Friday, October 30, 2015

The costs of accountability

Not much time to post this week, so I thought I’d link to Jerry Muller’s great survey of how “the virtues of accountability metrics have been oversold and their costs are underappreciated.” A few quick excerpts:

The characteristic feature of the culture of accountability is the aspiration to replace judgment with standardized measurement. Judgment is understood as personal, subjective, and self-interested; metrics are supposed to provide information that is hard and objective.

. . .

But, in many cases, the extension of standardized measurement may suffer diminished utility and even become counterproductive if sensible pragmatism gives way to metric madness. Measurement can readily become counterproductive when it tries to measure the unmeasurable and quantify the unquantifiable, whether to determine rewards or for other purposes.

. . .

Accountability by metrics imposes a simplification not only of goals but of knowledge. In [James C.] Scott’s insightful formulation, metrics and performance indicators, like many forms of cost-benefit analysis, “manage, through heroic assumptions and an implausible metric for comparing incommensurate variables, to produce a quantitative answer to thorny questions. They achieve impartiality, precision, and replicability at the cost of accuracy.”

. . .

Many matters of great importance are too subject to judgment and interpretation to be solved by standardized metrics. In recent decades, too many politicians, business leaders, policymakers, and academic officials have lost sight of that distinction.

A lot to recognize in this article. On this topic, more to come.


Amy Charles said...

Chris, I've been thinking more on the punt-to-cops policy, and reading the news, including news of an attack on police outside my old high school -- bunch of kids took down some cops. I think you guys are unwittingly escalating the tensions, and that you're going to wind up with dead kids out of this, sooner or later.

Because here's what I see happening. Kid who's trouble gets warned off, told that if he steps out of line the cops will show. So what does this tightly-wrapped, cornered-feeling kid do? Now he feels threatened, and now he starts bringing a gun to school. Because he's a kid and an idiot and he's damned if he's going down without a fight. And he doesn't have a lot of friends so he doesn't have people to show the gun off to anyway. And now he's just waiting for an excuse. And at this point, if cops are actually there at the time, you cannot count on the cops to have sense about this. We've already had evidence of that in the community -- cops feeling it necessary to bust into a college house party and threaten kids holding Solo cups with order-screaming and pistol-waving. Slamming a 16-year-old boy to the floor of the rec center and getting the knee right into that back. Bullying and shouting at people at the bus interchange. Nor do you know how many stupid "I'm standing by to be a hero" kids are bringing weapons to school.

I think that instead of punting to cops so readily, you guys had better take a serious and very open look at how de-escalation works. And I would go so far as to invite that Richmond, CA police chief out here, the one who's managed to retain sanity and build good relations with the community. Our police actually used to do that sort of thing. I saw it with my own eyes. I think they need some help in remembering, and that district staff need to be in on this training.

Eliot said...

Is there a link?

Chris said...

Oops --- link added!