projecting expectations and filtering observations into meaningful patterns represented by words, numbers, and other symbols. The point of efforts aimed at basing decisions in evidence is to try to go with the flow of this inferential process more deliberately and effectively than might otherwise be the case.

None of this is new or controversial. However, the inferential step from evidence to decision always involves unexamined and unjustified assumptions. That is, there is always an element of metaphysical faith behind the expectation that any given symbol or word is going to work as a representation of something in the same way that it has in the past. We can never completely eliminate this leap of faith, since we cannot predict the future with 100% confidence. We can, however, do a lot to reduce the size of the leap, and the risks that go with it, by questioning our assumptions in experimental research that tests hypotheses as to the invariant stability and predictive utility of the representations we make.

Theoretical and Instrumental Assumptions Hidden Behind the Evidence

For instance, evidence as to the effectiveness of an intervention or treatment is often expressed in terms of measures commonly described as quantitative. But it is unusual for any evidence to be produced justifying that description in terms of something that really adds up in the way numbers do. So we often find ourselves in situations in which our evidence is much less meaningful, reliable, and valid than we suppose it to be.

Quantitative measures are often valued as the hallmark of rational science. But their capacity to live up to this billing depends on the quality of the inferences that can be supported. Very few researchers thoroughly investigate the quality of their measures and justify the inferences they make relative to that quality.

Measurement presumes a reproducible pattern of evidence that can serve as the basis for a decision concerning how much of something has been observed. It naturally follows that we often base measurement in counts of some kind—successes, failures, ratings, frequencies, etc. The counts, scores, or sums are then often transformed into percentages by dividing them into the maximum possible that could be obtained. Sometimes the scores are averaged for each person measured, and/or for each item or question on the test, assessment, or survey. These scores and percentages are then almost universally fed directly into decision processes or statistical analyses with no further consideration.

The reproducible pattern of evidence on which decisions are based is presumed to exist between the measures, not within them. In other words, the focus is on the group or population statistics, not on the individual measures. Attention is typically focused on the tip of the iceberg, the score or percentage, not on the much larger, but hidden, mass of information beneath it. Evidence is presumed to be sufficient to the task when the differences between groups of scores are of a consistent size or magnitude, but is this sufficient?

Going Past Assumptions to Testable Hypotheses

In other words, does not science require that evidence be explained by theory, and embodied in instrumentation that provides a shared medium of observation? As shown in the blue lines in the Figure below,

  • theory, whether or not it is explicitly articulated, inevitably influences both what counts as valid data and the configuration of the medium of its representation, the instrument;
  • data, whether or not it is systematically gathered and evaluated, inevitably influences both the medium of its representation, the instrument, and the implicit or explicit theory that explains its properties and justifies its applications; and
  • instruments, whether or not they are actually calibrated from a mapping of symbols and substantive amounts, inevitably influence data gathering and the image of the object explained by theory.

The rhetoric of evidence-based decision making skips over the roles of theory and instrumentation, drawing a direct line from data to decision. In leaving theory laxly formulated, we allow any story that makes a bit of sense and is communicated by someone with a bit of charm or power to carry the day. In not requiring calibrated instrumentation, we allow any data that cross the threshold into our awareness to serve as an acceptable basis for decisions.

What we want, however, is to require meaningful measures that really provide the evidence needed for instruments that exhibit invariant calibrations and for theories that provide predictive explanatory control over the variable. As shown in the Figure, we want data that push theory away from the instrument, theory that separates the data and instrument, and instruments that get in between the theory and data.

We all know to distrust too close a correspondence between theory and data, but we too rarely understand or capitalize on the role of the instrument in mediating the theory-data relation. Similarly, when the questions used as a medium for making observations are obviously biased to produce responses conforming overly closely with a predetermined result, we see that the theory and the instrument are too close for the data to serve as an effective mediator.

Finally, the situation predominating in the social sciences is one in which both construct and measurement theories are nearly nonexistent, which leaves data completely dependent on the instrument it came from. In other words, because counts of correct answers or sums of ratings are mistakenly treated as measures, instruments fully determine and restrict the range of measurement to that defined by the numbers of items and rating categories. Once the instrument is put in play, changes to it would make new data incommensurable with old, so, to retain at least the appearance of comparability, the data structure then fully determines and restricts the instrument.

