Sunday, November 22, 2009

What gets measured gets done

There's a fair amount of debate these days about the federal economic stimulus and what effect it is having on the recession. One of the most difficult questions to answer is, "What are we getting for the money?"

It's a question not easily answered. Some job-creation or job-preservation coming from Washington are immediately being dissected by opponents of the stimulus as inaccurate. As just about anyone on either side of the debate will tell you, this is an inexact science.

In the world of construction, for example, a widely quoted statistic originates with the Construction Industry Research Board and estimates that about 18,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion in public works construction. Another formula used by the federal government pegs the number much higher.

The key point is, however, that some sort of measurement is being attempted, no matter how imprecise. There's an old saying in management, "What gets measured gets done." Zeroing in on a metric to help gauge the effectiveness of an effort is an important yardstick to inform the debate and rally the troops. The formula used to arrive at the number may end up being refined and updated the more it is used, but it is important to strive for some sort of measurement. That keeps people focused on positive outcomes rather than bureaucratic outputs.

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