Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

IMEKO Joint Symposium in St. Petersburg, Russia, 2-5 July 2019

June 26, 2019

The IMEKO Joint Symposium will be next week, 2-5 July, at the Original Sokos Hotel Olympia Garden, located at Batayskiy Pereulok, 3А, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Kudos to Kseniia Sapozhnikova, Giovanni Rossi, Eric Benoit, and the organizing committee for putting together such an impressive program, which is posted at:

Presentations on measurement across the sciences from metrology engineers and psychometricians from around the world will include: Andrich, Cavanagh, Fitkov-Norris, Huang, Mari, Melin, Nguyen, Oon, Powers, Salzberger, Wilson, and multiple other co-authors, including Adams, Cano, Maul, Pendrill, and more.

For background on this rapidly developing new conversation on measurement across the sciences, see the references listed at bottom below. The late Ludwig Finkelstein, editor of IMEKO’s Measurement journal from 1982 to 2000, was a primary instigator of work in this area. At the 2010 Joint Symposium he co-hosted in London, Finkelstein said: “It is increasingly recognised that the wide range and diverse applications of measurement are based on common logical and philosophical principles and share common problems” (Finkelstein, 2010, p. 2). The IMEKO Joint Symposium continues to advance in the direction foreseen by Finkelstein.

Topics to be addressed include a round table discussion on the topic “Terminology issues related to expanding boundaries of measurements” chaired by Mari and Chunovkina.

Paper titles include:

Andrich on “Exemplifying natural science measurement in the social sciences with Rasch measurement theory”

Benoit, et al. on “Musical instruments for the measurement of autism sensory disorders”

Budylina and Danilov on “Methods to ensure the reliability of measurements in the age of Industry 4.0”

Cavanagh, Asano-Cavanagh, and Fisher on “Natural semantic metalanguage as an approach to measuring meaning”

Crenna and Rossi on “Squat biomechanics in weightlifting: Foot attitude effects”

Fisher, Pendrill, Lips da Cruz, and Felin on “Why metrology? Fair dealing and efficient markets for the UN SDGs”

Fisher and Wilson on “The BEAR Assessment System Software as a platform for developing and applying UN SDG metrics”

Fitkov-Norris and Yeghiazarian on “Is context the hidden spanner in the works of educational measurement: Exploring the impact of context on mode of learning preferences”

Gavrilenkov, et al. on “Multicriteria approach to design of strain gauge force transducers”

Grednovskaya, et al. on “Measuring non-physical quantities in the procedures of philosophical practice”

Huang, Oon, and Fisher on “Coherence in measuring student evaluation of teaching: A new paradigm”

Katkov on “The status of and prospects for development of voltage quantum standards”

Kneller and Fayans on “Solving interdisciplinary tasks: The challenge and the ways to surmount it”

Kostromina and Gnedykh on “Problems and prospects of complex psychological phenomena measurement”

Lips da Cruz, Fisher, Pendrill, and Felin on “Accelerating the realization of the UN SDGs through metrological multi-stakeholder interoperability”

Lyubimtsev, et al. on “Measuring systems designed for working with living organisms as biosensors: Features of their metrological maintenance”

Mari, Chunovkina, and Ehrlich on “The complex concept of quantity in the past and (possibly) the future of the International Vocabulary of Metrology”

Mari, Maul, and Wilson on “Can there be one meaning of ‘measurement’ across the sciences?”

Melin, Pendrill, Cano, and the EMPIR NeuroMET 15HLT04 Consortium on “Towards patient-centred cognition metrics”

Morrison and Fisher on “Measuring for management in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics learning ecosystems”

Nguyen on “The feasibility of using an international common reading progression to measure reading across languages: A case study of the Vietnamese language”

Nguyen, Nguyen, and Adams on “Assessment of the generic problem-solving construct across different contexts”

Oon, Hoi-Ka, and Fisher on “Metrologically coherent assessment for learning: What, why, and how”

Pandurevic, et al. on “Methods for quantitative evaluation of force and technique in competitive sport climbing”

Pavese on “Musing on extreme quantity values in physics and the problem of removing infinity”

Powers and Fisher on “Advances in modelling visual symptoms and visual skills”

Salzberger, Cano, et al. on “Addressing traceability in social measurement: Establishing a common metric for dependence”

Sapozhnikova, et al. on “Music and growl of a lion: Anything in common? Measurement model optimized with the help of AI will answer”

Soratto, Nunes, and Cassol on “Legal metrological verification in health area in Brazil”

Wilson and Dulhunty on “Interpreting the relationship between item difficulty and DIF: Examples from educational testing”

Wilson, Mari, and Maul on “The status of the concept of reference object in measurement in the human sciences compared to the physical sciences”

Background References

Finkelstein, L. (1975). Representation by symbol systems as an extension of the concept of measurement. Kybernetes, 4(4), 215-223.