What we want, though, is a situation in which construct and measurement theories work together to make the data autonomous of the particular instrument it came from. We want a theory that explains what is measured well enough for us to be able to modify existing instruments, or create entirely new ones, that give the same measures for the same amounts as the old instruments. We want to be able to predict item calibrations from the properties of the items, we want to obtain the same item calibrations across data sets, and we want to be able to predict measures on the basis of the observed responses (data) no matter which items or instrument was used to produce them.

Most importantly, we want a theory and practice of measurement that allows us to take missing data into account by providing us with the structural invariances we need as media for predicting the future from the past. As Ben Wright (1997, p. 34) said, any data analysis method that requires complete data to produce results disqualifies itself automatically as a viable basis for inference because we never have complete data—any practical system of measurement has to be positioned so as to be ready to receive, process, and incorporate all of the data we have yet to gather. This goal is accomplished to varying degrees in Rasch measurement (Rasch, 1960; Burdick, Stone, & Stenner, 2006; Dawson, 2004). Stenner and colleagues (Stenner, Burdick, Sanford, & Burdick, 2006) provide a trajectory of increasing degrees to which predictive theory is employed in contemporary measurement practice.

The explanatory and predictive power of theory is embodied in instruments that focus attention on recording observations of salient phenomena. These observations become data that inform the calibration of instruments, which then are used to gather further data that can be used in practical applications and in checks on the calibrations and the theory.

“Nothing is so practical as a good theory” (Lewin, 1951, p. 169). Good theory makes it possible to create symbolic representations of things that are easy to think with. To facilitate clear thinking, our words, numbers, and instruments must be transparent. We have to be able to look right through them at the thing itself, with no concern as to distortions introduced by the instrument, the sample, the observer, the time, the place, etc. This happens only when the structure of the instrument corresponds with invariant features of the world. And where words effect this transparency to an extent, it is realized most completely when we can measure in ways that repeatedly give the same results for the same amounts in the same conditions no matter which instrument, sample, operator, etc. is involved.

Where Might Full Mathematization Lead?

The attainment of mathematical transparency in measurement is remarkable for the way it focuses attention and constrains the imagination. It is essential to appreciate the context in which this focusing occurs, as popular opinion is at odds with historical research in this regard. Over the last 60 years, historians of science have come to vigorously challenge the widespread assumption that technology is a product of experimentation and/or theory (Kuhn, 1961/1977; Latour, 1987, 2005; Maas, 2001; Mendelsohn, 1992; Rabkin, 1992; Schaffer, 1992; Heilbron, 1993; Hankins & Silverman, 1999; Baird, 2002). Neither theory nor experiment typically advances until a key technology is widely available to end users in applied and/or research contexts. Rabkin (1992) documents multiple roles played by instruments in the professionalization of scientific fields. Thus, “it is not just a clever historical aphorism, but a general truth, that ‘thermodynamics owes much more to the steam engine than ever the steam engine owed to thermodynamics’” (Price, 1986, p. 240).

The prior existence of the relevant technology comes to bear on theory and experiment again in the common, but mistaken, assumption that measures are made and experimentally compared in order to discover scientific laws. History shows that measures are rarely made until the relevant law is effectively embodied in an instrument (Kuhn, 1961/1977, pp. 218-9): “…historically the arrow of causality is largely from the technology to the science” (Price, 1986, p. 240). Instruments do not provide just measures; rather they produce the phenomenon itself in a way that can be controlled, varied, played with, and learned from (Heilbron, 1993, p. 3; Hankins & Silverman, 1999; Rabkin, 1992). The term “technoscience” has emerged as an expression denoting recognition of this priority of the instrument (Baird, 1997; Ihde & Selinger, 2003; Latour, 1987).

Because technology often dictates what, if any, phenomena can be consistently produced, it constrains experimentation and theorizing by focusing attention selectively on reproducible, potentially interpretable effects, even when those effects are not well understood (Ackermann, 1985; Daston & Galison, 1992; Ihde, 1998; Hankins & Silverman, 1999; Maasen & Weingart, 2001). Criteria for theory choice in this context stem from competing explanatory frameworks’ experimental capacities to facilitate instrument improvements, prediction of experimental results, and gains in the efficiency with which a phenomenon is produced.

