Someone sent me this TED talk about happiness this week…..and it got me thinking a little bit about my job.

One way to describe the Nuru Research Team’s purpose is that we are supposed to ensure that Nuru is doing the right things. We are supposed to ensure that the work that is happening on the ground is cutting edge and innovative, and that the community is experiencing a positive trend away from the state of its existence upon our arrival. 

This positive trend and the state of existence upon our arrival are difficult to define. When we started the work that the research team is doing, we began using a numbers-based (since my time on this job, I’ve become opposed to making a distinction between qualitative and quantitative assessments…what is the difference, really? Aren’t there aspects of both in all assessments? Maybe this is a topic for another post…) system to measure the poverty level of the community in Kenya where we are working. Our foundation team members gathered data to establish the baseline values for the metrics we were tracking, and then last December we brought in third party evaluators to find out how far along the track out of extreme poverty we established the community has moved.

So, with numbers and with metrics and with a list of aspects of our five target areas, we tried to define extreme poverty. We also tried to define a way to measure progress out of it. The problem is, though, that we did this a little piecemeal, target area by target area. Also, just the nature of the beast: we discovered some problems with our system when we put it to use in the evaluation.

For these reasons, we’re now doing what Nuru does a lot of: we are iterating. We’re taking a step back from the system and developing a new one that is more coherent and cohesive than system number one.

Part of what we must decide in the development of this new system, is this: what is the state of existence, out of which we are trying to facilitate the movement of the community?

Are we trying to make it so that people have more freedom? Our Research Officer, David Carreon, is leaning that way as he works on a paper for us that will be out at the end of the month. He is writing about “liberty poverty” in the paper.

Are we trying to improve the well-being of the people in the community? Here’s some thinking about the difficulty or perhaps impossibility of measuring such a thing by my favorite non-Nuru blogger, Duncan Green

Or are we trying to make it so that people are happy in Kuria? This one is perhaps the most difficult way to define what we are trying to do. The TED talk I linked to above is by Daniel Kahneman, who is the inventor of behavioral economics. In it, you’ll get a little taste of the difficulty of even defining happiness, much less measuring it. Is happiness jumping out of an airplane or is it remembering that you once jumped out of an airplane? Check out the talk to give it some thought.

By this fall, we’ll have our new and improved M&E system and between now and then, we’ll make some big decisions about what the path we are on actually is for the people of Kuria.