Finkelstein, L. (2003, July). Widely, strongly and weakly defined measurement. Measurement, 34(1), 39-48(10).

Finkelstein, L. (2005). Problems of measurement in soft systems. Measurement, 38(4), 267-274.

Finkelstein, L. (2009). Widely-defined measurement–An analysis of challenges. Measurement: Concerning Foundational Concepts of Measurement Special Issue Section (L. Finkelstein, Ed.), 42(9), 1270-1277.

Finkelstein, L. (2010). Measurement and instrumentation science and technology-the educational challenges. Journal of Physics Conference Series, 238, doi:10.1088/1742-6596/238/1/012001.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement: Concerning Foundational Concepts of Measurement Special Issue (L. Finkelstein, Ed.), 42(9), 1278-1287.

Mari, L. (2000). Beyond the representational viewpoint: A new formalization of measurement. Measurement, 27, 71-84.

Mari, L., Maul, A., Irribara, D. T., & Wilson, M. (2016, March). Quantities, quantification, and the necessary and sufficient conditions for measurement. Measurement, 100, 115-121. Retrieved from

Mari, L., & Wilson, M. (2014, May). An introduction to the Rasch measurement approach for metrologists. Measurement, 51, 315-327. Retrieved from

Pendrill, L. (2014, December). Man as a measurement instrument [Special Feature]. NCSLi Measure: The Journal of Measurement Science, 9(4), 22-33. Retrieved from

Pendrill, L., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2015). Counting and quantification: Comparing psychometric and metrological perspectives on visual perceptions of number. Measurement, 71, 46-55. doi:

Pendrill, L., & Petersson, N. (2016). Metrology of human-based and other qualitative measurements. Measurement Science and Technology, 27(9), 094003. Retrieved from

Wilson, M. R. (2013). Using the concept of a measurement system to characterize measurement models used in psychometrics. Measurement, 46, 3766-3774. Retrieved from

Wilson, M., & Fisher, W. (2016). Preface: 2016 IMEKO TC1-TC7-TC13 Joint Symposium: Metrology across the Sciences: Wishful Thinking? Journal of Physics Conference Series, 772(1), 011001. Retrieved from

Wilson, M., & Fisher, W. (2018). Preface of special issue, Metrology across the Sciences: Wishful Thinking? Measurement, 127, 577.

Wilson, M., & Fisher, W. (2019). Preface of special issue, Psychometric Metrology. Measurement, 145, 190.


Making sustainability impacts universally identifiable, individually owned, efficiently exchanged, and profitable

February 2, 2019

Sustainability impacts plainly and obviously lack common product definitions, objective measures, efficient markets, and associated capacities for competing on improved quality. The absence of these landmarks in the domain of sustainability interests is a result of inattention and cultural biases far more than it is a result of the inherent characteristics or nature of sustainability itself. Given the economic importance of these kinds of capacities and the urgent need for new innovations supporting sustainable development, it is curious how even those most stridently advocating new ways of thinking seem to systematically ignore well-established opportunities for advancing their cause. The wealth of historical examples of rapidly emerging, transformative, disruptive, and highly profitable innovations would seem to motivate massive interest in how extend those successes in new directions.

Economists have long noted how common currencies reduce transaction costs, support property rights, and promote market efficiencies (for references and more information, see previous entries in this blog over the last ten years and more). Language itself is well known for functioning as an economical labor-saving device in the way that useful concepts representing things in the world as words need not be re-invented by everyone for themselves, but can simply be copied. In the same ways that common languages ease communication, and common currencies facilitate trade, so, too, do standards for common product definitions contribute to the creation of markets.

Metrologically traceable measurements make it possible for everyone everywhere to know how much of something in particular there is. This is important, first of all, because things have to be identifiable in shared ways if we are to be able to include them in our lives, socially. Anyone interested in obtaining or producing that kind of thing has to be able to know it and share information about it as something in particular. Common languages capable of communicating specifically what a thing is, and how much of it there is, support claims to ownership and to the fruits of investments in entrepreneurial innovations.