In this context, the relatively recent introduction of measurement models requiring additive, invariant parameterizations (Rasch, 1960) provokes speculation as to the effect on the human sciences that might be wrought by the widespread availability of consistently reproducible effects expressed in common quantitative languages. Paraphrasing Price’s comment on steam engines and thermodynamics, might it one day be said that as yet unforeseeable advances in reading theory will owe far more to the Lexile analyzer (Stenner, et al., 2006) than ever the Lexile analyzer owed reading theory?

Kuhn (1961/1977) speculated that the second scientific revolution of the early- to mid-nineteenth century followed in large part from the full mathematization of physics, i.e., the emergence of metrology as a professional discipline focused on providing universally accessible, theoretically predictable, and evidence-supported uniform units of measurement (Roche, 1998). Kuhn (1961/1977, p. 220) specifically suggests that a number of vitally important developments converged about 1840 (also see Hacking, 1983, p. 234). This was the year in which the metric system was formally instituted in France after 50 years of development (it had already been obligatory in other nations for 20 years at that point), and metrology emerged as a professional discipline (Alder, 2002, p. 328, 330; Heilbron, 1993, p. 274; Kula, 1986, p. 263). Daston (1992) independently suggests that the concept of objectivity came of age in the period from 1821 to 1856, and gives examples illustrating the way in which the emergence of strong theory, shared metric standards, and experimental data converged in a context of particular social mores to winnow out unsubstantiated and unsupportable ideas and contentions.

Might a similar revolution and new advances in the human sciences follow from the introduction of evidence-based, theoretically predictive, instrumentally mediated, and mathematical uniform measures? We won’t know until we try.

Figure. The Dialectical Interactions and Mutual Mediations of Theory, Data, and Instruments

Figure. The Dialectical Interactions and Mutual Mediations of Theory, Data, and Instruments

Acknowledgment. These ideas have been drawn in part from long consideration of many works in the history and philosophy of science, primarily Ackermann (1985), Ihde (1991), and various works of Martin Heidegger, as well as key works in measurement theory and practice. A few obvious points of departure are listed in the references.

References

Ackermann, J. R. (1985). Data, instruments, and theory: A dialectical approach to understanding science. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Alder, K. (2002). The measure of all things: The seven-year odyssey and hidden error that transformed the world. New York: The Free Press.

Aldrich, J. (1989). Autonomy. Oxford Economic Papers, 41, 15-34.

Andrich, D. (2004, January). Controversy and the Rasch model: A characteristic of incompatible paradigms? Medical Care, 42(1), I-7–I-16.

Baird, D. (1997, Spring-Summer). Scientific instrument making, epistemology, and the conflict between gift and commodity economics. Techné: Journal of the Society for Philosophy and Technology, 3-4, 25-46. Retrieved 08/28/2009, from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v2n3n4/baird.html.

Baird, D. (2002, Winter). Thing knowledge – function and truth. Techné: Journal of the Society for Philosophy and Technology, 6(2). Retrieved 19/08/2003, from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/SPT/v6n2/baird.html.

Burdick, D. S., Stone, M. H., & Stenner, A. J. (2006). The Combined Gas Law and a Rasch Reading Law. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 20(2), 1059-60 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt202.pdf].

Carroll-Burke, P. (2001). Tools, instruments and engines: Getting a handle on the specificity of engine science. Social Studies of Science, 31(4), 593-625.

Daston, L. (1992). Baconian facts, academic civility, and the prehistory of objectivity. Annals of Scholarship, 8, 337-363. (Rpt. in L. Daston, (Ed.). (1994). Rethinking objectivity (pp. 37-64). Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.)

Daston, L., & Galison, P. (1992, Fall). The image of objectivity. Representations, 40, 81-128.

Dawson, T. L. (2004, April). Assessing intellectual development: Three approaches, one sequence. Journal of Adult Development, 11(2), 71-85.

Galison, P. (1999). Trading zone: Coordinating action and belief. In M. Biagioli (Ed.), The science studies reader (pp. 137-160). New York, New York: Routledge.

