EOW Reflections: Numbers can lie!

Perhaps it’s not so much that numbers lie but that they’re economical with the truth. We need to stop caring solely about the numbers. They have their place and numerical data is very important for allowing us all sorts of insights, trends, horizon scanning. But we need to push outcomes up the agenda. Claiming to help xxx people a year just because that’s the number of people who contact us isn’t telling the whole story. We need to find ways to measure our real impact. We need to be sure the people who contact us are getting positive results.

This is just one of my obsessions. I am trying to get my head around how we measure impact and outcomes and it’s much harder than it sounds. Why does it matter? Sometimes public money is spent on the basis of the numbers. Sometimes a bidder wins a contract because they have the capacity to deal with the greatest number of callers, emails and webchat contacts. Sometimes the amount of funding a body gets depends on the numbers they deal with. Charities depending on funding have been known to lose income because the numbers contacting them go down.  I’m worried we’re measuring the wrong things. Don’t we need to be measuring how effective our interventions have been and to what extent they have added value to the lives of the people who come to us for support, information, intervention?

Shouldn’t we be asking: are we getting the right results for people? I’d love to see our numbers falling and know for sure it’s because we’re doing such a good job we’re mitigating and preventing the need for people to call us in the first place. Prevention is a real measure of success.

I know this is dangerous territory. I look at our own numbers and worry about what they’re telling us. However, if we are spending any amount of taxpayers money, we need to be looking for ways to measure the positive impact we’re having on the people we have the remit to help and making sure we’re not having a negative impact or being no help at all.

Plato said ‘a good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers’. I say a good decision is based on knowledge including numbers. We know our numbers, now we need the knowledge that we’re giving people what they need when they are one of those numbers. That’s a big piece of work that getting close to the top of our agenda. It’s not as easy as just asking ‘did you find what you were looking for?’ Measuring satisfaction ratings and NPS won’t tell you if customers and clients are getting the right outcomes. We could be giving you a great service and getting great scores without achieving the best outcomes. Any knowledge as to how to get to the bottom of impact and outcomes let me know.