Thursday, November 14, 2013

Morass of measurement and metrics

Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so.  
As a previous and (hopefully) future employee in the public sector, this course has provided a basis for understanding and effectively utilizing social media. One question that has occupied my thoughts throughout the semester we discussed in class today - measurement. In my field of practice, public health research, we obsess over measurement - quantitative versus qualitative, degree of validity, sensitivity and specificity - the list goes on and on. For every program dimension or intervention component there is a corresponding measure, oftentimes several. In that vein, it surprised me to learn that government is generally not measuring the impact of social media.

At the same time, there are limited options for capturing the return on investment, especially for the public sector. The dimensions discussed today, such as citizen engagement, are not easily measured and even more difficult to correlate to social media strategies. In behavioral research, it generally requires either surveying, directly observing, or objectively measuring participants' behaviors. To what extent is this an option in the public sector? In addition, we generally collect data on all other potential moderators of behavior in order to rule them out as the cause of behavior change. It seems rather daunting in light of the many influences on individual behavior and concerns of privacy.

Luckily, these issues have not kept many federal, state and local agencies from establishing a presence on social media platforms, which suggests their leadership is more forward thinking about the potential benefits despite a dearth of data. Such is the nature of technological innovation in this day and age which finds policy and research playing catchup. At any rate, it is likely just a matter of time until market forces and academic research respond to the need for social media analytics in the public sector.

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