Data truth and truthiness

Edward Broughton

Director, Research and Evaluation, USAID ASSIST Project/URC

It is to Edward Deming we attribute the quote, “In God we trust; all others bring data.” Let’s leave aside for the moment my question of why God gets a free pass on the data requirement and speak to the all others bringing data part.

Implementing changes to bring about better quality health and human services essentially relies on data. Data are the blood cells in the body of the improvement method. In the USAID ASSIST Project, we collect vast amounts of it, and given that the circumstances in which we work are often low on resources and high on competing priorities, much of the collection happens in less-than-ideal circumstances.

So how do we trust all these data produced in the project? I could quote Ronald Reagan with “Trust but verify” but as with many Reaganisms, I think he got it backwards and that we should verify then trust.

Two new ASSIST reports on the validity of data from Malawi and Tanzania are examples of the way in which the project is verifying the truth in the data we collect, to lead us in the right direction when making system changes. Think of them as blood tests to check the health of our improvement work.  It is part of our commitment to use the best available evidence to improve service quality and to make sure we are never accepting of truthiness* that may lead us astray.

* Truthiness: The quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.

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