Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

Convergence, Divergence, and the Continuum of Field-Organizing Activities

March 29, 2014

So what are the possibilities for growing out green shoots from the seeds and roots of an ethical orientation to keeping the dialogue going? What kinds of fruits might be expected from cultivating a common ground for choosing discourse over violence? What are the consequences for practice of planting this seed in this ground?

The same participant in the conversation earlier this week at Convergence XV who spoke of the peace building processes taking place around the world also described a developmental context for these issues of mutual understanding. The work of Theo Dawson and her colleagues (Dawson, 2002a, 2002b, 2004; Dawson, Fischer, and Stein, 2006) is especially pertinent here. Their comparisons of multiple approaches to cognitive and moral development have provided clear and decisive theory, evidence, and instrumentation concerning the conceptual integrations that take place in the evolution of hierarchical complexity.

Conceptual integrations occur when previously tacit, unexamined, and assumed principles informing a sphere of operations are brought into conscious awareness and are transformed into explicit objects of new operations. Developmentally, this is the process of discovery that takes place from the earliest stages of life, in utero. Organisms of all kinds mature in a process of interaction with their environments. Young children at the “terrible two” stage, for instance, are realizing that anything they can detach from, whether by throwing or by denying (“No!”), is not part of them. Only a few months earlier, the same children will have been fascinated with their fingers and toes, realizing these are parts of their own bodies, often by putting them in their mouths.

There are as many opportunities for conceptual integrations between the ages of 21 to 99 as there are between birth and 21. Developmental differences in perspectives can make for riotously comic situations, and can also lead to conflicts, even when the participants agree on more than they disagree on. And so here we arrive at a position from which we can get a grip on how to integrate convergence and divergence in a common framework that follows from the prior post’s brief description of the ontological method’s three moments of reduction, application, and deconstruction.

Image

Woolley and colleagues (Woolley, et al., 2010; Woolley and Fuchs, 2011) describe a continuum of five field-organizing activities categorizing the types of information needed for effective collective intelligence (Figure 1). Four of these five activities (defining, bounding, opening, and bridging) vary in the convergent versus divergent processes they bring to bear in collective thinking. Defining and bounding are convergent processes that inform judgment and decision making. These activities are especially important in the emergence of a new field or organization, when the object of interest and the methods of recognizing and producing it are in contention. Opening and bridging activities, in contrast, diverge from accepted definitions and transgress boundaries in the creative process of pushing into new areas. Undergirding the continuum as a whole is the fifth activity, grounding, which serves as a theory- and evidence-informed connection to meaningful and useful results.

There are instances in which defining and bounding activities have progressed to the point that the explanatory power of theory enables the calibration of test items from knowledge of the component parts included in those items. The efficiencies and cost reductions gained from computer-based item generation and administration are significant. Research in this area takes a variety of approaches; for more information, see Daniel and Embretson (2010), DeBoeck and Wilson (2004), Stenner, et al. (2013), and others.

The value of clear definitions and boundaries in this context stems in large part from the capacity to identify exceptions that prove (test) the rules, and that then also provide opportunities for opening and bridging. Kuhn (1961, p. 180; 1977, p. 205) noted that

To the extent that measurement and quantitative technique play an especially significant role in scientific discovery, they do so precisely because, by displaying significant anomaly, they tell scientists when and where to look for a new qualitative phenomenon.

Rasch (1960, p. 124) similarly understood that “Once a law has been established within a certain field then the law itself may serve as a tool for deciding whether or not added stimuli and/or objects belong to the original group.” Rasch gives the example of mechanical force applied to various masses with resulting accelerations, introducing idea that one of the instruments might exert magnetic as well as mechanical force, with noticeable effects on steel masses, but not on wooden masses. Rasch suggests that exploration of these anomalies may result in the discovery of other similar instruments that vary in the extent to which they also exert the new force, with the possible consequence of discovering a law of magnetic attraction.

There has been an intense interest in the assessment of divergent inconsistencies in measurement research and practice following in the wake of Rasch’s early work in psychological and social measurement (examples from a very large literature in this area include Karabatsos and Ulrich, 2002, and Smith and Plackner, 2009). Andrich, for instance, makes explicit reference to Kuhn (1961), saying, “…the function of a model for measurement…is to disclose anomalies, not merely to describe data” (Andrich, 2002, p. 352; also see Andrich, 1996, 2004, 2011). Typical software for applying Rasch models (Andrich, et al., 2013; Linacre, 2011, 2013; Wu, et al., 2007) thus accordingly provides many more qualitative numbers evaluating potential anomalies than quantitative measuring numbers. These qualitative numbers (digits that do not stand for something substantive that adds up in a constant unit) include uncertainty and confidence indicators that vary with sample size; mean square and standardized model fit statistics; and principal components analysis factor loadings and eigenvalues.

The opportunities for divergent openings onto new qualitative phenomena provided by data consistency evaluations are complemented in Rasch measurement by a variety of bridging activities. Different instruments intended to measure the same or closely related constructs may often be equated or co-calibrated, so they measure in a common unit (among many publications in this area, see Dawson, 2002a, 2004; Fisher, 1997; Fisher, et al., 1995; Massof and Ahmadian, 2007; Smith and Taylor, 2004). Similarly, the same instrument calibrated on different samples from the same population may exhibit consistent properties across those samples, offering further evidence of a potential for defining a common unit (Fisher, 1999).

Other opening and bridging activities include capacities (a) to drop items or questions from a test or survey, or to add them; (b) to adaptively administer subsets of custom-selected items from a large bank; and (c) to adjust measures for the leniency or severity of judges assigning ratings, all of which can be done, within the limits of the relevant definitions and boundaries, without compromising the unit of comparison. For methodological overviews, see Bond and Fox (2007), Wilson (2005), and others.

The various field-organizing activities spanning the range from convergence to divergence are implicated not only in research on collective thinking, but also in the history and philosophy of science. Galison and colleagues (Galison, 1997, 1999; Galison and Stump, 1996) closely examine positivist and antipositivist perspectives on the unity of science, finding their conclusions inconsistent with the evidence of history. A postpositivist perspective (Galison, 1999, p. 138), in contrast, finds “distinct communities and incommensurable beliefs” between and often within the areas of theory, experiment, and instrument-making. But instead of finding these communities “utterly condemned to passing one another without any possibility of significant interaction,” Galison (1999, p. 138) observes that “two groups can agree on rules of exchange even if they ascribe utterly different significance to the objects being exchanged; they may even disagree on the meaning of the exchange process itself.” In practice, “trading partners can hammer out a local coordination despite vast global differences.”

In accord with Woolley and colleagues’ work on convergent and divergent field-organizing activities, Galison (1999, p. 137) concludes, then, that “science is disunified, and—against our first intuitions—it is precisely the disunification of science that underpins its strength and stability.” Galison (1997, pp. 843-844) concludes with a section entitled “Cables, Bricks, and Metaphysics” in which the postpositivist disunity of science is seen to provide its unexpected coherence from the simultaneously convergent and divergent ways theories, experiments, and instruments interact.

But as Galison recognizes, a metaphor based on the intertwined strands in a cable is too mechanical to support the dynamic processes by which order arises from particular kinds of noise and chaos. Not cited by Galison is a burgeoning literature on the phenomenon of noise-induced order termed stochastic resonance (Andò  and Graziani 2000, Benzi, et al., 1981; Dykman and McClintock, 1998; Fisher, 1992, 2011; Hess and Albano, 1998; Repperger and Farris, 2010). Where the metaphor of a cable’s strands breaks down, stochastic resonance provides multiple ways of illustrating how the disorder of finite and partially independent processes can give rise to an otherwise inaccessible order and structure.