Technologies for precision measurement key to these communications are one of the primary products of science. Instruments measuring in SI units embody common currencies for the exchange of scientific capital. The calibration and distribution of such instruments in the domain of sustainability impact investing and innovation ought to be a top-level priority. How else will sustainable impacts be made universally identifiable, individually owned, efficiently exchanged, and profitable?

The electronics, computer, and telecommunications industries provide ample evidence of precision measurement’s role in reducing transaction costs, establishing common product definitions, and reaping huge profits. The music industry’s use of these technologies combines the science and economics of precision measurement with the artistic creativity of intensive improvisations constructed from instruments tuned to standardized scales that achieve wholly unique levels of individual innovation.

Much stands to be learned, and even more to be gained, in focusing sustainability development on ways in which we can harness the economic power of the profit motive by combining collective efforts with individual imaginations in the domains of human, social, and natural capital. Aligning financial, monetary wealth with the authentic wealth and genuine productivity of gains in human, community, and environmental value ought to be the defining mission of this generation. The time to act is now.

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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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So you say knowledge wants to be free?

January 26, 2019

If knowledge wants to be free, why do we work so hard keeping it trapped in scores and ratings whose meanings change depending on which questions were asked and who answered them?

Why don’t we liberate knowledge from its many prisons by embodying it in measurement systems that mean the same thing (within the range of uncertainty) no matter which questions on a topic are asked and no matter who answers them?

We routinely share knowledge quickly and easily when it’s about time, length, temperature, energy, mass, etc. Methods, theories, models, and tools developed over the last 90+ years show how we could be doing the same thing for literacy, health, functionality, environmental management, and every other major area of concern in the UN Sustainability Development Goals.

There’s a lot of talk among sustainability advocates about how urgent the need is for transformative efforts, investments, and technologies. It seems to me that sense of urgency will never be more than empty talk as long as we go on willfully ignoring the fact that we hold the keys to the chains that bind us.


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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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Self-Sustaining Sustainability, Once Again, Already

August 12, 2018

The urgent need for massive global implementations of sustainability policies and practices oddly and counterproductively has not yet led to systematic investments in state of the art sustainability metric standards. My personal mission is to contribute to meeting this need. Longstanding, proven resources in the art and science of precision instrumentation calibration and explanatory theory are available to address these problems. In the same way technical standards for measuring length, mass, volume, time, energy, light, etc. enable the coordination of science and commerce for manufactured capital and property, so, too, will a new class of standards for measuring human, social, and natural capital.

This new art and science contradicts common assumptions in three ways. First, contrary to popular opinion that measuring these things is impossible, over 90 years of research and practice support a growing consensus among weights and measures standards engineers (metrologists) and social and psychological measurement experts that relevant unit standards are viable, feasible, and desirable.

Common perceptions are contradicted in a second way in that measurement of this kind does not require reducing human individuality to homogenized uniform sameness. Instead of a mechanical metaphor of cogs in a machine, the relevant perspective is an organic or musical one. The goal is to ensure that local uniqueness and creative improvisations are freely expressed in a context informed by shared standards (like DNA, or a musical instrument tuning system).

The third way in which much of what we think we know is mistaken concerns how to motivate adoption of sustainability policies and practices. Many among us are fearful that neither the general population nor its leaders in government and business care enough about sustainability to focus on implementing solutions. But finding the will to act is not the issue. The problem is how to create environments in which new sustainable forms of life multiply and proliferate of their own accord. To do this, people need means for satisfying their own interests in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The goal, therefore, is to organize knowledge infrastructures capable of informing and channeling the power of individual self-interest. The only way mass scale self-sustaining sustainable economies will ever happen is by tapping the entrepreneurial energy of the profit motive, where profit is defined not just in financial terms but in the quality of life and health terms of authentic wealth and genuine productivity.

We manage what we measure. If we are to collectively, fluidly, efficiently, and innovatively manage the living value of our human, social, and natural capital, we need, first, high quality information expressed in shared languages communicating that value. Second, we need, to begin with, new scientific, legal, economic, financial, and governmental institutions establishing individual rights to ownership of that value, metric units expressing amounts of that value, conformity audits for ascertaining the accuracy and precision of those units, financial alignments of the real value measured with bankable dollar amounts, and investment markets to support entrepreneurial innovations in creating that value.

