We live in an era obsessed with measurement. Just think about it. Virtually every news item has some form of metric in it about growth, loss, comparison, change, targets and so on and it doesn’t limit itself to any one subject area either. This is true of the economy, of education, of leisure, or sport and of virtually anything. In fact watching the odd bit of the World Cup at the moment it is almost impossible to escape measurement and comparisons and I feel so much the better for knowing that Brazil have not lost a home international since 1975 – or do I?
I am not alone in thinking this and I have many colleagues within sustainability learning and global learning who are very familiar with the notion of trying to ‘measure what we value rather than value what we measure’ but there is still that obsession with measuring! I found myself straying back into this mindfield yesterday evening when I ended up watching a Channel 4 documentary called ‘The World’s Best Diet’ which took a global look at 50 world diets ranking them from worst at 50 to best at 1. The list was compiled based on a number of fixed criteria in consultation with nutrition experts looking at issues such as fat, salts, alcohol and ailments including cancer, stroke, diabetes, heart attack etc. It was interesting (if light) viewing, but I found my mind back in the whole area of values and measuring. A number of points triggered this:
The measurements used in the programme were based explicitly on health factors. OK, but what about the impact of diet on the environment? Many of the ‘best’ diets has a large proportion of fish in them for example, but there was no mention of the regular concerns voiced in the environmental media around declining global fish stocks and empty seas. Another avenue not explored was that of diet and enjoyment? I am reminded of an inspiring talk by an Indian professor (whose name escapes me at the moment) some 5 years ago at The Battle of Ideas who talked about economic growth and the rising middle class in India. He told us that once Indian’s died from starvation and cholera but that now they aspired to die of diabetes, cancer or coronary heart disease! I could go on – in short I found myself thinking about how do we measure ‘best’ in relation to this programme or anything for that matter.
Values are central to this for me. What you measure (and how you present it) will depend on what you value? So here we are existing in a world of data overload where statistics bombard us and compete for our attention, and all of these are value laden and values led. Think about the debate on immigration that I am listening to right now on the radio in the background. The data on immigrants shifted from 1.8 to 2.2 million in one sentence. So which is it and why were both stated – what are they trying to do by using this data? What is their frame?
So how do we measure values?
The complexity of values and measurement is fresh in my mind right now also because of the impending duty on schools to actively promote ‘British Values’. This is apparently something that the inspectorate Ofsted will measure on their visits, but how do we even begin to measure values and what values lie behind this measurement anyway. This is an open book for me and I know there are many others trying to evidence the impact (or otherwise) of values-led work in schools. I look forward to these discussions and to the opportunity to try out new approaches, but I think central to all of this is to remember and reflect upon the values underpinning our desire to measure in the first place. Data is noise and schools and education are a noisy places these days. How do we cut through this and find the signal within the noise. That depends on what you value perhaps.