Rad Resource: This week, I am reading Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. It is a paean to monitoring if not evaluation. Gawande weaves a tale of how checklists improve processes, from building skyscrapers to preventing infections in hospitals. He tells a compelling story, of lives saved and tragedy averted, and he backs up his reflections with data, data, data.
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Lesson Learned: Gawande draws on the work of Zimmerman and Glouberman’s proposition that there are three types of problems in the world: Simple, complicated, and complex. Simple problems basically can be learned by rote by a single person. Complicated ones often take multiple people and must be broken down into multiple related, coordinated, simple tasks to be performed. Solutions to complex problems can’t fully be learned – the context and factors are ever-changing and variable. His example of raising a child is a telling one of complexity – the lessons from your first do not fully prepare you for the second, but they do make your more prepared than you were when Child One arrived.
Lesson Learned: To my surprise, Gawande makes a very compelling argument that checklists have a place even (and perhaps especially) among the most complex of problems. They provide a means for harnessing variability, lending structure and guidance amid what may be chaos, and controlling risk if not eliminating it. He explains the ways in which checklists can be empowering – providing line workers with the information needed to make decisions and the leeway to act rather than be stymied by a bureaucracy awaiting permissions from superiors. The most ‘a-ha’ moment I had while reading was Gawande’s indication of how checklists might detail not specifically what to do but rather, when the unexpected strikes, with whom to collaborate, connect, and communicate in order to leverage the collective knowledge of a group to respond and resolve.
I’m off to revise AEA’s emergency response plan. And I highly recommend The Checklist Manfesto. It has changed the way I look at complexity. While admittedly leveraging for better or worse my love for logistics, I believe it has something to say to anyone leveraging data in the service of improving complex systems.
The above opinions are my own and not necessarily that of AEA. This contribution is from the aea365 Tip-a-Day Alerts, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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