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Author: Rich Torr

Is Our Air Getting Cleaner?

Here’s an example of a Decision Gallery based on public data from Clean Air Greater Manchester.

The existing data is organised around individual monitoring station locations. This makes it hard to see the big picture of whether air quality is really changing or not. The interpretation is also focused on the achievement of Air Quality Targets (less than 40μg/m3) rather than the big patterns of change.

Our series of 6 Insight Canvases explores the historical Diffusion Tube monitoring station data. It tells a richer story about how Air Quality is changing over time across the Greater Manchester Combined Authorities.

There are two broad questions:

  1. Is Air Quality getting better or worse?
  2. Where should interventions be focused to make it better?

You can download the Decision Gallery PDFs here

These are designed to be printed on A1-sized panels for a physical gallery but could also be adapted for online content.

With major Congestion Deal and Clean Air Plan initiatives launching in the region, a Decision Gallery is a way to reveal the evidence of whether change is working.

Many more data sources could  be explored by this Decision Gallery, including active monitoring NO2/PM stations, traffic flows & vehicle emissions, population proximity, and health service demands.

A Causal Canvas would also explore the claimed links between congestion, air quality and pollution-related deaths.

Attribution Anxiety

We learn by seeking causal explanations for things. If we can reliably attribute effects to causes we can learn how to get more positive effects and fewer negative ones.

But what if we’re not as good at causal attribution as we might hope? See more

Better MI. Mission: Impossible?

Is better Management Information Mission: Impossible?

To answer this question we really need to clarify the meaning of ‘Management’.

The word ‘Management’ could mean a role, a set of behaviours, a process, a service. Its efforts could act to control, to direct resources, people, time, materials, money. The concept of Management is broad with many contexts; Project, Risk, Pain, Waste, Demand, Team.

The one thing that all forms of management have in common though is the making of decisions. A decision is a choice to change something in the pursuit of a goal. That’s the real job of management of all kinds; to make decisions which make things better.

What people actually do all day long in organisations is make decisions. ‘Well Managed’ or ‘Poorly Managed’ things are the result states of those decisions. Organisations make a decision before they can manage anything to create value. But the process by which decisions are made is often hidden and so goes undervalued. There’s little feedback evidence about whether decisions were good or not, often through fear. Its rare too for organisations to focus on hiring for, or developing decision-making skills.

Yet the ability of individuals and teams to make good decisions might be the single factor which separates success from failure in just about any field. Look at Tetlock’s work with Super-forecasting, Gary Klein’s Recognition-Primed Decisions, Ray Dalio’s Principles for the Bridgewater hedge fund. Think about the human traditions of village elders, wise old sages, mentors, revered for their rich experiences and balanced worldviews.

Every decision involves a prediction about the future.

Every decision involves a prediction about the future. We can’t fully know the consequences of a choice until some time after it has been made. We spend our lives from birth learning to predict cause and effect; If I do this then that will happen. If I cry then I’ll get food. If I stop pedalling then I’ll fall off. We act on a causal claim that one choice is more likely to lead to a goal than another. We might expect that the older we are, the richer this causal model.

These claims encapsulate our personal degree of belief, a subjective probability about cause and effect. Some beliefs come with a comforting near-certainty, others with a terrifying uncertainty. Our degree of belief about how the world truly works is an invisible frame, a lens, one which guides or distorts our choices and their consequences. One person’s beliefs are shaped differently to another’s; sometimes deeply held, ideological and in violent conflict.

The freedom and agency of choice is the human condition. But a reliance on our beliefs, mistaking them for truths, can trip us up. Our mental models can depart alarmingly from reality. We may act impulsively, harming our own long term interests. We then go to extraordinary lengths to deny being wrong. Only recently has cognitive psychology and behavioural economics begun to enlighten (and embarrass) us about ourselves.

Information is the evidence which alters those beliefs. When consumed, it updates and shifts our degree of belief. Some information reduces uncertainty, error in our beliefs, bringing them closer to reality. Armed with less uncertainty, a more accurate belief, we should make better choices. Other information, or its interpretation, poisons and distorts our beliefs, pushing them away from reality. Sometimes we fool ourselves by only seeking information which supports our beliefs, in fear of having our claims or our very identities undermined.

For many, Management Information – MI for short – is a pack of reports produced by the Finance department. Or MI is reserved for leadership teams, separated from the daily work in both time and place. For others MI is synonymous with technologies; SQL, data warehouses, BI & reporting tools. Whatever the scope, MI only has value if it produces better decisions. There are many ways in which better MI can improve decisions, some surprisingly simple. Above all, the secret to creating valuable MI is knowing what those decisions are.

MI only has value if it produces better decisions. And the secret to creating valuable MI is knowing what those decisions are.

So for us, Management Information is fundamentally Decision Information. It is the feedback signal for changing the systems which make up our world. It continuously updates our beliefs, nudging them closer to reality so the decisions we make are better ones. It is both the evidence we need to make specific decisions and the evidence of whether they are working.

At Measureology we do Decision Information Design. Its mission is to help people to see the best information for making the best decisions.

Actually, it’s a bit more than a mission, it’s an obsession.

A Question of Claims

We are bombarded daily by claims about the world. Politics, health, activism, advertising on every media channel. Sometimes claims are dramatic and attention-grabbing. Some are deliberately adversarial and inflammatory. Others have serious research behind them. Which should we pay attention to?

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Causal Listening

Our chimp-brains may be wired for intuition and action but a causal model helps us listen to the language of change: variables.

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Leading & Lagging

The terms ‘leading’ & ‘lagging’ are often used in relation to performance indicators. Confusingly, indicators can be leading and lagging at the same time. How can that be?

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Seeing Dobble

Have you ever played Dobble? Its a brilliant game; infuriating at times but fun. It turns out we can learn a lot from Dobble about how to make faster decisions using charts. See more

Capability Clarity

The Capability Canvas is the Measureology way of visualising Capability Maturity Model (CMM) scores. CMMs might not be perfect, but the Capability Canvas helps to reveal priorities for finding valuable causal evidence. See more

When Charts Lie

Could something as simple as the charts we use affect the decisions we make? Yes, according to our Visual Signals survey research. See more