Measuring Behaviour Changes Behaviour

Measuring behaviour will provoke change in that behaviour. Something akin to the observer effect takes place: we adjust our behaviour to be "seen" by the measures. This can happen at the individual level, whereby we may avoid activities that are not easily counted in favour of those that we are confident will show up on a scorecard. For example, when quantitative measures are used to determine rewards and punishments, people modify their behaviour to accommodate the numbers. For example, a surgeon may engage in “creaming,” or avoiding riskier cases, to avoid being penalized, or work to ensure a patient live just long enough so that he or she doesn’t hurt the hospital’s mortality rate.

This can happen on a broader scale, too: organizations may prioritize short term measures over their longer-term mission. As well, measurement changes our relationship to our work, and likely the way we interact with others, especially within a hierarchy. As Muller argues, we should not trust any measures of human activity when the actors are aware of being measured. They will not reflect natural circumstances. As Goodhart's Law tells us, once a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be useful as a measure. We should therefore understand measures of human behaviour as inherently unreliable, especially in situations where people can react to being measured.


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