Measuring what is right
Posted May 17, 2016on:
I was quite upset when I read this headline: NCSS mulls implementing productivity metric for social service sector.
The NCSS is the National Council of Social Services here in Singapore. They were a distant entity to me up until last month when I participated in a learning event organised by them.
I did not think one intervention from me would change a lifetime of established practice. However, I was hoping that I might have made a dent.
I do not think that productivity — how ever it is defined — is the right measure. In my opinion, productivity is measuring what is possible or convenient instead of what is right.
I agree with the voices of dissent (I have highlighted the key issues in bold).
International housing development non-governmental organisation (NGO) Habitat for Humanity, for instance, said it is difficult to assess the qualitative impact of its work and a one-size-fits-all metric may be unrealistic.
Mr Yong Teck Meng, the national director of Habitat for Humanity Singapore, commented: “We are not very sure about the effectiveness of such measurements, because in the NGO and charity world, things are quite intangible.
“And even if you try to measure some of the work that we do, we think that it will take many years for the actual results to come in. So if you were to give us a kind of measurement metric, I’m not very sure whether it will be customised enough to suit our needs.
I think that the agency is repeating a mistake that the schooling world has already made with an over-emphasis on examinations and grades. In the schooling arena, this is a numbers game that not only devalues and categorises people, it has also created an unhealthy culture of kiasu-ism and dependence on enrichment tuition.
There is nothing wrong with NCSS seeking accountability. But it needs to recognise that Volunteer and Welfare Organisations (VWOs) are not factories with inputs and outputs and processes in between.
The accountability cannot be just about productivity as defined by numbers or even by compelling stories. It could seek to define what is intangible, qualitative, and long term. It could avoid formulaic thinking and learn how to ask NGOs and VWOs how they measure their worth and results. Only then does it start on the journey to measure what is right.