Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Data managers and proxy data

I've been thinking about measurement lately (see also here for a slightly different view). So I read this post in the HBR Blog Network with some interest. In it, two consultants recommend that corporations need a Chief Data Officer - and I think it's a concept that has an analogy in the not-for-profit world as well. The CDO's purpose, say the authors, Anthony Goldbloom and Merav Block, is "oversight and evangelism at the highest levels of management." Specifically, the person:
  • Figures out how data can be used to support the organization's most important priorities - it's easy, after you've gone to the trouble of setting up outcome measures and other data management systems, to think that the functions can now be handed off to mid-level staff. But there's always something pressing that new or different data might help resolve.
  • Keep checking to make sure the organization is collecting the right data - what was once an outcome may now be an output, or you may have obtained funding to do further followup. Having a senior manager responsible for thinking about what is collected allows organizations to collect the data they need. It also allows you the possibility of experimenting with different service models because you can compare data. 
  • Ensuring the organization is able to collect the needed data - a top level view combined with the clout of a senior manager means that the organization will probably make better decisions about allocating limited resources for developing or enhancing data systems.
Update: Just after I posted this I came across an article that nicely illustrates the second point. There is a great deal of uncertainty whether hurricanes are increasing in number along with global warming - not all hurricanes strike land, and while we have good records from the 1970s forward (when we started using satellites to track hurricanes) that's not enough time to tell whether we are seeing natural fluctuations are a change.

Now a scientist at the University of Copenhagen, Alex Grinsted has published a report looking not at hurricanes but at storm surges, which have been measured reliably by tide gauges since the 1920s. It's a nice use of a different type of data that helps you find the information you are looking for. Grinsted's conclusion?
“Using surges as an indicator  . . . we see an increase in all magnitudes of storms when ocean temperatures are warmer.” As ocean temperatures have risen inexorably higher in the general warming of the planet due to human greenhouse-gas emissions, the scientists concluded, hurricane numbers have moved upward as well. The implication: they’ll keep increasing along with global temperatures unless emissions are cut significantly.

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