Hacking, I. (1983). Representing and intervening: Introductory topics in the philosophy of natural science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hankins, T. L., & Silverman, R. J. (1999). Instruments and the imagination. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Heelan, P. A. (1983, June). Natural science as a hermeneutic of instrumentation. Philosophy of Science, 50, 181-204.

Heelan, P. A. (1998, June). The scope of hermeneutics in natural science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 29(2), 273-98.

Heidegger, M. (1977). Modern science, metaphysics, and mathematics. In D. F. Krell (Ed.), Basic writings [reprinted from M. Heidegger, What is a thing? South Bend, Regnery, 1967, pp. 66-108] (pp. 243-282). New York: Harper & Row.

Heidegger, M. (1977). The question concerning technology. In D. F. Krell (Ed.), Basic writings (pp. 283-317). New York: Harper & Row.

Heilbron, J. L. (1993). Weighing imponderables and other quantitative science around 1800. Historical studies in the physical and biological sciences), 24(Supplement), Part I, pp. 1-337.

Hessenbruch, A. (2000). Calibration and work in the X-ray economy, 1896-1928. Social Studies of Science, 30(3), 397-420.

Ihde, D. (1983). The historical and ontological priority of technology over science. In D. Ihde, Existential technics (pp. 25-46). Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Ihde, D. (1991). Instrumental realism: The interface between philosophy of science and philosophy of technology. (The Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Technology). Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Ihde, D. (1998). Expanding hermeneutics: Visualism in science. Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy). Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Ihde, D., & Selinger, E. (Eds.). (2003). Chasing technoscience: Matrix for materiality. (Indiana Series in Philosophy of Technology). Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Kuhn, T. S. (1961/1977). The function of measurement in modern physical science. Isis, 52(168), 161-193. (Rpt. In T. S. Kuhn, The essential tension: Selected studies in scientific tradition and change (pp. 178-224). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977).

Kula, W. (1986). Measures and men (R. Screter, Trans.). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press (Original work published 1970).

Lapre, M. A., & Van Wassenhove, L. N. (2002, October). Learning across lines: The secret to more efficient factories. Harvard Business Review, 80(10), 107-11.

Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science: Selected theoretical papers (D. Cartwright, Ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

Maas, H. (2001). An instrument can make a science: Jevons’s balancing acts in economics. In M. S. Morgan & J. Klein (Eds.), The age of economic measurement (pp. 277-302). Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Maasen, S., & Weingart, P. (2001). Metaphors and the dynamics of knowledge. (Vol. 26. Routledge Studies in Social and Political Thought). London: Routledge.

Mendelsohn, E. (1992). The social locus of scientific instruments. In R. Bud & S. E. Cozzens (Eds.), Invisible connections: Instruments, institutions, and science (pp. 5-22). Bellingham, WA: SPIE Optical Engineering Press.

Polanyi, M. (1964/1946). Science, faith and society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Price, D. J. d. S. (1986). Of sealing wax and string. In Little Science, Big Science–and Beyond (pp. 237-253). New York, New York: Columbia University Press.

Rabkin, Y. M. (1992). Rediscovering the instrument: Research, industry, and education. In R. Bud & S. E. Cozzens (Eds.), Invisible connections: Instruments, institutions, and science (pp. 57-82). Bellingham, Washington: SPIE Optical Engineering Press.

Rasch, G. (1960). Probabilistic models for some intelligence and attainment tests (Reprint, with Foreword and Afterword by B. D. Wright, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). Copenhagen, Denmark: Danmarks Paedogogiske Institut.

Roche, J. (1998). The mathematics of measurement: A critical history. London: The Athlone Press.

Schaffer, S. (1992). Late Victorian metrology and its instrumentation: A manufactory of Ohms. In R. Bud & S. E. Cozzens (Eds.), Invisible connections: Instruments, institutions, and science (pp. 23-56). Bellingham, WA: SPIE Optical Engineering Press.

Stenner, A. J., Burdick, H., Sanford, E. E., & Burdick, D. S. (2006). How accurate are Lexile text measures? Journal of Applied Measurement, 7(3), 307-22.

Thurstone, L. L. (1959). The measurement of values. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Midway Reprint Series.

Wright, B. D. (1997, Winter). A history of social science measurement. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 16(4), 33-45, 52 [http://www.rasch.org/memo62.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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Just posted on the LinkedIn Human Performance Discussion on the art and science of measurement

December 16, 2009

Great question and discussion!