The end result of these efforts will be a capacity for all of humanity to pull together in common cause to create a sustainable future. We will each be able to maximize our own personal potential at the same time we contribute to the greater good. We will not only be able to fulfill the potential of our species as stewards of the earth, we will have fun doing it! For technical information resources, see below. PDFs are available on request, and can often be found freely available online.

Self-Sustaining Sustainability

Relevant Information Resources

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

Barney, M., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2016). Adaptive measurement and assessment. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 3, 469-490.

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. (2000). Objectivity in psychosocial measurement: What, why, how. Journal of Outcome Measurement, 4(2), 527-563.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2002). “The Mystery of Capital” and the human sciences. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 15(4), 854 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2003). The mathematical metaphysics of measurement and metrology: Towards meaningful quantification in the human sciences. In A. Morales (Ed.), Renascent pragmatism: Studies in law and social science (pp. 118-153). Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2004). Meaning and method in the social sciences. Human Studies: A Journal for Philosophy & Social Sciences, 27(4), 429-454.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2007). Living capital metrics. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 21(1), 1092-1093 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009, November 19). Draft legislation on development and adoption of an intangible assets metric system. Living Capital Metrics blog:

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital. 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 ( Washington, DC: National Institute for Standards and Technology.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010, 22 November). Meaningfulness, measurement, value seeking, and the corporate objective function: An introduction to new possibilities., Sausalito, California.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010). Measurement, reduced transaction costs, and the ethics of efficient markets for human, social, and natural capital. Bridge to Business Postdoctoral Certification, Freeman School of Business, Tulane University (

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), 012016.

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. (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). What the world needs now: A bold plan for new standards [Third place, 2011 NIST/SES World Standards Day paper competition]. Standards Engineering, 64(3), 1 & 3-5 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2015). A probabilistic model of the law of supply and demand. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 29(1), 1508-1511 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2015). Rasch measurement as a basis for metrologically traceable standards. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 28(4), 1492-1493 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2015). Rasch metrology: How to expand measurement locally everywhere. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 29(2), 1521-1523.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2017, September). Metrology, psychometrics, and new horizons for innovation. 18th International Congress of Metrology, Paris, 10.1051/metrology/201709007.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2017). A practical approach to modeling complex adaptive flows in psychology and social science. Procedia Computer Science, 114, 165-174.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2018). How beauty teaches us to understand meaning. Educational Philosophy and Theory, in review.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2018). Separation theorems in econometrics and psychometrics: Rasch, Frisch, two Fishers, and implications for measurement. Scandinavian Economic History Review, in review.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., Harvey, R. F., & Kilgore, K. M. (1995). New developments in functional assessment: Probabilistic models for gold standards. NeuroRehabilitation, 5(1), 3-25.

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

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).National Science Foundation:

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,, Jena, Germany.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2016). Theory-based metrological traceability in education: A reading measurement network. Measurement, 92, 489-496.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Wilson, M. (2015). Building a productive trading zone in educational assessment research and practice. Pensamiento Educativo: Revista de Investigacion Educacional Latinoamericana, 52(2), 55-78.

Pendrill, L., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2013). Quantifying human response: Linking metrological and psychometric characterisations of man as a measurement instrument. Journal of Physics Conference Series, 459, 012057.

Pendrill, L., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2015). Counting and quantification: Comparing psychometric and metrological perspectives on visual perceptions of number. Measurement, 71, 46-55.


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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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What is the point of sustainability impact investing?

June 10, 2018

What if the sustainability impact investing problem is not just a matter of judiciously supporting business policies and practices likely to enhance the long term viability of life on earth? What if the sustainability impact investing problem is better conceived in terms of how to create markets that function as self-sustaining ecosystems of diverse forms of economic life?

The crux of the sustainability problem from this living capital metrics point of view is how to create efficient markets for virtuous cycles of productive value creation in the domains of human, social, and natural capital. Mainstream economics deems this an impossible task because its definition of measurement makes trade in these forms of capital unethical and immoral forms of slavery.

But what if there is another approach to measurement? What if this alternative approach is scientific in ways unimagined in mainstream economics? What if this alternative approach has been developing in research and practice in education, psychology, health care, sociology, and other fields for over 90 years? What if there are thousands of peer-reviewed publications supporting its validity and reliability? What if a wide range of commercial firms have been successfully employing this alternative approach to measurement for decades? What if this alternative approach has been found legally and scientifically defensible in ways other approaches have not? What if this alternative approach enables us to be better stewards of our lives together than is otherwise possible?

