Statistics don’t tell the whole story


Statistics  may never lie, though everyone knows they can be economical with the truth. Everyone being managers and members. LA leaders and chief executives struggle to persuade the local media and a sceptical public that the authority should not be judged solely on it league position. 

 Using a football analogy helps explain how things may not be as simple as the league table would indicate. Take Manchester‘s performance  the league table shows them second only to Liverpool. Examining the statistics behind City’s performance and we find they have scored more goals than anyone and conceded fewer than everyone except Liverpool. But this does not mean they have a very good defence and a very strong attack. If you analyse their performance you find they have a midfield that is so dominant the defence is rarely tested and the free scoring forwards turn out to offer a very poor return on the scoring opportunities created for them. In other words this is not the clinical forward line or solid defence their stats would suggest. 

Translate this into LA key performance indicators (KPI’s) the sectors equivalent of goals scored and goals conceded. 

Simple KPI’s can lead to an organisation being rated as,”good” when anecdotal evidence from service users and staff does not support this. For example the number of older people admitted to Care Homes and the number of older people supported at home. Fewer people admitted to Homes and more supported in their home than the national average would help place a LA up the league. But if the reason for fewer admissions was the lack of appropriate beds for people with dementia leading to more people supported at home but with a support service spread too thin to be able to provide adequate help then anecdotal evidence would contradict the ,” good “ rating. 

In other words a LA’s might not be doing as well as it’s league table position would indicate conversely a LA may be doing better than it’s KPI’s indicate. Which of course is why they are call indicators. They indicate where further analysis is needed to get a fuller more revealing understanding of what’s going on.   

It would be understandable if this led councillors to put more weight on the anecdotal evidence they hear in the course of meeting service users and staff. But anecdotal evidence is by its nature a very personal snap shot and not necessarily an accurate reflection of the wider picture. The challenge for officers and members is to ask questions to get the fullest most accurate picture. This is the role of the scrutiny committee but to return to the footballing analogy all too often it is seen as a forum in which officers defend whilst members attack. If however it’s used to improve the game plan it will lead to a better second half performance. 

Blair McPherson former Director, author and blogger 

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