Stochastic resonance involves small noisy signals that can be amplified to have very large effects. The noise has to be of a particular kind, and too much of it will drown out rather than amplify the effect. Examples include the interaction of neuronal ensembles in the brain (Chialvo, Lontin, and Müller-Gerking, 1996), speech recognition (Moskowitz and Dickinson, 2002), and perceptual interpretation (Rianni and Simonotto, 1994). Given that Rasch’s models for measurement are stochastic versions of Guttman’s deterministic models (Andrich, 1985), the question has been raised as to how Rasch’s seemingly weaker assumptions could lead to a measurement model that is stronger than Guttman’s (Duncan, 1984, p. 220). Stochastic resonance may provide an essential clue to this puzzle (Fisher, 1992, 2011).

Another description of what might be a manifestation of stochastic resonance akin to that brought up by Galison arises in Berg and Timmermans’ (2000, p. 56) study of the constitution of universalities in a medical network. They note that, “Paradoxically, then, the increased stability and reach of this network was not due to more (precise) instructions: the protocol’s logistics could thrive only by parasitically drawing upon its own disorder.” Much the same has been said about the behaviors of markets (Mandelbrot, 2004), bringing us back to the topic of the day at Convergence XV earlier this week. I’ll have more to say on this issue of universalities constituted via noise-induced order in due course.

References

Andò, B., & Graziani, S. (2000). Stochastic resonance theory and applications. New York: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Andrich, D. (1985). An elaboration of Guttman scaling with Rasch models for measurement. In N. B. Tuma (Ed.), Sociological methodology 1985 (pp. 33-80). San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Andrich, D. (1996). Measurement criteria for choosing among models with graded responses. In A. von Eye & C. Clogg (Eds.), Categorical variables in developmental research: Methods of analysis (pp. 3-35). New York: Academic Press, Inc.

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), 325-359.

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

Andrich, D. (2011). Rating scales and Rasch measurement. Expert Reviews in Pharmacoeconomics Outcome Research, 11(5), 571-585.

Andrich, D., Lyne, A., Sheridan, B., & Luo, G. (2013). RUMM 2030: Rasch unidimensional models for measurement. Perth, Australia: RUMM Laboratory Pty Ltd [www.rummlab.com.au].

Benzi, R., Sutera, A., & Vulpiani, A. (1981). The mechanism of stochastic resonance. Journal of Physics. A. Mathematical and General, 14, L453-L457.

Berg, M., & Timmermans, S. (2000). Order and their others: On the constitution of universalities in medical work. Configurations, 8(1), 31-61.

Bond, T., & Fox, C. (2007). Applying the Rasch model: Fundamental measurement in the human sciences, 2d edition. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Chialvo, D., Longtin, A., & Müller-Gerking, J. (1996). Stochastic resonance in models of neuronal ensembles revisited [Electronic version].

Daniel, R. C., & Embretson, S. E. (2010). Designing cognitive complexity in mathematical problem-solving items. Applied Psychological Measurement, 34(5), 348-364.

Dawson, T. L. (2002a, Summer). A comparison of three developmental stage scoring systems. Journal of Applied Measurement, 3(2), 146-89.

Dawson, T. L. (2002b, March). New tools, new insights: Kohlberg’s moral reasoning stages revisited. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 26(2), 154-66.

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

Dawson, T. L., Fischer, K. W., & Stein, Z. (2006). Reconsidering qualitative and quantitative research approaches: A cognitive developmental perspective. New Ideas in Psychology, 24, 229-239.

De Boeck, P., & Wilson, M. (Eds.). (2004). Explanatory item response models: A generalized linear and nonlinear approach. Statistics for Social and Behavioral Sciences). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Duncan, O. D. (1984). Notes on social measurement: Historical and critical. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Dykman, M. I., & McClintock, P. V. E. (1998, January 22). What can stochastic resonance do? Nature, 391(6665), 344.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1992, Spring). Stochastic resonance and Rasch measurement. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 5(4), 186-187 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt54k.htm].

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

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1999). Foundations for health status metrology: The stability of MOS SF-36 PF-10 calibrations across samples. Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society, 151(11), 566-578.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011). Stochastic and historical resonances of the unit in physics and psychometrics. Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research & Perspectives, 9, 46-50.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., Harvey, R. F., Taylor, P., Kilgore, K. M., & Kelly, C. K. (1995, February). Rehabits: A common language of functional assessment. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 76(2), 113-122.

Galison, P. (1997). Image and logic: A material culture of microphysics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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

Galison, P., & Stump, D. J. (1996). The disunity of science: Boundaries, contexts, and power. Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press.

Hess, S. M., & Albano, A. M. (1998, February). Minimum requirements for stochastic resonance in threshold systems. International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos, 8(2), 395-400.

Karabatsos, G., & Ullrich, J. R. (2002). Enumerating and testing conjoint measurement models. Mathematical Social Sciences, 43, 487-505.

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

Linacre, J. M. (2011). A user’s guide to WINSTEPS Rasch-Model computer program, v. 3.72.0. Chicago, Illinois: Winsteps.com.

Linacre, J. M. (2013). A user’s guide to FACETS Rasch-Model computer program, v. 3.71.0. Chicago, Illinois: Winsteps.com.

Mandelbrot, B. (2004). The misbehavior of markets. New York: Basic Books.

Massof, R. W., & Ahmadian, L. (2007, July). What do different visual function questionnaires measure? Ophthalmic Epidemiology, 14(4), 198-204.

Moskowitz, M. T., & Dickinson, B. W. (2002). Stochastic resonance in speech recognition: Differentiating between /b/ and /v/. Proceedings of the IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems, 3, 855-858.

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.

Repperger, D. W., & Farris, K. A. (2010, July). Stochastic resonance –a nonlinear control theory interpretation. International Journal of Systems Science, 41(7), 897-907.

Riani, M., & Simonotto, E. (1994). Stochastic resonance in the perceptual interpretation of ambiguous figures: A neural network model. Physical Review Letters, 72(19), 3120-3123.

Smith, R. M., & Plackner, C. (2009). The family approach to assessing fit in Rasch measurement. Journal of Applied Measurement, 10(4), 424-437.

Smith, R. M., & Taylor, P. (2004). Equating rehabilitation outcome scales: Developing common metrics. Journal of Applied Measurement, 5(3), 229-42.

Stenner, A. J., Fisher, W. P., Jr., Stone, M. H., & Burdick, D. S. (2013, August). Causal Rasch models. Frontiers in Psychology: Quantitative Psychology and Measurement, 4(536), 1-14 [doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00536].

Wilson, M. (2005). Constructing measures: An item response modeling approach. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Woolley, A. W., Chabris, C. F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T. W. (2010, 29 October). Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science, 330, 686-688.

Woolley, A. W., & Fuchs, E. (2011, September-October). Collective intelligence in the organization of science. Organization Science, 22(5), 1359-1367.

Wu, M. L., Adams, R. J., Wilson, M. R., Haldane, S.A. (2007). ACER ConQuest Version 2: Generalised item response modelling software. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research.

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Outline of the Efficient Markets for Living Capital Project

February 24, 2014

If I’m invited to submit a full application to the Data-Driven Discovery program at the Moore Foundation, I intend to suggest a five-year plan for launching various experiments in self-organizing market-making processes. Yesterday I posted a Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals statement for this process. Here now is the current state of the plan, whether or not it goes to the Moore Foundation.