Business performance measurement and management ought to be a blend of art and science akin to music–the most intuitive and absorbing of the arts and simultaneously reliant on some of the most high tech precision instrumentation available.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the numbers used in HR and marketing are not scientific. Despite the fact that highly scientific  instruments for intangibles measurement have been available for decades, this is generally true in two ways. First, measures of some qualitative substance that really adds up the way numbers do have to be read off a calibrated instrument. Most surveys and assessments used in business are not calibrated. Second, once instruments measuring a particular thing are calibrated, to be fully scientific they all have to be linked together in a metric system so that everyone everywhere thinks and acts together in a common language.

The advantages of taking the trouble to calibrate and link instruments are numerous. The history of industry is the history of the ways we have capitalized on standardized technologies. A whole new economy is implied by our capacity to vastly improve the measurement and management of human, social, and natural capital.

The research on the integration of qualitative substance and quantitative precision in meaningful measurement is extensive. My most recent publication appeared in the November 2009 issue of Measurement (Elsevier): doi:10.1016/j.measurement.2009.03.014.

For more information, see some of my published papers and the references cited in them at http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com/researchpapers.html.

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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.
Based on a work at livingcapitalmetrics.wordpress.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com.

Information and Leadership: New Opportunities for Advancing Strategy, Engaging Customers, and Motivating Employees

December 9, 2009

Or, What’s a Mathematical Model a Model Of, After All?
Or, How to Build Scale Models of Organizations and Use Them to Learn About Organizational Identity, Purpose, and Mission

William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D.

The greatest opportunity and most significant challenge to leadership in every area of life today is the management of information. So says Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo! in her entry in The Economist’s annual overview of world events, “The World in 2010.” Information can be both a blessing and a curse. The right information in the right hands at the right time is essential to effectiveness and efficiency. But unorganized and incoherent information can be worse than none at all. Too often leaders and managers are faced with deciding between gut instincts based in unaccountable intuitions and facts that are potentially seriously flawed, or that are merely presented in such overwhelming volumes as to be useless.

This situation is only going to get worse as information volumes continue to increase. The upside is that solutions exist, solutions that not only reduce data volume by factors as high as hundreds to one with no loss of information, but which also distinguish between merely apparent and really reliable information. What we have in these solutions are the means of following through on Carol Bartz’s information leadership warnings and recommendations.

Clearly communicating what matters, for instance, requires leaders to find meaning in new facts and the changing scene. They have to be able to use their vision of the organization, its mission, and its place in the world to tell what’s important and what isn’t, to put each event or opportunity in perspective. And what’s more is that the vision of the organization has to be dynamic. It, too, has to be able to change with the changing circumstances.

And this is where a whole new class of useful information solutions comes to bear. It may seem odd to say so, but leadership is fundamentally mathematical. You can begin to get a sense of what I mean in the ambiguity of the way leaders can be calculating. Making use of people’s skills and talents is a challenge that requires being able to assess facts and potentials in a way that intuitively gauges likelihoods of success. It is possible to lead, of course, without being manipulative; the point is that leadership requires an ability to envision and project an abstract heuristic ideal as a fundamental principle for focusing attention and separating the wheat from the chaff. A leader who dithers and wastes time and resources on irrelevancies is a contradiction in terms. An organization is supposed to have an identity, a purpose, and a mission in life independent of the local particulars of who its actual employees, customers, and suppliers are, and independent of the opportunities and challenges that arise in different times and places.

Of course, every organization is colored and shaped to some extent by every different person that comes into contact with it, and by the times and places it finds itself in. No one wants to feel like an interchangeable part in machine, but neither does anyone want to feel completely out of place, with no role to play. If an organization was entirely dependent on the particulars of who, what, when, and where, it’s status as a coherent organization with an identifiable presence would be compromised. So what we need is to find the right balance between the ideal and the real, the abstract and the concrete, and, as the philosopher Paul Ricoeur put it, between belonging and distanciation.

And indeed, scientists often note that no mathematical model ever holds in every detail in the real world. That isn’t what they’re intended to do, in fact. Mathematical models serve the purpose of being guides to creating meaningful, useful relationships. One of the leading lights of measurement theory, Georg Rasch, said it well over 50 years ago: models aren’t meant to be true, but to be useful.

