Why We Need Metrics and Why Metrics Are Dangerous


All learning involves assessment. Unless a person, group, or organization can gauge how they are doing relative to an aim, no learning is possible. Such assessment often is aided by quantitative measurement, especially when many people and even many different organizations are involved.  But the goal is the learning, the improvement in outcomes achieved and building capacity for further improvement, not the measurement itself. Confusing ends and means leads to the naïve belief that metrics alone produce change, can lead to disappointing results from serious effort to improve metrics and can even make matters worse, such as when people spend time and resources improving metrics at the expense of confronting underlying problems and building healthier systems, or equally problematic, making important decisions based on sophisticated metrics but insufficient or inaccurate information.

By Jon Johnson, University of Arkansas and Sustainability Consortium
Hal Hamilton, Sustainable Food Lab
Peter Senge, MIT and SoL

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