If a Decision Tree Falls in the Woods
Hello! Yesterday the three of our four GSPP (Goldman School of Public Policy) students who are here in the States presented the results of their semester long poverty-indicator projects. The presentations were quite fascinating for many reasons, one among them being the varying ways that each of the students approached the problem before them. Stephanie, our Senior Research Officer, has written about these students here on this blog. I agree with her, the diversity of approaches is fascinating!
Now, though, Stephanie has a real challenge. Based on projects done four very different ways, our own research about what other organizations in this field do to measure poverty, a couple of standardized systems such as MPAT (also discussed in her previous post) and IRIS, experience and logic, we must create or decide upon the best possible holistic and coherent system to measure poverty according to our five target areas.
It’s possible that we might decide that the way one of our four students did his work is the best way, so therefore we need to duplicate the project he did for the remaining target areas! Or we might decide that one of the standardized tools that exist is the best answer, and using the knowledge we’ve gained from the students’ work, we can tailor the standard tool for our needs. Or we might decide upon something different altogether.
This moment in our history brings me back to my first days with Nuru almost a year and a half ago. It was my first foray into the non-profit world, having been a Marine officer and a management consultant in previous professional lives. I was very excited with the idea of applying what I knew from trying to make businesses efficient to an organization with the mission of ending extreme poverty.
As a faithful capitalist, I was intrigued by the sad truth that non-profits aren’t blessed with the same simple equation-based measures of effectiveness that for-profits have: more profit = good job/less profit = bad job.
We wanted to try to create a standardized tool that measures poverty for communities as simply as a financial statement measures profits for a company. So that we, and all the other organizations out there trying to end poverty can communicate simply to stakeholders: more poverty = bad job/less poverty = good job!
The work these students have done brings us much closer to the development of this tool. Part of the process they and we have engaged in, though, is a look around the industry, and we have discovered other attempts at developing this standardized tool, which is exciting. It remains though, that most organizations measure their impact their own way.
Thus, my question: if a glance around the industry does not show any single tool being used by more than one organization, does it mean there isn’t a standard?
Speaking of standards, Nicole has asked us to do a very interesting Research Project. When we go into new countries and communities, our program managers sure have a lot to worry about. They have countless questions to ask, hours of listening to do, millions of potential solutions to sift through, and billions of decisions to make. To that end, Claire and Veronica, a couple of our volunteers, are researching ways in which other organizations that do Water and Sanitation interventions make decisions when they arrive at new communities. They are looking for Decision Trees! Again, my consulting memories come flooding back to mind. This Needs Assessment process is something all organizations like Nuru engage in in some manner when they arrive at new communities. We are sure some other organizations have developed great tools to this end, and we want to know about them! Again, is there a standard? Would we know if there were?