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Assessments: Dealing with information overload

I was thinking the other day about how much of our lives really revolve around assessments. Almost from your first days in schools, you’re being assessed. I have a daughter that is in kindergarten and one of the first in depth meetings that I had with her teacher was about an assessment of her. We covered how she was performing in comparison to other kids within the school, the state, and the nation. The idea behind this assessment was to provide us a feedback mechanism to help us understand where she is and where she wants to go. These assessments continue essentially throughout the rest of your school years.

Once you leave there you get into the work world where your assessments continue whether that be annually, quarterly or whatever their basis is. If you really think about your life, you are surrounded by assessments, for example, checklists. Checklists are essentially reminders of what you need/want to do but if you measure them, they are an assessment of what you have done. These assessments are everywhere in your life. It’s especially seen in governments lately. Legislation has come down that tries to understand and manage better our government resources. In order to understand that we have to use assessments to see how they are being used now and then analyze them to see how they could be used better.

There are some things that you don’t necessarily see as assessments but they are embedded in there if you look close enough. PortfolioStat is something that was intended to assess an organization’s large investments. You can use it to ensure that if they were going poorly that either corrective action was taken or there was the opportunity to cut them off before they bled into everything else. Now something that I hear a lot of in both the public and private sector is a need for some sort of form strategy. We’ve got all these forms that we use to assess things by but they aren’t being utilized to the best of their abilities. It’s important to remember that the forms themselves aren’t the purpose. They are simply collections of information. The purpose in many cases of those forms is to assess something. It’s to understand a particular thing, whether it’s an application for a permit you’re trying to get or maybe it’s a person’s application for a job that’s assessing them in the context of what the requirements are. All of those things are talked about as forms but really, they’re assessments.

Now the reason I’m bringing this up is to get back to the idea about what information should I be managing? You have to realize there’s a cost to everything. I think that when you look at it in terms of assessments rather than forms, it makes you think about why do I need this information rather than focusing on automating the information that you currently have. It’s a really important distinction because automating it may reduce the cost to gather it but it won’t reduce it as much as not gathering it if you don’t need it. It still takes time. Even the most automated system out there won’t help you because if you don’t need that information for something, than don’t gather and it don’t assess it. You don’t need to further clutter your informational picture.

I think so many of us function in a daily information overload state. There’s so much that comes at us. It can get really hard to discern what are the important things. Anyway I think that if you start to think about the why behind the information that you’re trying to gather, you’ll do a much better job of choosing the things that you spend time from an informational standpoint gathering, managing, and performing analysis on. You’ll also reduce cost by a function of that. So I think assessments are something that need more of a conceptual approach to information gathering than anything else. You start to think about them as “I’m getting this information for this specific reason,” rather than “This is the body of information I need to collect because I’ve always collected it,” I think you’ll be more cost efficient and more useful. I’m curious what other people think.

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