  • The first year will involve planning a conference, to be held in the second year, gathering together Rasch, IMEKO, Criterion Institute Making Markets leaders, and others, to focus on devising a technology road mapping process applicable in any field.
    • This is not to say there is any expectation of uniformity across or even within fields, but only that a forum embodying awareness of the various necessary facets of the process could be a vital catalyst.
    • The overarching theme is one of mutually adapting multilevel information systems and multilevel forms of social organization by managing multilevel models and measures.
    • Better measurement practices will be more widely adopted when our forms of social organization are adapted to our forms of quantification, and vice versa.
      • Examples will contrast
        • the top down command and control reductionism of individuals presumed identical and interchangeable versus
        • the multilevel modeling of unique individuals sharing a common group-level construct orientation; and
        • an HLM example will illustrate relations of unique individuals (micro-level) to varying common construct orientations (meso-level) within a larger ecology (macro-level).
      • Recommendations for policy and action will be based on evidence of what happens when unexamined default assumptions about organizations are not modified and adapted to the form of the concepts and models in use, and when they are.
  • The second year will see the conference and the formation of several working groups.
    • The conference will be recorded using multiple cameras; a composite video will be produced.
    • An experienced facilitator will be in charge to foster productive dialogue.
    • There will be multiple assistants taking notes on whiteboards or large tablet easels, one for each major group of stakeholders (end users, researchers, accountants, psychometricians, metrologists, economists, etc.)
  • The third year will involve synthesizing and publishing the results of that conference (book, video, interactive web site, mobile app, new working groups, etc.).
  • The third through fifth years will focus on initiating multiple replicable market-making processes in various fields.
    • It will be important to identify and select major market sectors in education, health care, social services, natural resource management.
    • Natural variations in concept-model-information-organization assemblages will be documented and compared within and across fields.
    • Instead of funding a one-time research or demonstration project, investors will expect innovation and entrepreneurial teams to document capital growth and provide appreciable returns.
    • The goal will be for all projects to result in self-sustaining markets enabling consumer comparison shopping, systematic quality improvements, appropriate rewards and punishments for value to price relations, and more rapid gains in research productivity.

Background reading:

Akrich, M., Callon, M., & Latour, B. (2002). The key to success in innovation Part I: The art of interessement. International Journal of Innovation Management, 6(2), 187-206 [doi: 10.1142/S1363919602000550].
Akrich, M., Callon, M., & Latour, B. (2002). The key to success in innovation Part II: The art of choosing a good spokesperson. International Journal of Innovation Management, 6(2), 207-225.
Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010, June 13-16). Rasch, Maxwell’s method of analogy, and the Chicago tradition. In  G. Cooper (Chair), Https://conference.cbs.dk/index.php/rasch/Rasch2010/paper/view/824. Probabilistic models for measurement in education, psychology, social science and health: Celebrating 50 years since the publication of Rasch’s Probabilistic Models, University of Copenhagen School of Business, FUHU Conference Centre, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Garfinkel, A. (1991). Reductionism. In R. Boyd, P. Gasper & J. D. Trout (Eds.), The philosophy of science (pp. 443-459). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Hutchins, E. (2012). Concepts in practice as sources of order. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19, 314-323.
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), 701-734.
Nersessian, N. J. (2002). Maxwell and “the method of physical analogy”: Model-based reasoning, generic abstraction, and conceptual change. In D. Malament (Ed.), Reading natural philosophy: Essays in the history and philosophy of science and mathematics (pp. 129-166). Lasalle, Illinois: Open Court.
Stenner, A. J., Fisher, W. P., Jr., Stone, M. H., & Burdick, D. S. (2013, August). Causal Rasch models. Frontiers in Psychology: Quantitative Psychology and Measurement, 4(536), 1-14 [doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00536].
Wilson, M. (2005). Constructing measures: An item response modeling approach. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

The New Information Platform No One Sees Coming

December 6, 2012

I’d like to draw your attention to a fundamentally important area of disruptive innovations no one seems to see coming. The biggest thing rising in the world of science today that does not appear to be on anyone’s radar is measurement. Transformative potential beyond that of the Internet itself is available.

Realizing that potential will require an Intangible Assets Metric System. This system will connect together all the different ways any one thing is measured, bringing common languages for representing human, social, and economic value into play everywhere. We need these metrics on the front lines of education, health care, social services, and in human, reputation, and natural resource management, as well as in the economic models and financial spreadsheets informing policy, and in the scientific research conducted in dozens of fields.

All reading ability measures, for instance, should be transparently, inexpensively, and effortlessly expressed in a universally uniform metric, in the same way that standardized measures of weight and volume inform grocery store purchasing decisions. We have made starts at such systems for reading, writing, and math ability measures, and for health status, functionality, and chronic disease management measures. There oddly seems to be, however, little awareness of the full value that stands to be gained from uniform metrics in these areas, despite the overwhelming human, economic, and scientific value derived from standardized units in the existing economy. There has accordingly been virtually no leadership or investment in this area.

Measurement practice in business is woefully out of touch with the true paradigm shift that has been underway in psychometrics for years, even though the mantra “you manage what you measure” is repeated far and wide. In a fascinating twist, practically the only ones who notice the business world’s conceptual shortfall in measurement practice are the contrarians who observe that quantification can often be more of a distraction from management than the medium of its execution—but this is true only when measures are poorly conceived, designed, and implemented.

Demand for better measurement—measurement that reduces data volume not only with no loss of information but with the addition of otherwise unavailable interstitial information; that supports mass customized comparability for informed purchasing and quality improvement decisions; and that enables common product definitions for outcomes-based budgeting—is growing hand in hand with the spread of resilient, nimble, lean, and adaptive business models, and with the ongoing geometrical growth in data volume.

An even bigger source of demand for the features of advanced measurement is the increasing dependence of the economy on intangible assets, those forms of human, social, and natural capital that comprise 90% or more of the total capital under management. We will bring these now economically dead forms of capital to life by systematically standardizing representations of their quality and quantity. The Internet is the planetary nervous system through which basic information travels, and the Intangible Assets Metric System will be the global cerebrum, where higher order thinking takes place.

It will not be possible to realize the full potential of lean thinking in the information- and service-based economy without an Intangible Assets Metric System. Given the long-proven business value of standards and the role of measurement in management, it seems self-evident that our ongoing economic difficulties stem largely from our failure to develop and deploy an Intangible Assets Metric System providing common currencies for the exchange of authentic wealth. The future of sustainable and socially responsible business practices must surely depend extensively on universal access to flexible and practical uniform metrics for intangible assets.

Of course, for global intangible assets standards to be viable, they must be adaptable to local business demands and conditions without compromising their comparability. And that is just what is most powerfully disruptive about contemporary measurement methods: they make mass customization a reality. They’ve been doing so in computerized testing since the 1970s. Isn’t it time we started putting this technology to systematic use in a wide range of applications, from human and environmental resource management to education, health care, and social services?

Measuring/Managing Social Value

August 28, 2012

From my December 1, 2008 personal journal, written not long after the October 2008 SoCap conference. I’ve updated a few things that have changed in the intervening years.

Over the last month, I’ve been digesting what I learned at the Social Capital Markets conference at Fort Mason in San Francisco, and at the conference I attended just afterward, Bioneers, in Marin county. Bioneers (www.Bioneers.org) could be called Natural Capital Markets. It was quite like the Social Capital Markets conference with only a slight shift in emphasis, and lots of discussion of social value.

