Posts Tagged ‘data’

Sustained improvement only follows from effective actions; which follow from well-informed decisions – not from blind guessing.  A well-informed decision imples good information – and good information is not just good data. Good information implies that good data is presented in a format that is both undistorted and meaningful to the recipient.  How we present data is, in my experience, one of the weakest links in the improvement process.  We rarely see data presented in a clear, undistorted, and informative way and commonly we see it presented in a way that obscures or distorts our perception of reality. We are presented with partial facts quoted without context – so we unconsciously fill in the gaps with our own assumptions and prejudices and in so doing distort our perception further.  And the more emotive the subject the more durable the memory that we create – which means it continues to distort our future perception even more.

The primary purpose of the news media is survival – by selling news – so the more emotive and memorable the news the better it sells.  Accuracy and completeness can render news less attractive: by generating the “that’s obvious, it is not news” response.  Catchy headlines sell news and to do that they need to generate a specific emotional reaction quickly – and that emotion is curiosity! Once alerted, they must hold the readers attention by quickly creating a sense of drama and suspense – like a good joke – by being just ambiguous enough to resonate with many different pepole – playing on their prejudices to build the emotional intensity.

The purpose of politicians is survival – to stay in power long enough to achieve their goals – so the less negative press they attract the better – but Politicians and the Press need each other because their purpose is the same – to survive by selling an idea to the masses – and to do that they must distort reality and create ambiguity.  This has the unfortunate side effect of also generating less-than-wise decisions.

So if our goal is to cut through the emotive fog and get to a good decision quickly so that we can act effectively we need just the right data presented in context and in an unambiguous format that we, the decision-maker, can interpret quickly. The most accessible format is as a picture that tells a story – the past, the present and the likely future – a future that is shaped by the actions that come from the decisions we make in the present that we make using information from the past.  The skill is to convert data into a story … and one simple and effective tool for doing that is a process behaviour chart.

This Sunday I was listening the Aled Jones on Radio 2 – as he was interviewing Mark Kermode of BBC.TV’s Culture Show. Mark posed a profound question:

When you visit the cinema, do you like to watch the kind of film that starts with a caption saying “This is a True Story” or maybe you prefer the kind with a caption saying “This is a story inspired by Actual Events”?

He suggested that it’s best to assume that the first kind is largely a fiction, whereas the latter is almost completely so. Personally, I don’t mind which ever kind it is, for sometimes I actually enjoy being fooled as long as it’s good harmless fun and it’s entertaining – AND as long as I don’t think someone is deliberately fooling me. But then I started wondering: How would I know if they were trying to fool me? Or more worryingly, whether I was fooling myself?

Since the 1850s there have been various “Realism” movements in the fields of cinema, art and literature – featuring the search for literal truth and pragmatism – a representation of objects, actions, or social conditions as they actually are without idealisation or presentation in abstract form – each of these movements was based upon a philosophy that universals exist independently of their having been thought up, and that physical objects exist independently of their being perceived. In this age of political and media “spin” maybe there’ll come a return to such a philosophy? In the mean time, as long as we are aware that the film we’ve chosen to watch is intended as fiction, and is billed as such, most of us won’t mind – indeed we might even view it as escapism – yet in many situations wouldn’t it be nice to feel that we are connected to a representation of events that’s more real, rather than just some one else’s imagined story?

When a patient in the healthcare system, I think I’d rather be treated by professionals who check and double check what they’re doing, and are working within a system that someone has designed to be fail safe – and is measured to be so. I’m hoping that the medics, nurses and administrators know the difference between what’s real and what is imagined. On this week’s Panorama (BBC March 8th 2010) it was suggested that some hospitals have much higher mortality than others, so this isn’t an insignificant hope. The three hospitals featured had all been flagged as having high mortality rates, yet had all been rated “Fair” or “Good” by the Care Quality Commission. This left me thinking that their may be more imagination around in the NHS than hard data.

The thing is, most everyone relies on data (via their 5 senses or their intuition) as if pure and unfiltered – under the assumption that this is all there is. But there’s always more to be known, and some of that missing knowledge may literally be the difference between life and death.

Numerical data in particular is actively avoided by many – even by professionals, be they the designers of the system or an individual who works within it. Many people left school determined to avoid numbers for the rest of their lives – when confronted by even the simplest statistic or numerical puzzle they will happily tell you “I don’t do numbers.” Since seeing the Panorama programme I’m now wondering how many people (clinicians, managers, inspectors) working within the health sector take such a view. Or maybe there’s a full-proof test that every prospective healthcare worker must pass before they’re allowed to practice? Can anyone reasure me about this?

A few weeks ago some very powerful yet delightfully accessible software was launched – called BaseLine©. It has been created so that people can have a kind of 3rd eye perception that mitigates the tendency to fictionalise – so that people can together assess what’s really happening. It’s designed to be a kind of dispassionate “fly on the wall” or a well-positioned “security camera” – and has been designed to be so easy to use that even the numerophobic will want to use it.

It’s actually free software, and even the full version costs under £50 – this is deliberate in order to maximize the possibility of it becoming a health sector standard. Having a standard tool will mean that people won’t have to debate the validity of the statistics, and can move directly to discussing the reality of what’s been happening, what’s happening now, and more importantly what’s likely to happen if nothing changes. Let’s see how long it takes clinicians and managers to discover its power?

www.saasoft.co.uk