At a recent meeting on social impact investing, a Wealth Management Advisor shared the theory of change driving Social Impact Ventures in the wake of the Wall Street crash.
Perhaps it is best explained first as a theory of stagnation. There was a powerful force against change that created unwieldy institutions and a mentality of impersonal conformity in big banks and the whole financial sector. It was the measurement system. The chase of indicators, and the financial incentives attached to them. Nothing mattered except what would be measured and would bring the rewards.
Let’s face it, single indicator tracking is an easy fix: It’s prescriptive; it’s easy to explain; it ensures consistency; it focuses performance on the achievement of important outcomes; plus the old chestnut “this is how we’ve always done it”. The problem? It dismisses complex and more nuanced, intangible outcomes in the pursuit of a single, easily measurable result.
The Wealth Management Advisor proposed making a U-turn from bottom-line ROI, to the concept of “Investing in Humanity”.
One thing we know from education: what gets measured gets focused on. When we measure test scores as the One True Indicator of academic achievement, the focus is absolutely on teaching to the test. Teachers are forced to pay attention to test scores in a way that ignores who the leaners are as individuals. In other words: it ignores what makes them human.
We recognized the significance of the market crash because it was sudden and dramatic, and we all felt it in our pockets and belief systems. The status quo came crashing down and forced us to examine the pieces of a broken system. The education system has not seen a catastrophic collapse, but rather a slow decline into deeper dysfunction. When learners move on to college and careers, they find themselves in a world for which they’re hopelessly unprepared. At this stage there’s no opportunity to start again; no bailout for an investment gone wrong. Technology and other surface solutions keep the machine rolling, but how long do we have until the cogs can no longer support the machine? How long until we realize the system has in fact come crashing down (in slow motion over many years), to leave us wondering not what went wrong, but how we possibly let it get so bad in the first place?
Blind reliance on single, convenient measures has failed us before and it will fail us again, over and over until we stop focusing only on what is easy to measure and instead measure what is truly important. Unlike financial return, human return is far greater than a single, easily measured end. It encompasses not only that which makes us who we are, but also the very force that enables the change and non-standardization required for humanity’s ongoing viability and success.
In Part 2, we’ll discuss the power and potential of the huge shift in the learning and assessment landscape, from standardization to personalization.