The main thing that impressed me at both of these conferences, apart from what I already knew about the caring passion I share with so many, is the huge contrast between that passion and the quality of the data that so many are basing major decisions on. Seeing this made me step back and think harder about how to shape my message.

First, though it may not seem like it initially, there is incredible practical value to be gained from taking the trouble to construct good measures. We do indeed manage what we measure. So whatever we measure becomes what we manage. If we’re not measuring anything that has anything to do with our mission, vision, or values, then what we’re managing won’t have anything to do with those, either. And when the numbers we use as measures do not actually represent a constant unit amount that adds up the way the numbers do, then we don’t have a clue what we’re measuring and we could be managing just about anything.

This is not the way to proceed. First take-away: ask for more from your data. Don’t let it mislead you with superficial appearances. Dig deeper.

Second, to put it a little differently, percentages, scores, and counts per capita, etc. are not measures that have the same meaning or quality that measures of height, weight, time, temperature, or volts have. However, for over 50 years, we have been constructing measures mathematically equivalent to physical measures from ability tests, surveys, assessments, checklists, etc. The technical literature on this is widely available. The methods have been mainstream at ETS, ACT, state and national departments of education globally, etc for decades.

Second take-away: did I say you should ask for more from your data? You can get it. A lot of people already are, though I don’t think they’re asking for nearly as much as they could get.

Third, though the massive numbers of percentages, scores, and counts per capita are not the measures we seek, they are indeed exactly the right place to start. I have seen over and over again, in education, health care, sociology, human resource management, and most recently in the UN Millennium Development Goals data, that people do know exactly what data will form a proper basis for the measurement systems they need.

Third take-away: (one more time!) ask for more from your data. It may conceal a wealth beyond what you ever guessed.

So what are we talking about? There are methods for creating measures that give you numbers that verifiably stand for a substantive unit amount that adds up in the same way one-inch blocks do (probabilistically, and within a range of error). If the instrument is properly calibrated and administered, the unit size and meaning will not change across individuals or samples measured. You can reduce data volume dramatically, not only with no loss of information but also with false appearances of information either indicated as error or flagged for further attention. You can calibrate a continuum of less to more that is reliably and reproducibly associated with, annotated by, and interpreted through your own indicators. You can equate different collections of indicators that measure the same thing so that they do so in the same unit.

Different agencies using the same, different, or mixed collections of indicators in different countries or regions could assess their measures for comparability, and if they are of satisfactory quality, equate them so they measure in the same unit. That is, well-designed instruments written and administered in different languages routinely have their items calibrate in the same order and positions, giving the same meaning to the same unit of measurement. For instance, see the recent issue of the Journal of Applied Measurement ([link]) devoted to reports on the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment.

This is not a data analysis strategy. It is an instrument calibration strategy. Once calibrated, the instrument can be deployed. We need to monitor its structure, but the point is to create a tool people can take out into the world and use like a thermometer or clock.

I’ve just been looking at the Charity Navigator (for instance, [link]) and the UN’s Millenium Development Goals ([link]), and the databases that have been assembled as measures of progress toward these goals ([link]). I would suppose these web sites show data in forms that people are generally familiar with, so I’m working up analyses to use as teaching tools from the UN data.

You don’t have to take any of this at my word. It’s been documented ad nauseum in the academic literature for decades. Those interested can find out more than they ever wanted to know at http://www.Rasch.org, in the Wikipedia Rasch entry, in the articles and books at JAMPress.com, or in dozens of academic journals and hundreds of books. Though I’ve done my share of it, I’m less interested in continuing to add to that than I am in making a tangible contribution to improving people’s lives.

Sorry to go on like this. I meant to keep this short. Anyway, there it is.

PS, for real geeks: For those of you serious about learning about measurement as it is rigorously and mathematically defined, look into taking Everett Smith’s measurement course at Statistics.com ([link]) or David Andrich’s academic units at the University of Western Australia ([link]). Available software includes Mike Linacre’s Winsteps, Andrich’s RUMM, and Mark Wilson’s, at UC Berkeley, Conquest.

The methods Ev, Mike, David, and Mark teach have repeatedly been proven, both in mathematical theory and in real life, to be both necessary and sufficient in the construction of meaningful, practical measurement. Any number of ways of defining objectivity in measurement have been shown to reduce to the mathematical models they use. Why all the Chicago stuff? Because of Ben Wright. I’m helping (again) to organize a conference in his honor, to be held in Chicago next March. His work won him a Career Achievement Award from the Association of Test Publishers, and the coming conference will celebrate his foundational contributions to computerized measurement in health care.

As a final note, for those of you fearing reductionistic meaninglessness, look into my philosophical work.  But enough…

Review of “Advancing Social Impact Investments Through Measurement”

August 24, 2012

Over the last few days, I have been reading several of the most recent issues of the Community Development Investment Review, especially volume 7, number 2, edited by David Erickson of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, reporting the proceedings of the March 21, 2011 conference in Washington, DC on advancing social impact investments through measurement. I am so excited to see this work that I am (truly) fairly trembling with excitement. I feel as though I’ve finally made my way home. There are so many points of contact, it’s hard to know where to start. After several days of concentrated deep breathing and close study of the CDIR, it’s now possible to formulate some coherent thoughts to share.

The CDIR papers start to sort out the complex issues involved in clarifying how measurement might contribute to the integration of impact investing and community development finance. I am heartened by the statement that “The goal of the Review is to bridge the gap between theory and practice and to enlist as many viewpoints as possible—government, nonprofits, financial institutions, and beneficiaries.” On the other hand, the omission of measurement scientists from that list of viewpoints adds another question to my long list of questions as to why measurement science is so routinely ignored by the very people who proclaim its importance. The situation is quite analogous to demanding more frequent conversational interactions from colleagues while ignoring the invention of the telephone and not providing them with the tools and network connections.

The aims shared by the CDIR contributors and myself are evident in the fact that David Erickson opens his summary of the March 21, 2011 conference with the same quote from Robert Kennedy that I placed at the end of my 2009 article in Measurement (see references below; all papers referenced are available by request if they are not already online). In that 2009 paper, in others I’ve published over the last several years, in presentations I’ve made to my measurement colleagues abroad and at home, and in various entries in my blog, I take up virtually all of the major themes that arose in the DC conference: how better measurement can attract capital to needed areas, how the cost of measurement repels many investors, how government can help by means of standard setting and regulation, how diverse and ambiguous investor and stakeholder interests can be reconciled and/or clarified, etc.

The difference, of course, is that I present these issues from the technical perspective of measurement and cannot speak authoritatively or specifically from the perspectives represented by the community development finance and impact investing fields. The bottom line take-away message for these fields from my perspective is this: unexamined assumptions may unnecessarily restrict assessments of problems and their potential solutions. As Salamon put it in his remarks in the CDIR proceedings from the Washington meeting (p. 43), “uncoordinated innovation not guided by a clear strategic concept can do more than lose its way: it can do actual harm.”

A clear strategic concept capable of coordinating innovations in social impact measurement is readily available. Multiple, highly valuable, and eminently practical measurement technologies have proven themselves in real world applications over the last 50 years. These technologies are well documented in the educational, psychological, sociological, and health care research literatures, as well as in the practical experience of high stakes testing for professional licensure and certification, for graduation, and for admissions.

Numerous reports show how to approach problems of quantification and standards with new degrees of rigor, transparency, meaningfulness, and flexibility. When measurement problems are not defined in terms of these technologies, solutions that may offer highly advantageous features are not considered. When the area of application is as far reaching and fundamental as social impact measurement, not taking new technologies into account is nothing short of tragic. I describe some of the new opportunities for you in a Technical Postscript, below.

