When I saw a blog about both my favorite TV show of all time, The Wire, and performance measurement in nonprofits, I knew this post was onto something. Well, maybe it’s a stretch but one can find nuggets of truth in many places. Basically the post talks about how data can be manipulated and used dishonestly (of which there are many examples in the show). It can morph into an end in itself rather than the means to the end of solving social problems. On the other hand, measuring results can be used for good and with integrity. As an example of the latter, the blogger talks about a character on the show, Bubbles, who went through Narcotics Anonymous, where each day of sobriety was the key indicator of improvement.
It would be great if more nonprofits adopted this approach: “When individuals and their institutions track progress on such indicators with a spirit of humility and willingness to reflect and learn, to change course or stay the course as necessary, they can do better. Like Bubbles, individuals and institutions should measure their performance first and foremost to improve—learning and getting better one day at a time.” And I would add, with transparency.
Sadly, as those of you have seen the series, the story does not end on an upbeat note. But such is the world of difficult social problems; there are no easy answers.
Here’s the link to the blog post: