Setting a clear goal and finding a way to measure progress toward that goal are critical to improving the human condition, Bill Gates writes in his fifth annual foundation letter with his wife, Melinda.
“Innovations in measurement are critical to finding new, effective ways to deliver these tools and services to the clinics, family farms and classrooms that need them,” Gates writes.
In the face of constrained budgets around the world, he says, governments are demanding effectiveness in the programs they pay for. “To address these demands, we need better measurement tools to determine which approaches work and which do not.”
Gates illustrates how measurement made a difference during the past year with three examples.
In Colorado, the Eagle County (where Vail is located) school district pioneered a new system to measure and promote teacher effectiveness.
Ethiopia, a poor country, pursued goals set by the United Nations, delivering better health services to the populace.
And in Nigeria, cell phones, satellites and cheap sensors enable data to be gathered and organized faster and more accurately in the campaign to eradicate polio.
“The process I have described—setting clear goals, picking the right approach, and then measuring results to get feedback and refine the approach continually—helps us to deliver tools and services to everybody who will benefit,” Gates writes. “This innovation to reduce the delivery bottleneck is critical.”
Gates concedes that any innovation—whether it’s a new vaccine or an improved seed—can’t have an impact unless it reaches the people who will benefit from it.
The letter contains Melinda Gates’s description of the difficulties in developing a baseline for contraceptive use by women in 2012 in a project with partners in developing countries to provide family planning services.
Looking ahead for the next 15 years, Bill Gates worries about the possibility that sufficient funds needed to pay for health and development projects will not be able to be raised.
“Aid is critical,” he writes. “It helps meet the basic needs of people in the poorest countries. It funds innovation—in the creation of new tools and services and in their delivery. Unfortunately, aid generosity is threatened by big deficits in almost all of the rich countries. Unless voters hear about the positive impact their generosity is having, they’ll inevitably focus on issues closer to home.”
Gates is also concerned about whether the world will align around a clear set of goals, such as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which are set to expire in 2015.
The success of the original goals suggests considerable interest in expanding them to include a broader set of issues, he says. “But many of the potential new goals don’t have unanimous support, and adding many new goals, or goals that are not easily measurable, may sap momentum.”
Read the letter from Bill Gates.
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