In his Foreword to the CDIR proceedings issue, John Moon mentions having been at the 2009 SoCap event bringing together stakeholders from across the various social capital markets arenas. I was at the 2008 SoCap, and I came away from it with much the same impression as Moon, feeling that the palpable excitement in the air was more than tempered by the evident fact that people were often speaking at cross purposes, and that there did not seem to be a common object to the conversation. Moon, Erickson, and their colleagues have been in one position to sort out the issues involved, and I have been in another, but we are plainly on converging courses.

Though the science is in place and has been for decades, it will not and cannot amount to anything until the people who can best make use of it do so. The community development finance and impact investing fields are those people. Anyone interested in getting together for an informal conversation on topics of mutual interest should feel free to contact me.

Technical Postscript

There are at least six areas in efforts to advance social impact investments via measurement that will be most affected by contemporary methods. The first has to do with scale quality. I won’t go into the technical details, but numbers do not automatically stand for something that adds up the way they do. Mapping a substantive construct onto a number line requires specific technical expertise; there is no evidence of that expertise in any of the literature I’ve seen on social impact investing, or on measuring intangible assets. This is not an arbitrary bit of philosophical esoterica or technical nicety. This is one of those areas where the practical value of scientific rigor and precision comes into its own. It makes all the difference in being able to realize goals for measurement, investment, and redefining profit in terms of social impacts.

A second area in which thinking on social impact measurement will be profoundly altered by current scaling methods concerns the capacity to reduce data volume with no loss of information. In current systems, each indicator has its own separate metric. Data volume quickly multiplies when tracking separate organizations for each of several time periods in various locales. Given sufficient adherence to data quality and meaningfulness requirements, today’s scaling methods allow these indicators to be combined into a single composite measure—from which each individual observation can be inferred.

Elaborating this second point a bit further, I noted that some speakers at the 2011 conference in Washington thought reducing data volume is a matter of limiting the number of indicators that are tracked. This strategy is self-defeating, however, as having fewer independent observations increases uncertainty and risk. It would be far better to set up systems in which the metrics are designed so as to incorporate the amount of uncertainty that can be tolerated in any given decision support application.

The third area I have in mind deals with the diverse spectrum of varying interests and preferences brought to the table by investors, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders. Contemporary approaches in measurement make it possible to adapt the content of the particular indicators (counts or frequencies of events, or responses to survey questions or test items) to the needs of the user, without compromising the comparability of the resulting quantitative measure. This feature makes it possible to mass customize the content of the metrics employed depending on the substantive nature of the needs at that time and place.

Fourth, it is well known that different people judging performances or assigning numbers to observations bring different personal standards to bear as they make their ratings. Contemporary measurement methods enable the evaluation and scaling of raters and judges relative to one another, when data are gathered in a manner facilitating such comparisons. The end result is a basis for fair comparisons, instead of scores that vary depending more on which rater is observing than on the quality of the performance.

Fifth, much of the discussion at the conference in Washington last year emphasized the need for shared data formatting and reporting standards. As might be guessed from the prior four areas I’ve described, significant advances have occurred in standard setting methods. It is suggested in the CDIR proceedings that the Treasury Department should be the home to a new institute for social impact measurement standards. In a series of publications over the last few years, I have suggested a need for an Intangible Assets Metric System to NIST and NSF (see below for references and links; all papers are available on request). That suggestion comes up again in my third-prize winning entry in the 2011 World Standards Day paper competition, sponsored by NIST and SES (the Society for Standards Professionals), entitled “What the World Needs Now: A Bold Plan for New Standards.” (See below for link.)

Sixth, as noted by Salamon (p. 43), “metrics are not neutral. They not only measure impact, they can also shape it.” Though this is not likely exactly what Salamon meant, one of the most exciting areas in measurement applications in education in recent years, one led in many ways by my colleague, Mark Wilson, and his group at UC Berkeley, concerns exactly this feedback loop between measurement and impact. In education, it has become apparent that test scaling reveals the order in which lessons are learned. Difficult problems that require mastery of easier problems are necessarily answered correctly less often than the easier problems. When the difficulty order of test questions in a given subject remains constant over time and across thousands of students, one may infer that the scale reveals the path of least resistance. Individualizing instruction by targeting lessons at the student’s measure has given rise to a concept of formative assessment, distinct from the summative assessment of accountability applications. I suspect this kind of a distinction may also prove of value in social impact applications.

Relevant Publications and Presentations

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2002, Spring). “The Mystery of Capital” and the human sciences. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 15(4), 854 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt154j.htm].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2004, Thursday, January 22). Bringing capital to life via measurement: A contribution to the new economics. In  R. Smith (Chair), Session 3.3B. Rasch Models in Economics and Marketing. Second International Conference on Measurement in Health, Education, Psychology, and Marketing: Developments with Rasch Models, The International Laboratory for Measurement in the Social Sciences, School of Education, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2005, August 1-3). Data standards for living human, social, and natural capital. In Session G: Concluding Discussion, Future Plans, Policy, etc. Conference on Entrepreneurship and Human Rights [http://www.fordham.edu/economics/vinod/ehr05.htm], Pope Auditorium, Lowenstein Bldg, Fordham University.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2007, Summer). Living capital metrics. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 21(1), 1092-3 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt211.pdf].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2008, 3-5 September). New metrological horizons: Invariant reference standards for instruments measuring human, social, and natural capital. Presented at the 12th International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO) TC1-TC7 Joint Symposium on Man, Science, and Measurement, Annecy, France: University of Savoie.

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

Fisher, W. P.. Jr. (2009). NIST Critical national need idea White Paper: Metrological infrastructure for human, social, and natural capital (Tech. Rep., http://www.nist.gov/tip/wp/pswp/upload/202_metrological_infrastructure_for_human_social_natural.pdf). Washington, DC: National Institute for Standards and Technology.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010). The standard model in the history of the natural sciences, econometrics, and the social sciences. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 238(1), http://iopscience.iop.org/1742-6596/238/1/012016/pdf/1742-6596_238_1_012016.pdf.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011). Bringing human, social, and natural capital to life: Practical consequences and opportunities. In N. Brown, B. Duckor, K. Draney & M. Wilson (Eds.), Advances in Rasch Measurement, Vol. 2 (pp. 1-27). Maple Grove, MN: JAM Press.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011). Measuring genuine progress by scaling economic indicators to think global & act local: An example from the UN Millennium Development Goals project. LivingCapitalMetrics.com. Retrieved 18 January 2011, from Social Science Research Network: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1739386.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2012). Measure and manage: Intangible assets metric standards for sustainability. In J. Marques, S. Dhiman & S. Holt (Eds.), Business administration education: Changes in management and leadership strategies (pp. 43-63). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2012, May/June). What the world needs now: A bold plan for new standards. Standards Engineering, 64(3), 1 & 3-5 [http://ssrn.com/abstract=2083975].

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2011, January). Metrology for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences (Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences White Paper Series). Retrieved 25 October 2011, from National Science Foundation: http://www.nsf.gov/sbe/sbe_2020/submission_detail.cfm?upld_id=36.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2011, August 31 to September 2). A technology roadmap for intangible assets metrology. In Fundamentals of measurement science. International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO) TC1-TC7-TC13 Joint Symposium, http://www.db-thueringen.de/servlets/DerivateServlet/Derivate-24493/ilm1-2011imeko-018.pdf, Jena, Germany.