Put another way, measuring and managing sustainability is fundamentally a problem of harmonizing relationships. What do we need to harmonize our relationships with each other, between our communities and nations, and with the earth? How can we achieve harmonization without forcing conformity to one particular scale? How can we tune the instruments of a sustainability art and science to support as wide a range of diverse ensembles and harmonies as exists in music?

Positive and hopeful answers to these questions follow from the fact that we have at our disposal a longstanding, proven, and advanced art and science of qualitatively rich measurement and instrument calibration. The crux of the message is that this art and science is poised to be the medium in which sustainability impact investing and management fulfills its potential and transforms humanity’s capacities to care for itself and the earth.

The differences between the quality of information that is available, and the quality of information currently in use in sustainability impact investing, are of such huge magnitudes that they can only be called transformative. Love and care are the power behind these transformative differences. Choosing discourse over violence, considerateness for the vulnerabilities we share with others, and care for the unity and sameness of meaning in dialogue are all essential to learning the lesson Diotima taught Socrates in Plato’s Symposium. These lessons can all be brought to bear in creating the information and communications systems we need for sustainable economies.

The current world of sustainability impact investing’s so-called metrics lead to widespread complaints of increased administrative and technical burdens, and resulting distractions that lead away from pursuit of the core social mission. The maxim, “you manage what you measure,” becomes a cynical commentary on red tape and bureaucracy instead of a commendable use of tools fit for purpose.

In contrast with the cumbersome and uninterpretable masses of data that pass for sustainability metrics today, the art and science of measurement establishes the viability and feasibility of efficient markets for human, social, and natural capital. Instead of counting paper clips in mindless accounting exercises, we can instead be learning what comes next in the formative development of a student, a patient, an employee, a firm, a community, or the ecosystem services of watersheds, forests, and fisheries.

And we can moreover support success in those developments by means of information flows that indicate where the biggest per-dollar human, social, and natural capital value returns accrue. Rigorous measurability of those returns will make it possible to price them, to own them, to make property rights legally enforceable, and to thereby align financial profits with the creation of social value. In fact, we could and should set things up so that it will be impossible to financially profit without creating social value. When that kind of system of incentives and rewards is instituted, then the self-sustaining virtuous cycle of a new ecological economy will come to life.

Though the value and originality of the innovations making this new medium possible are huge, in the end there’s really nothing new under the sun. As the French say, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Or, as Whitehead put it, philosophically, the innovations in measurement taking hold in the world today are nothing more than additional footnotes to Plato. Contrary to both popular and most expert opinion, it turns out that not only is a moral and scientific art of human measurement possible, Plato’s lessons on how experiences of beauty teach us about meaning provide what may well turn out to be the only way today’s problems of human suffering, social discontent, and environmental degradation will be successfully addressed.

We are faced with a kind of Chinese finger-puzzle: the more we struggle, the more trapped we become. Relaxing into the problem and seeing the historical roots of scientific reasoning in everyday thinking opens our eyes to a new path. Originality is primarily a matter of finding a useful model no one else has considered. A long history of innovations come together to point in a new direction plainly recognizable as a variation on an old theme.

Instead of a modern focus on data and evidence, then, and instead of the postmodern focus on the theory-dependence of data, we are free to take an unmodern focus on how things come into language. The chaotic complexity of that process becomes manageable as we learn to go with the flow of adaptive evolving processes stable enough to support meaningful communication. Information infrastructures in this linguistic context are conceived as ecosystems alive to changeable local situations at the same time they do not compromise continuity and navigability.

We all learn through what we already know, so it is essential that we begin from where we are at. Our first lessons will then be drawn from existing sustainability impact data, using the UN SDG 17 as a guide. These data were not designed from the principles of scientifically rigorous measurement, but instead assume that separately aggregated counts of events, percentages, and physical measures of volume, mass, or time will suffice as measures of sustainability. Things that are easy to count are not, however, likely to work as satisfactory measures. We need to learn from the available data to think again about what data are necessary and sufficient to the task.

The lessons we will learn from the data available today will lead to more meaningful and rigorous measures of sustainability. Connecting these instruments together by making them metrologically traceable to standard units, while also illuminating local unique data patterns, in widely accessible multilevel information infrastructures is the way in which we will together work the ground, plant the seeds, and cultivate new diverse natural settings for innovating sustainable relationships.


Differences between today’s sustainability metrics and the ones needed for low cost social value transactions and efficient markets for intangible assets

November 16, 2017

Measurement is such a confusing topic! Everyone proclaims how important it is, but almost no one ever seeks out and implements the state of the art, despite the enormous advantages to be gained from doing so.

