Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bill Gates 2013 Annual Letter – A Focus on Measurement….It’s the New Black

 I have always been an observer of Bill Gates.  He is a unique combination of nerdiness, smarts, innovation, commitment and effectiveness.  I think it is the blending of these traits that has made him so successful as a leader in business, technology and philanthropy.  He has brought something much more important than money to philanthropy he has brought his genius and discipline in knowing how to get things done right.

Getting a closer look at charts documenting rural health progress at the Germana Gale Health Post in Ethiopia. Over the past year I’ve been impressed with progress in using data and measurement to improve the human condition (Dalocha, Ethiopia, 2012).
In the last year Beth Kanter has been talking about the importance of measurement to the networked nonprofit.  Now Bill Gates opens his 2013 Annual letter talking about it with a quote from William Rosen’s  “The Most Powerful Idea in the World."  Bill writes: Without feedback from precise measurement, Rosen writes, invention is "doomed to be rare and erratic." With it, invention becomes "commonplace."……..But in the past year I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve amazing progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal-in a feedback loop similar to the one Rosen describes. This may seem pretty basic, but it is amazing to me how often it is not done and how hard it is to get right.  

In previous annual letters, I've focused a lot on the power of innovation to reduce hunger, poverty, and disease. But any innovation-whether it's a new vaccine or an improved seed-can't have an impact unless it reaches the people who will benefit from it. That's why in this year's letter I discuss how innovations in measurement are critical to finding new, effective ways to deliver these tools and services to the clinics, family farms, and classrooms that need them.”

Measurement is officially the new black and you will hear even more about it this year so it is time to get on board. In my 30 year career in the communications technology business, I learned the importance of measurement as a key element of our quality program.  I found that just by having a measurement posted, it motivated people to see it as important and do what they could to improve it.  And celebrating the contributions to the success of all and being able to measure that success adds fuel to the fire for future successes.  These are lessons that nonprofits are ready for.   

Now back to more of what Bill Gates has to say.  I particularly identify and agree with this,  “Given a goal, you decide on what key variable you need to change to achieve it-the same way a business picks objectives for inside the company like customer satisfaction-and develop a plan for change and a way of measuring the change. You use the measurement as feedback to make adjustments. I think a lot of efforts fail because they don't focus on the right measure or they don't invest enough in doing it accurately.”  Bill Gates goes on to use the example of how UNICEF set of a goal of reaching 80% of the world’s children with lifesaving immunizations and how they used measurements to identify progress and setbacks and make adjustments.  Too often nonprofits think that measurement is just about reporting successes to foundations.  Measurement needs to be about how you can determine what is working, what is not and what adjustments you need to make.  Foundations need to learn this lesson too.

Eradication of polio remains a top goal for Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation. Bill always talks about this goal passionately.  The number of polio cases globally has dropped from 350,000 in 1988 to less than 500 last year and on of the last bastions, India, has been polio free since 2011.  The goal remains to be zero – total eradication and the steps being taken are truly impressive.  Bill identifies Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan as the three places where polio persists.  In Nigeria they invested n an independent detailed quality assessment and learned this.  The hand drawn local maps that were prepared were inaccurate for distances and did not include all village settlements so field polio vaccination workers were missing whole settlements and did not get to all the settlements they were assigned.  They are now using satellite maps to locate all settlements and equipping field workers with GPS which records the locations they visited.  They have incorporated measuring results, quality assessments and technology enabled actions along with on the ground vaccinating one child at a time techniques.  I’m impressed.  Bill goes on to acknowledge as heroes the nine polio vaccinators who were killed in Pakistan and notes that Pakistan and Afghanistan present difficult obstacles for this goal.

Bill also talks about the Millennium Development goals and the progress made towards them.  He is proud of the Gates Foundation commitment and contribution to them and concerned that new goals being developed for 2015 and beyond may not have the same universal support.  His letter is a call to caution here and I do agree with him that for these goals to continue to have universal commitment, they need to not be controversial.

                            Millennium Development Goals

Bill always includes a section on the Gates Foundation involvement in the United States and this year he discusses Measures of Effective Teaching, or MET a program funded since 2009.  They worked with 3,000 classroom teachers to better understand how to build an evaluation and feedback system to help teachers improve.  They have just announced the final results of the MET project and the report concluded that there were observable, repeatable, and verifiable ways of measuring teacher effectiveness.  MET highlighted several measures that schools should use to assess teacher performance including student surveys and reports from trained evaluators who observe teachers at work.  He reports on the results and teacher acceptance of the program versus the test results only measurements so frequently touted.

I strongly suggest that you read the whole annual letter. Bill does an excellent job of blending objective analysis with personal storytelling and it is a great read.  You can download it here:

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