Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bill Gates on Setting, Measuring and Achieving Goals

The following are excerpts from Bill Gates' 2013 annual letter that was published last week. His foundation focuses on improving education in the U.S and health, agriculture, and family planning in developing regions.
  • On the need for goals, measurement and communication:  “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” and “I think a lot of efforts fail because they don’t focus on the right measure or they don’t invest enough in doing it accurately” and “while measurement is critical to making progress in global health, it’s very hard to do well. You have to measure accurately, as well as create an environment where problems can be discussed openly so you can effectively evaluate what’s working and what’s not.”
  • On the efforts of James Grant, UNICEF Executive Director (1980-1995):  “Grant put a robust data-gathering system in place, he was able to drive change. He could see which countries were successful in increasing their vaccination coverage rates and used that data to help other countries to do the same” and “sadly, some of the gains didn’t last. Once the vaccination goal was reached, donor attention shifted elsewhere and coverage rates drifted down in many countries.”
  • On US education:  “I was amazed to learn a few years ago that over 90% of teachers get zero feedback on how to improve. A lot of the debate in education today really amounts to a circular discussion of how to implement tools to measure teacher effectiveness and whether such measurement is even possible. We know that if all teachers were anywhere near as good as the best, our education system would be fantastic. “
MY TAKE
  • As Gates applies his commercial sector approaches (admired by some and criticized by others) to the efforts on his foundation, he continues to learn from his experiences.
  • Regarding project success: Anyone that has managed a successful project or participated in a good investment understands the need for establishing clear goals, persistently focusing on objectives, measuring milestones and adapting to change.  
  • Regarding the efforts of Jim Grant: He was a trailblazer in the use of data to pursue positive project outcomes.  As Gates’ notes, continued success does not take place on its own, but requires continual support.
  • Regarding the U.S. education: The system is broad and diverse with many strengths and weaknesses.  Generally, a focus on improving student success will drive positive outcomes, while situations that contend with conflicting objectives remain significantly challenged.

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