A key metric quality issue concerns the cumbersome and uninterpretable masses of data that well-intentioned people can hobble themselves with when they are interested in improving their business processes and outcomes. They focus on what they can easily count, and then they wrongly (at great but unrecognized cost) misinterpret the counts and percentages as measures.

For instance, today’s sustainability and social value indicators are each expressed in a different unit (dollars, hours, tons, joules, kilowatt hours, survey ratings, category percentages, etc.; see below for a sample list). Some of them may indeed be scientific measures of that individual aspect of the business. The problem is they are all being interpreted in an undefined and chaotic aggregate as a measure of something else (social value, sustainability, etc.). Technically speaking, if we want a scientific measure of that higher order construct, we need to model it, estimate it, calibrate it, and deploy it as a common language in a network of instruments all traceable to a common unit standard.

All of this is strictly parallel with what we do to make markets in bushels of corn, barrels of oil, and kilowatts of electricity. We don’t buy produce by count in the grocery store because unscrupulous merchants would charge the same amount for small fruits as for large. All of the scales in grocery store produce markets measure in the same unit, and all of the packages of food are similarly marked in standard units of weight and volume so we can compare prices and value.

There are a lot of advantages to taking the trouble to extend this system to social value. I suppose every one of these points could be a chapter in a book:

  • First, investing in scientific measurement reduces data volume to a tiny fraction of what we start with, not only with no loss of information but with the introduction of additional information telling us how confident we can be in the data and exactly what the data specifically mean (see below). That is, all the original information is recoverable from the calibrated measure, which is also qualified with an uncertainty range and a consistency statistic. Inconsistencies can be readily identified and acted on at individual levels.
  • Now the numbers represent something that adds up the way they do, instead of standing for the unknown, differing, and uncontrolled units used in the original counts and percentages.
  • We can take missing data into account, which means we can adapt the indicators used in different situations to specific circumstances without compromising comparability.
  • We know how to gauge the dependability of the data better, meaning that we will not be over-confident about unreliable data, and we won’t waste our time and resources obtaining data of greater precision than we actually need.
  • Furthermore, the indicators themselves are now scaled into a hierarchy that maps the continuum from low to high performance. This map points the way to improvement. The order of things on the scale shows what comes first and how more complex and difficult goals build on simpler and easier ones. The position of a measure on the scale shows what’s been accomplished, what remains to be done, and what to do next.
  • Finally, we have a single metric we can use to price value across the local particulars of individual providers. This is where it becomes possible to see who gives the most bang for the buck, to reward them, to scale up an expanded market for the product, and to monetize returns on investment.

The revolutionary network effects of efficient markets are produced by the common currencies for the exchange of value that emerge out of this context. Improvements rebalancing cost and quality foster deflationary economies that drive more profit from lower costs (think Moore’s law). We gain the efficiency of dramatic reductions in data volume, and the meaningfulness of numbers that stand for something substantively real in the world that we can act on. These combine to lower the cost of transactions, as it now becomes vastly less expensive to find out how much of the social good is available, and what quality it is. Instead of dozens or hundreds of indicators repeated for each company in an industry, and repeated for each division in each company, and all of these repeated for each year or quarter, we have access to all of that information properly contextualized in a succinct, meaningful, and interpretable format for different applications at individual, organizational, industry-wide, national, regional, or global levels of complexity.

That’s likely way too much to digest at once! But it seemed worth saying it all at once in one place, in case anyone might be motivated to get in touch or start efforts in this direction on their own.

Examples of the variety of units in a handy sustainability metrics spreadsheet can be found at the Hess web site ( freshwater use in millions or thousands of cubic meters, solid waste and carbon emissions in thousands of tons, natural gas consumption in thousands of gigajoules, electricity consumption in thousands of kilowatt hours; employee union members, layoffs, and turnover as percentages; employee lost time incident rates in hundreds of thousands of hours worked, percentages of female or minority board members, dollars for business performance.

These indicators are chosen with good reasons for use within each specific area of interest. They comprise an intuitive observation model that has face validity. But this is only the start of the work that needs to be done to create the metrics we need if we are to radically multiply the efficiency of social value markets. For an example of how to work from today’s diverse arrays of social value indicators (where each one is presented in its own spreadsheet) toward more meaningful, adaptable, and precise measures, see:

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. Social Science Research Network: .