Monday, 27 April 2015

Numbers are good, targets are bad

I received this reply to the previous post from a Maths student, and I thought that it was worth sharing

 "Something that is important to input here is that currently, the numbers approach isn't working. But much of the operational research (mathematicians who aim to make the world more efficient) cannot give optimal (or most robust) solutions to the end user because politicians come in and tell them that they have to input 5000 new nurses etc so they have something concrete to give to the constituents. I would like an approach that embraces the power of numbers, statistical models, predictive and prescriptive approaches but also has an element of the qualitative about it also.

 There should not be targets to be hit numbers, but using the numbers to better understand where things go wrong in conjunction with the doctors and nurses. Giving patient outcomes as a measure of performance, not numbers in and out. I think using numerical approaches but also perhaps learning a thing or two from customer service specialists would do well. And I mean to say this not in to get the suits in, but working how to perform at your best as a team, talking to people who may have good suggestions."

I think that the point is that numbers help us to understand how the world is, and that targets to make greater numbers do not change the world. Using numbers to make informed decisions will. Numbers and statistics are not the bad guys, it is the fairground "High Striker" approach that is.

Photograph by By Hedwig Storch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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