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HEY GREECE!!! One more time through the basics

May 10, 2012

As the battle between austerity and growth mindsets threatens to freeze into a brittle gridlock, it seems time once again to simplify and repeat some painfully obvious observations.

1. Human, social, and natural capital make up at least 90 percent of the capital under management in the global economy.

2. There is no system of uniform weights and measures for these forms of capital.

3. We manage what we measure; so, lacking proper measures for 90 percent of the capital in the economy, we cannot possibly manage it properly.

4. Measurement theory and practice have advanced to the point that the technical viability of a meaningful, objective, and precise system of uniform units for human, social, and natural capital is no longer an issue.

5. A metric system for intangible assets (human, social, and natural capital) is the infrastructural capacity building project capable of supporting sustainable and responsible growth we are looking for.

6. Individual citizens, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, corporations, NGOs, educators, health care advocates, innovators, researchers, and governments everywhere ought to be focusing intensely on building systems of consensus measures that take full advantage of existing technical means for instrument scaling, equating, adaptive administration, mass customization, growth modeling, data quality assessment, and diagnostic individualized reporting.

7. Uniform impact measurement will make it possible to price outcomes in ways that allow market forces to inform consumers as to where they can obtain the best cost/value relation for the money. In other words, the profit motive will be directly harnessed in growing human, social, and natural capital.

8. Happiness indexes and gross national or domestic authentic wealth products will not obtain any real practical utility until individuals, firms, NGOs, and governments can directly manage their own intangible asset bottom lines.

See other posts in this blog or the links below for more information.

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

Research Associate
BEAR Center
Graduate School of Education
University of California, Berkeley
Principal
LivingCapitalMetrics Consulting

We are what we measure.

It’s time we measured what we want to be.

Connect with me on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/livingcapitalmetrics
View my research on my SSRN Author page: http://ssrn.com/author=1090685
Read my blog at https://livingcapitalmetrics.wordpress.com.
See my web site at http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com.
http://www.rasch.org
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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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Question Authority: Queries In the Back of the Wall Street Demonstrators’ Minds

October 2, 2011

I think the Wall Street demonstrators’ lack of goals and the admission of not having a solution is very important. All solutions offered so far are band-aids at best, and most are likely to do more harm than good.

I think I have an innovative way of articulating the questions people have on their minds. I thought of scattering small pieces of paper anywhere there are these demonstrations going on, with questions like these on them:

Feeling robbed of the trust, loyalty, and commitment you invested?

Unable to get a good return on your investment in your education?

Feeling robbed of your share of the world’s natural resources?

How many shares of social capital do you own?

How many shares of literacy capital do you have on the market?

How many shares of health capital do you own?

How many shares of natural capital do you own?

Wishing there was an easy way to know what return rate you get on your health investments?

Wishing there was an easy way to know what return rate you get on your education investments?

Why don’t you have legal title to your literacy capital shares?

Why don’t you have legal title to your social capital shares?

Why don’t you have legal title to your health capital shares?

Why don’t you have legal title to your natural capital shares?

Why don’t you know how many literacy capital shares are rightfully yours?

Why don’t you know how many social capital shares are rightfully yours?

Why don’t you know how many health capital shares are rightfully yours?

Why don’t you know how many natural capital shares are rightfully yours?

Why is there no common currency for trading on your literacy capital?

Why is there no common currency for trading on your health capital?

Why is there no common currency for trading on your social capital?

Why is there no common currency for trading on your natural capital?

Why aren’t corporations accountable for their impacts on your literacy capital investments?

Why aren’t corporations accountable for their impacts on your natural capital investments?

Why aren’t corporations accountable for their impacts on your social capital investments?

Why aren’t corporations accountable for their impacts on your health capital investments?

Why aren’t governments accountable for their impacts on your literacy capital investments?

Why aren’t governments accountable for their impacts on your natural capital investments?

Why aren’t governments accountable for their impacts on your social capital investments?

Why aren’t governments accountable for their impacts on your health capital investments?

Why are educational outcomes not comparable in a common metric?

Why are health care outcomes not comparable in a common metric?

Why are social program outcomes not comparable in a common metric?

Why are natural resource management program outcomes not comparable in a common metric?

Why do accounting and economics focus on land, labor, and manufactured capital instead of putting the value of ecosystem services, and health, literacy, and social capital, on the books and in the models, along with property and manufactured capital?

If we truly do manage what we measure, why don’t we have a metric system for literacy capital?

Can we effectively manage literacy capital if we don’t have a universally recognized and accepted metric for it?

If we truly do manage what we measure, why don’t we have a metric system for health capital?

Can we effectively manage health capital if we don’t have a universally recognized and accepted metric for it?

If we truly do manage what we measure, why don’t we have a metric system for social capital?

Can we effectively manage social capital if we don’t have a universally recognized and accepted metric for it?

If we truly do manage what we measure, why don’t we have a metric system for natural capital?

Can we effectively manage natural capital if we don’t have a universally recognized and accepted metric for it?

How is our collective imagination being stifled by the lack of a common language for literacy capital?

How is our collective imagination being stifled by the lack of a common language for health capital?

How is our collective imagination being stifled by the lack of a common language for social capital?

How is our collective imagination being stifled by the lack of a common language for natural capital?

How can the voice of the people be heard without common languages for things that are important to us?

How do we know where we stand as individuals and as a society if we can’t track the value and volume of our literacy, health, social, and natural capital shares?

Why don’t NIST and NSF fund new research into literacy, health, social, and natural capital metrics?

Why aren’t banks required to offer literacy, health, social, and natural capital accounts?

If we want to harmonize relationships between people, within and between societies, and between culture and nature, why don’t we tune the instruments on which we play the music of our lives?

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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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Reimagining Capitalism Again, Part II: Scientific Credibility in Improving Information Quality

September 10, 2011

The previous posting here concluded with two questions provoked by a close consideration of a key passage in William Greider’s 2003 book, The Soul of Capitalism. First, how do we create the high quality, solid information markets need to punish and reward relative to ethical and sustainable human, social, and environmental values? Second, what can we learn from the way we created that kind of information for property and manufactured capital? There are good answers to these questions, answers that point in productive directions in need of wide exploration and analysis.

The short answer to both questions is that better, more scientifically rigorous measurement at the local level needs to be implemented in a context of traceability to universally uniform standards. To think global and act local simultaneously, we need an efficient and transparent way of seeing where we stand in the world relative to everyone else. Having measures expressed in comparable and meaningful units is an important part of how we think global while acting local.

So, for markets to punish and reward businesses in ways able to build human, social, and environmental value, we need to be able to price that value, to track returns on investments in it, and to own shares of it. To do that, we need a new intangible assets metric system that functions in a manner analogous to the existing metric system and other weights and measures standards. In the same way these standards guarantee high quality information on volume, weight, thermal units, and volts in grocery stores and construction sites, we need a new set of standards for human abilities, performances, and health; for social trust, commitment, and loyalty; and for the environment’s air and water processing services, fisheries, gene pools, etc.

Each industry needs an instrumentarium of tools and metrics that mediate relationships universally within its entire sphere of production and/or service. The obvious and immediate reaction to this proposal will likely be that this is impossible, that it would have been done by now if it was possible, and that anyone who proposes something like this is simply unrealistic, perhaps dangerously so. So, here we have another reason to add to those given in the June 8, 2011 issue of The Nation (http://www.thenation.com/article/161267/reimagining-capitalism-bold-ideas-new-economy) as to why bold ideas for a new economy cannot gain any traction in today’s political discourse.

So what basis in scientific authority might be found for this audacious goal of an intangible assets metric system? This blog’s postings offer multiple varieties of evidence and argument in this regard, so I’ll stick to more recent developments, namely, last week’s meeting of the International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO) in Jena, Germany. Membership in IMEKO is dominated by physicists, engineers, chemists, and clinical laboratorians who work in private industry, academia, and government weights and measures standards institutes.

Several IMEKO members past and present are involved with one or more of the seven or eight major international standards organizations responsible for maintaining and improving the metric system (the Systeme Internationale des Unites). Two initiatives undertaken by IMEKO and these standards organizations take up the matter at issue here concerning the audacious goal of standard units for human, social, and natural capital.

First, the recently released third edition of the International Vocabulary of Measurement (VIM, 2008) expands the range of the concepts and terms included to encompass measurement in the human and social sciences. This first effort was not well informed as to the nature of widely realized state of the art developments in measurement in education, health care, and the social sciences. What is important is that an invitation to further dialogue has been extended from the natural to the social sciences.

That invitation was unintentionally accepted and a second initiative advanced just as the new edition of the VIM was being released, in 2008. Members of three IMEKO technical committees (TC 1-7-13; those on Measurement Science, Metrology Education, and Health Care) cultivate a special interest in ideas on the human and social value of measurement. At their 2008 meeting in Annecy, France, I presented a paper (later published in revised form as Fisher, 2009) illustrating how, over the previous 50 years and more, the theory and practice of measurement in the social sciences had developed in ways capable of supporting convenient and useful universally uniform units for human, social, and natural capital.

The same argument was then advanced by my fellow University of Chicago alum, Nikolaus Bezruczko, at the 2009 IMEKO World Congress in Lisbon. Bezruczko and I both spoke at the 2010 TC 1-7-13 meeting in London, and last week our papers were joined by presentations from six of our colleagues at the 2011 IMEKO TC 1-7-13 meeting in Jena, Germany. Another fellow U Chicagoan, Mark Wilson, a long time professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, gave an invited address contrasting four basic approaches to measurement in psychometrics, and emphasizing the value of methods that integrate substantive meaning with mathematical rigor.

Examples from education, health care, and business were then elucidated at this year’s meeting in Jena by myself, Bezruczko, Stefan Cano (University of Plymouth, England), Carl Granger (SUNY, Buffalo; paper presented by Bezruczko, a co-author), Thomas Salzberger (University of Vienna, Austria), Jack Stenner (MetaMetrics, Inc., Durham, NC, USA), and Gordon Cooper (University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, Australia; paper presented by Fisher, a co-author).

The contrast between these presentations and those made by the existing IMEKO membership hinges on two primary differences in focus. The physicists and engineers take it for granted that all instrument calibration involves traceability to metrological reference standards. Dealing as they are with existing standards and physical or chemical materials that usually possess deterministically structured properties, issues of how to construct linear measures from ordinal observations never come up.

Conversely, the social scientists and psychometricians take it for granted that all instrument calibration involves evaluations of the capacity of ordinal observations to support the construction of linear measures. Dealing as they are with data from tests, surveys, and rating scale assessments, issues of how to relate a given instrument’s unit to a reference standard never come up.

Thus there is significant potential for mutually instructive dialogue between natural and social scientists in this context. Many areas of investigation in the natural sciences have benefited from the introduction of probabilistic concepts in recent decades, but there are perhaps important unexplored opportunities for the application of probabilistic measurement, as opposed to statistical, models. By taking advantage of probabilistic models’ special features, measurement in education and health care has begun to realize the benefit of broad generalizations of comparable units across grades, schools, tests, and curricula.

Though the focus of my interest here is in the capacity of better measurement to improve the efficiency of human, social, and natural capital markets, it may turn out that as many or more benefits will accrue in the natural sciences’ side of the conversation as in the social sciences’ side. The important thing for the time being is that the dialogue is started. New and irreversible mutual understandings between natural and social scientists have already been put on the record. It may happen that the introduction of a new supply of improved human, social, and natural capital metrics will help articulate the largely, as yet, unstated but nonetheless urgent demand for them.

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

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Reimagining Capitalism Again, Part I: Reflections on Greider’s Soul of Capitalism

September 10, 2011

In his 2003 book, The Soul of Capitalism, William Greider wrote, “If capitalism were someday found to have a soul, it would probably be located in the mystic qualities of capital itself” (p. 94). The recurring theme in the book is that the resolution of capitalism’s deep conflicts must grow out as organic changes from the roots of capitalism itself.

In the book, Greider quotes Innovest’s Michael Kiernan as suggesting that the goal has to be re-engineering the DNA of Wall Street (p. 119). He says the key to doing this is good reliable information that has heretofore been unavailable but which will make social and environmental issues matter financially. The underlying problems of exactly what solid, high quality information looks like, where it comes from, and how it is created are not stated or examined, but the point, as Kiernan says, is that “the markets are pretty good at punishing and rewarding.” The objective is to use “the financial markets as an engine of reform and positive change rather than destruction.”

This objective is, of course, the focus of multiple postings in this blog (see especially this one and this one). From my point of view, capitalism indeed does have a soul and it is actually located in the qualities of capital itself. Think about it: if a soul is a spirit of something that exists independent of its physical manifestation, then the soul of capitalism is the fungibility of capital. Now, this fungibility is complex and ambiguous. It takes its strength and practical value from the way market exchange are represented in terms of currencies, monetary units that, within some limits, provide an objective basis of comparison useful for rewarding those capable of matching supply with demand.

But the fungibility of capital can also be dangerously misconceived when the rich complexity and diversity of human capital is unjustifiably reduced to labor, when the irreplaceable value of natural capital is unjustifiably reduced to land, and when the trust, loyalty, and commitment of social capital is completely ignored in financial accounting and economic models. As I’ve previously said in this blog, the concept of human capital is inherently immoral so far as it reduces real human beings to interchangeable parts in an economic machine.

So how could it ever be possible to justify any reduction of human, social, and natural value to a mere number? Isn’t this the ultimate in the despicable inhumanity of economic logic, corporate decision making, and, ultimately, the justification of greed? Many among us who profess liberal and progressive perspectives seem to have an automatic and reactionary prejudice of this kind. This makes these well-intentioned souls as much a part of the problem as those among us with sometimes just as well-intentioned perspectives that accept such reductionism as the price of entry into the game.

There is another way. Human, social, and natural value can be measured and made manageable in ways that do not necessitate totalizing reduction to a mere number. The problem is not reduction itself, but unjustified, totalizing reduction. Referring to all people as “man” or “men” is an unjustified reduction dangerous in the way it focuses attention only on males. The tendency to think and act in ways privileging males over females that is fostered by this sense of “man” shortchanges us all, and has happily been largely eliminated from discourse.

Making language more inclusive does not, however, mean that words lose the singular specificity they need to be able to refer to things in the world. Any given word represents an infinite population of possible members of a class of things, actions, and forms of life. Any simple sentence combining words into a coherent utterance then multiplies infinities upon infinities. Discourse inherently reduces multiplicities into texts of limited lengths.

Like any tool, reduction has its uses. Also like any tool, problems arise when the tool is allowed to occupy some hidden and unexamined blind spot from which it can dominate and control the way we think about everything. Critical thinking is most difficult in those instances in which the tools of thinking themselves need to be critically evaluated. To reject reduction uncritically as inherently unjustified is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Indeed, it is impossible to formulate a statement of the rejection without simultaneously enacting exactly what is supposed to be rejected.

