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Measurement for Learning: A Different Approach to Improvement

john Burgoyne writes on the Centre for Public Impact website. Read the full article here.

We propose a way of thinking that acknowledges that:

  • Collecting data through measurement is useful, as it allows us to better understand problems we face and our progress
  • The problems we face are complex in nature, however, so holding people accountable to metrics beyond their control is not helpful
  • Measurement should not be used for top-down control, but rather to learn about complex problems and the people experiencing them, so we can adapt and improve our approach

We argue that because the world is in fact complex, we need better measurement to better understand it, to navigate it, and to develop new forms of accountability that move beyond top-down reporting of metrics. Importantly, if the purpose behind why you are measuring is to control – as it can be in many public services – rather than to learn, then it will have adverse effects.


In order to enable workers’ practice to improve, our definition of measurement must be broadened beyond “narrow quantitative measures”. A cross-sectoral collaborative in the UK, including Collaborate, Dr Toby Lowe, and CPI, have developed a helpful approach to think about how to broaden this lens: Human Learning Systems, an alternative approach to public management centred on learning in complexity. Human Learning Systems calls for practices such as “experimentation, gathering data, sense-making, and reflective practice” to be included in how we think about measurement. Given the complexity of the environments government operates in, learning can no longer be viewed as “a luxury”, but instead as a core purpose for how public services improve.

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