How to Measure a Human

A good set of data is exciting to some people. They love it. Their life is a spreadsheet. They are the type of people that will say, ‘I’ve got a spreadsheet for that’.

I have said that.

I am one of those people.

I love the way that information and data points can give you an understanding of so many parts of our world and, if you can measure something you can improve it. But most of all because numbers tell a story.

But numbers never tell the whole story. How can we measure how good someone’s life is going to be by using numbers? Well, the United Nations is giving it a go. They have released the Human Capital Index. This little number measures a bucket load of data points in the lives of individuals and then ranks countries on what their quality of life is. Things like adult survival rate, probability of survival at age 5, expected school years and harmonized test scores (which is a way to understand student achievement on a global scale and not, as I thought, students around the world taking tests via the medium of song).

What do we learn from these numbers? Well, not a great deal that we didn’t already know. Sub-Saharan Africa are not doing that well, with Chad coming dead last, Australia is in the top 10, sitting at number 7, behind Ireland but ahead of Sweden (I’m not sure what to make of that).

What is surprising is that in first place is Singapore, just ahead of Korea. Both of which have incredibly high Harmonized Test Scores which is the difference between them and the rest of the top 10.

But I guess, after all is added up and calculated we can see that whilst things are indeed getting better, the majority of humanity is not living up to its potential because of poverty. Imagine all the things that we are missing out on, the people, the personalities, the ideas and creativity, the families, the stories – all because of a construct we created. We must end it and we must end it now. It won’t be ended by governments or massive corporations, it is going to be ended by every person doing their bit, and it can start here.

Impact

Some things can be measured easily. When there are numerical values involved it is simple to compare. Like the size of your bank balance today compared to last week, you can tell the difference just by looking at it.

But measuring someone’s personal growth for example, when the indicators are not as tangible, and it requires some sort of gut feel, can be a little difficult.

It’s the same situation when we measure people’s journey out of poverty. Opportunity International provides small loans to mothers living in poverty and we measure the impact that has on the women and their family over time. The amount of money they earn is one indicator that can show they are leaving poverty behind, but there are so many other elements, like nutrition, sanitation, education, access to information and how hopeful they feel.

Some of this can be measured numerically, and some can’t. Not all elements improve at the same rate or at the same time, so how do you measure the impact?

Often it comes down to the individual. When they recognise they have the ability to make decisions on their own behalf, decisions that can change the lives of them and their families, this shows a level of empowerment which usually means that other elements are improving as well.

People are complex and cannot be measured by numerical values alone to discover what growth is happening.

How are you empowering those around you?