Rasch accordingly also pointed out that, if we measure mass, force, and acceleration with enough precision, we see that even Newton’s laws of motion are not perfectly true. Measured to the nth decimal place, what we find is that observed amounts of mass, force, and acceleration form probability distributions that do indeed satisfy Newton’s laws. Even in classical physics, then, measurement models are best conceived probabilistically.

Over the last several decades, use of Rasch’s probabilistic measurement models in scaling tests, surveys, and assessments has grown exponentially. As has been explored at length in previous posts in this blog, most applications of Rasch’s models mistakenly treat them as statistical models, as so their real value and importance is missed. But even those actively engaged in using the models appropriately often do not engage with the basic question concerning what the model is a model of, in their particular application of it. The basic assumption seems to be that the model is a mathematical representation of relations between observations recorded in a data set, but this is an extremely narrow and unproductive point of view.

Let’s ask ourselves, instead, how we would model an organization. Why would we want to do that? We would want to do that for the same reasons we model anything, such as creating a safe and efficient way of experimenting with different configurations, and of coming to new understandings of basic principles. If we had a standard model of organizations of a certain type, or of organizations in a particular industry, we could use it to see how different variations on the basic structure and processes cause or are associated with different outcomes. Further, given that such models could be used to calibrate scales meaningfully measuring organizational development, industry-wide standards could be brought to bear in policy, decision making, and education, effecting new degrees of efficiency and effectiveness.

So, we’d previously said that the extent to which an organization finds its identity, realizes its purpose, and advances its mission (i.e., develops) is, within certain limits, a function of its capacity to be independent from local particulars. What we mean by this is that we expect employees to be able to perform their jobs no matter what day of the week it is, no matter who the customer is, no matter which particular instance of a product is involved, etc. Though no amount of skill, training, or experience can prepare someone for every possible contingency, people working in a given job description prepare themselves for a certain set of tasks, and are chosen by the organization for their capacities in that regard.

Similarly, we expect policies, job descriptions, work flows, etc. to function in similar fashions. Though the exact specifics of each employee’s abilities and each situation’s demands cannot be known in advance, enough is known that the defined aims will be achieved with high degrees of success. Of course, this is the point at which the interchangeability of employee ability and task difficulty can become demeaning and alienating. It will be important that we allow room for some creative play, and situate each level of ability along a continuum that allows everyone to see a developmental trajectory personalized to their particular strengths and needs.

So, how do we mathematically model the independence of the organization from its employees, policies, customers, and challenges, and scientifically evaluate that independence?

One way to begin is to posit that organizational development is equal to the differences between the abilities of the people employed, the efficiencies of the policies, alignments, and linkages implemented; and the challenges presented by the market. If we observe the abilities, efficiencies, and challenges in by means of a rating scale, the resulting model could be written as:

ln(Pmoas/(1-Pmoas)) = bm – fo – ca – rs

which hypothesizes that the natural logarithm of the response odds (the response probabilities divided by one minus themselves) is equal to the ability b of employee m minus the efficiency f of policy o minus the challenge c of market a minus the difficulty r of obtaining rating in category s. This model has the form of a multifaceted Rasch model (Linacre, 1989; others), used in academic research, rehabilitative functional assessments, and medical licensure testing.

What does it take for each of these model parameters to be independent of the others in the manner that we take for granted in actual practice? Can we frame our observations of the members of each facet in the model in ways that will clearly show us when we have failed to obtain the desired independence? Can we do that in a way that simultaneously provides us with a means for communicating information about individual employees, policies, and challenges efficiently in a common language?

Can that common language be expressed in words and numbers that capitalize on the independence of the model parameters and so mean the same thing across local particulars? Can we set up a system for checking and maintaining the meaning of the parameters over time? Can we build measures of employee abilities, policy efficiencies, and market challenges into our information systems in useful ways? Can we improve the overall quality, efficiency, and meaningfulness of our industry by collaborating with other firms, schools, non-profits, and government agencies in the development of reference standard metrics?

