“We cannot manage what we cannot measure”. This is a statement we know to be true; yet are not able to do much about. This is true whether you are in government, a large firm, a small firm or even in your own family setup. How many times have you had a good idea, only to find that there is no data to support it? I’m not wondering why plans from the national and local governments or large firms to its smallest units are considered beautifully crafted, yet always lack in execution and evaluation. I trace this condition to weak data source.
Consider the current macroeconomic figures – the recent GDP results show that in the last 8 quarters, the economy has actually been growing by about 6% per quarter. However, during the same period, unemployment figures hardly changed. This gap challenges the foundations of the growth itself. What could be causing it? We don’t know.
With such a huge task ahead for our country, how can we respond properly to this?
The same challenge is faced by many companies, both large and small. Many want to find the current trends and situations to improve their business conditions. However, most will be limited by dated and incomplete data for industries, consumer patterns and even income levels at lower than regional aggregations. Without area-specific data, businesses in the country are planning at relatively higher risks than their counterparts in the ASEAN region.
Bring this situation down to the family level, how many families actually know their spending patterns? Their income potential? I firmly believe that most families are just as clueless as we are about the unemployment problems.
Are we really not able to do anything about this though?
The reality is that we have a lot of data that are unorganized and poorly collected. There are a lot of individuals who, through their own efforts, gather data through simple surveys. These can be about certain products, the efficacies of drugs, popularity of politicians etc. Yet we could not find a way to link them all. This big task now belongs to the newly organized Philippine Statistical Authority.
On our end, I believe that at the household level, we should start monitoring the inflow and outflow of resources and determine our family resource pattern. For those of us who are able to do this, we should share the results with others. It is important to start a data-generating generation in this country. People who use data for daily matters will start to demand data that is useful for future measurements. It will naturally flow that when smaller units such as families, small businesses and local governments etc. start collecting and organizing data, we will actually have the information – a treasure to help us steer families, businesses and governments into right objective-based planning and implementation.
Finally, organized and available data will also help answer the perennial challenge of making plans work in this country.
Beyond the passage of the Freedom of Information Act, what is needed is to create demand for data from the lowest unit to the bigger units. Demanding is the signal that we are serious to manage what we can measure.
Dr. Alvin Ang is an Economist and Responsible Personal Finance Advocate
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