An aboriginal artwork depicting the Bush Plum using multiple little purple, gold and white brush strokes
Image: Bush Plum by Polly Ngale

The other day, I came across this interesting thought experiment: what if, instead of using ‘economic growth’ as our measure of progress, we measured the number of girls who ride a bike to school?

“If more and more girls ride a bike to school, it means it’s safer and safer to cycle in traffic.

If more and more girls ride bikes to school, it means that bikes are increasingly accepted as a means of transport [...]

If more and more girls cycle to school, it means that more and more girls are actually going to school…”

You get the idea...*

The many risks of using only economic growth as a proxy measure for progress are already well understood - a rapidly warming world being the clearest negative outcome. GDP is still widely used as if it’s the only way to know if a country is doing well, even though we know that, to transition to a world that sustains us, we need to rapidly come up with new ways of measuring and evaluating progress.    

Of course, any one measure of change is dangerous, but I like the ‘girls on bikes’ thought experiment because it shifts our mindset from “what do we usually measure and evaluate?” to “what might we measure and evaluate, and what might that tell us?” 

Measurement and evaluation have been on my mind lately for several reasons. Yesterday, I spoke on a panel about digital disruption at the Australian Evaluation Society conference. Due to the magic of the internet, I wrote this piece before I spoke on the panel, so actually I have no idea how the discussion went; perhaps someone that was there can let me know?

Apart from being at the conference, evaluation has been on my mind because we’re having an ongoing discussion at Paper Giant about the best way to measure the impact of design, as well as how to effectively baseline and measure design capability.  

At Paper Giant we are frequently trying to help organisations make better decisions – and by ‘better’, we mean decisions that lead to greater justice, equality and sustainability. One thing that helps with decision making: knowing the impact of your decisions! 

In this issue we have examples of the power of listening and reporting personal stories, and the importance of paying careful attention to personal interactions rather than just metrics that can be easily captured in digital interactions.

What do you measure and why? Is it telling you what you think it’s telling you?

— Reuben Stanton & the PG Team

*Thanks Jussi for introducing me to this idea.

Read the rest of Issue #42 here.