These questions all have the same answer: Yes, we can. These questions set the stage for understanding how effective leadership depends on effective information management. If, as Yahoo! CEO Bartz says, leadership has become more difficult in the age of blogospherical second-guessing and “opposition research,” why not tap all of that critical energy as a resource and put it to work figuring out what differences make a difference? If critics think they have important questions that need to be answered, the independence and consistency, or lack thereof, of their and others’ responses gives real heft to a “put-up-or-shut-up” criterion for distinguishing signal from noise.

This kind of a BS-detector supports leadership in two ways, by focusing attention on meaningful information, and by highlighting significant divergences from accepted opinion. The latter might turn out to be nothing more than exceptionally loud noise, but it might also signal something very important, a contrary opinion sensitive to special information available only from a particular perspective.

Bartz is right on, then, in saying that the central role of information in leadership has made listening and mentoring more important than ever. Modeling the organization and experimenting with it makes it possible to listen and mentor in completely new ways. Testing data for independent model parameters is akin to tuning the organization like an instrument. When independence is achieved, everything harmonizes. The path forward is clear, since the ratings delineate the range in which organizational performance consistently varies.

Variation in the measures is illustrated by the hierarchy of the policy and market items rated, which take positions in their distributions showing what consistently comes first, and what precedents have to be set for later challenges to be met successfully. By demanding that the model parameters be independent of one another, we have set ourselves up to learn something from the past that can be used to predict the future.

Further and quite importantly, as experience is repeatedly related to these quantitatively-scaled hierarchies, the factors that make policies and challenges take particular positions on the ruler come to be understood, theory is refined, and leadership gains an edge. Now, it is becoming possible to predict where new policies and challenges will fall on the measurement continuum, making it possible for more rapid responses and earlier anticipations of previously unseen opportunities.

It’s a different story, though, when dependencies emerge, as when one or more employees in a particular area unexpectedly disagree with otherwise broadly accepted policy efficiencies or market challenges, or when a particular policy provokes anomalous evaluations relative to some market challenges but not others. There’s a qualitatively different kind of learning that takes place when expectations are refuted. Instead of getting an answer to the question we asked, we got an answer to one we didn’t ask.

It might just be noise or error, but it is imperative to ask and find out what question the unexpected answer responds to. Routine management thrives on learning how to ever more efficiently predict quantitative results; its polar opposite, innovation, lives on the mystery of unexpected anomalies. If someone hadn’t been able to wonder what value hardened rubber left on a stove might have, what might have killed bacteria in a petri dish, or why an experimental effect disappeared when a lead plate was moved, Vulcanized tires, Penicillin, and X-ray devices might never have come about.

We are on the cusp of the information analogues of these ground-breaking innovations. Methods of integrating rigorously scientific quantities with qualitative creative grist clarify information in previously unimagined ways, and in so doing make it more leveragable than ever before for advancing strategy, engaging customers, and motivating employees.

The only thing in Carol Bartz’s article that I might take issue with comes in the first line, with the words “will be.” The truth is that information already is our greatest opportunity.

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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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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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Just posted on www.economist.com in response to Sept 26 Schumpeter article

September 29, 2009

Let’s cut through the Gordian Knot to the real issue. That we manage what we measure is as close to an absolute truth as there ever was. What got us into this mess was the inadequacy of the vast majority of our measures. So-called “measures” that only get in the way of management are a sign that new standards, criteria, and methods of measurement are needed. The core issue we face is how to transform socialized externalities into capitalized internalities. Transaction costs are the most important and largest costs in any economic exchange. We reduce and control these via measurement. Human, social, and natural capital transaction costs are virtually uncontrolled and unmeasured. We need a metric system for universally uniform measures of abilities and skills, health, motivation, loyalty and trust, and environmental quality. And we needed it yesterday. But who is working on it? Who is talking about it? Most importantly, who is taking advantage of the huge strides that have been made in measurement science over the last 50 years, strides that have made measurement far more rigorous, practical, and flexible than anyone in business seems to know. As to business being an art, so is music, but music is played on and reproduced by some of the highest technology and finest precision instrumentation around. What we need to do is tune the instruments of the management arts and sciences so that we can harmonize our relationships, get with the beat, and sing the melodies we feel in our hearts and souls. For more information, see http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com, or my blog at https://livingcapitalmetrics.wordpress.com.

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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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