An Intrinsic Desire to Improve

Reflections and learning
12th July 2013

An intrinsic desire to improve

I’m getting ready to do the BUPA 10k run on Sunday (14th July) around Holyrood in Edinburgh. This will be the second of four 10ks that I will be doing over the summer.  The first was part of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival in May and the third will be the ‘Mind your Head’ Charity run in Shetland in August (in support of mental health services).   A route around Loch Ness will complete the 10k quartet in September.  So a summer of personal challenge lies ahead.  

There’s something special about running though that makes you want to continually improve.  It’s not about being in competition with others; it’s more about challenging yourself to do better.  In order to improve you need to measure your performance and I have an app on my iPhone for this.  Monitoring my own stats has got me thinking about the rancour that measuring performance has been generating in the NHS in recent months.

I appreciate that the complaints are a result of the concerns about targets creating tunnel vision but the danger is that we go too far in the opposite direction and lose our way.    Measurement has such a central role to play and we rely on data in many aspects of our lives.  Try managing your personal bank account without data and very soon you’ll be all at sea!

So how do we keep some balance in the measurement debate going forward?  Admittedly, there are diverse views to contend with such as the belief that measurement squeezes out humanity and innovation versus anything less than empirical data is, well…., pink and fluffy (as a medical colleague once informed me).

Personally I like the clarity that you get with goals and milestones as they create expectations and a degree of comfort in uncertain situations.  However I also believe, like Jaworski, that relationship is the organising principle of the universe.  You need to cultivate curiosity, solution-focused thinking and generative conversations to draw people towards the light.  So measurement should only be one element of a change plan.

Experience tells me that it’s not just about how you measure improvement but also about how the data is presented to those who need to use it.  The values and aspirations that bring people into the caring professions mean that compassion and hard data are not necessarily natural bedfellows.  As a set of skills they have to be blended, developed and nurtured. 

There is real value in measurement for improvement – it provides the grit in the oyster.   However, it has to be meaningful and engaging.  Data has to be presented with the characteristics and preferences of the user in mind.  Most importantly, it has to tap into an intrinsic desire to improve.


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