We have numerous ready-to-hand examples of how all reduction has been unjustifiably reduced to one homogenized evil. But one of the results of experiments in communal living in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as of the fall of the Soviet Union, was the realization that the centralized command and control of collectively owned community property cannot compete with the creativity engendered when individuals hold legal title to the fruits of their labors. If individuals cannot own the results of the investments they make, no one makes any investments.

In other words, if everything is owned collectively and is never reduced to individually possessed shares that can be creatively invested for profitable returns, then the system is structured so as to punish innovation and reward doing as little as possible. But there’s another way of thinking about the relation of the collective to the individual. The living soul of capitalism shows itself in the way high quality information makes it possible for markets to efficiently coordinate and align individual producers’ and consumers’ collective behaviors and decisions. What would happen if we could do that for human, social, and natural capital markets? What if “social capitalism” is more than an empty metaphor? What if capital institutions can be configured so that individual profit really does become the driver of socially responsible, sustainable economics?

And here we arrive at the crux of the problem. How do we create the high quality, solid information markets need to punish and reward relative to ethical and sustainable human, social, and environmental values? Well, what can we learn from the way we created that kind of information for property and manufactured capital? These are the questions taken up and explored in the postings in this blog, and in my scientific research publications and meeting presentations. In the near future, I’ll push my reflection on these questions further, and will explore some other possible answers to the questions offered by Greider and his readers in a recent issue of The Nation.

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New Opportunities for Job Creation and Prosperity

August 17, 2011

What can be done to create jobs and revive the economy? There is no simple, easy answer to this question. Creating busywork is nonsense. We need fulfilling occupations that meet the world’s demand for products and services. It is not easy to see how meaningful work can be systematically created on a broad scale. New energy efficiencies may lead to the cultivation of significant job growth, but it may be unwise to put all of our eggs in this one basket.

So how are we to solve this puzzle? What other areas in the economy might be ripe for the introduction of a new technology capable of supporting a wave of new productivity, like computers did in the 1980s, or the Internet in the 1990s? In trying to answer this question, simplicity and elegance are key factors in keeping things at a practical level.

For instance, we know we accomplish more working together as a team than as disconnected individuals. New jobs, especially new kinds of jobs, will have to be created via innovation. Innovation in science and industry is a team sport. So the first order of business in teaming up for job creation is to know the rules of the game. The economic game is played according to the rules of law embodied in property rights, scientific rationality, capital markets, and transportation/communications networks (see William Bernstein’s 2004 book, The Birth of Plenty). When these conditions are met, as they were in Europe and North America at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the stage is set for long term innovation and growth on a broad scale.

The second order of business is to identify areas in the economy that lack one or more of these four conditions, and that could reasonably be expected to benefit from their introduction. Education, health care, social services, and environmental management come immediately to mind. These industries are plagued with seemingly interminable inflationary spirals, which, no doubt, are at least in part caused by the inability of investors to distinguish between high and low performers. Money cannot flow to and reward programs producing superior results in these industries because they lack common product definitions and comparable measures of their results.

The problems these industries are experiencing are not specific to each of them in particular. Rather, the problem is a general one applicable across all industries, not just these. Traditionally, economic thinking focuses on three main forms of capital: land, labor, and manufactured products (including everything from machines, roads, and buildings to food, clothing, and appliances). Cash and credit are often thought of as liquid capital, but their economic value stems entirely from the access they provide to land, labor, and manufactured products.

Economic activity is not really, however, restricted to these three forms of capital. Land is far more than a piece of ground. What are actually at stake are the earth’s regenerative ecosystems, with the resources and services they provide. And labor is far more than a pair of skilled hands; people bring a complex mix of abilities, motivations, and health to bear in their work. Finally, this scheme lacks an essential element: the trust, loyalty, and commitment required for even the smallest economic exchange to take place. Without social capital, all the other forms of capital (human, natural, and manufactured, including property) are worthless. Consistent, sustainable, and socially responsible economic growth requires that all four forms of capital be made accountable in financial spreadsheets and economic models.

The third order of business, then, is to ask if the four conditions laying out the rules for the economic game are met in each of the four capital domains. The table below suggests that all four conditions are fully met only for manufactured products. They are partially met for natural resources, such as minerals, timber, fisheries, etc., but not at all for nature’s air and water purification systems or broader genetic ecosystem services.

 Table

Existing Conditions Relevant to Conceiving a New Birth of Plenty, by Capital Domains

Human

Social

Natural

Manufactured

Property rights

No

No

Partial

Yes

Scientific rationality

Partial

Partial

Partial

Yes

Capital markets

Partial

Partial

Partial

Yes

Transportation & communication networks

Partial

Partial

Partial

Yes

That is, no provisions exist for individual ownership of shares in the total available stock of air and water, or of forest, watershed, estuary, and other ecosystem service outcomes. Nor do any individuals have free and clear title to their most personal properties, the intangible abilities, motivations, health, and trust most essential to their economic productivity. Aggregate statistics are indeed commonly used to provide a basis for policy and research in human, social, and natural capital markets, but falsifiable models of individually applicable unit quantities are not widely applied. Scientifically rational measures of our individual stocks of intangible asset value will require extensive use of these falsifiable models in calibrating the relevant instrumentation.

Without such measures, we cannot know how many shares of stock in these forms of capital we own, or what they are worth in dollar terms. We lack these measures, even though decades have passed since researchers first established firm theoretical and practical foundations for them. And more importantly, even when scientifically rational individual measures can be obtained, they are never expressed in terms of a unit standardized for use within a given market’s communications network.

So what are the consequences for teams playing the economic game? High performance teams’ individual decisions and behaviors are harmonized in ways that cannot otherwise be achieved only when unit amounts, prices, and costs are universally comparable and publicly available. This is why standard currencies and exchange rates are so important.

And right here we have an insight into what we can do to create jobs. New jobs are likely going to have to be new kinds of jobs resulting from innovations. As has been detailed at length in recent works such as Surowiecki’s 2004 book, The Wisdom of Crowds, innovation in science and industry depends on standards. Standards are common languages that enable us to multiply our individual cognitive powers into new levels of collective productivity. Weights and measures standards are like monetary currencies; they coordinate the exchange of value in laboratories and businesses in the same way that dollars do in the US economy.

Applying Bernstein’s four conditions for economic growth to intangible assets, we see that a long term program for job creation then requires

  1. legislation establishing human, social, and natural capital property rights, and an Intangible Assets Metrology System;
  2. scientific research into consensus standards for measuring human, social, and natural capital;
  3. venture capital educational and marketing programs; and
  4. distributed information networks and computer applications through which investments in human, social, and natural capital can be tracked and traded in accord with the rule of law governing property rights and in accord with established consensus standards.

Of these four conditions, Bernstein (p. 383) points to property rights as being the most difficult to establish, and the most important for prosperity. Scientific results are widely available in online libraries. Capital can be obtained from investors anywhere. Transportation and communications services are available commercially.

But valid and verifiable means of representing legal title to privately owned property is a problem often not yet solved even for real estate in many Third World and former communist countries (see De Soto’s 2000 book, The Mystery of Capital). Creating systems for knowing the quality and quantity of educational, health care, social, and environmental service outcomes is going to be a very difficult process. It will not be impossible, however, and having the problem identified advances us significantly towards new economic possibilities.

We need leaders able and willing to formulate audacious goals for new economic growth from ideas such as these. We need enlightened visionaries able to see our potentials from a new perspective, and who can reflect our new self-image back at us. When these leaders emerge—and they will, somewhere, somehow—the imaginations of millions of entrepreneurial thinkers and actors will be fired, and new possibilities will unfold.

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