We Don’t Know Ourselves
Imagine that you want to lose weight. You have tried cutting back, but it hasn’t really helped. Maybe you should get a little more exercise. Maybe you should eat less fat. Or is it sugar? Greek yogurt is supposed to help. Am I really drinking enough coconut water? Who knows? So you mention it to your doctor, or make an appointment with a dietician, or perhaps sign up with a club or clinic that specializes in weight loss. What is the first thing that they ask you to do? Keep a food log. A diary. Write down what you eat, record the exercise you do, and then report back in a couple of weeks so they can give you a customized recommendation.
Great! You have a made a positive decision to take charge of your health.
The first day you are on top of it, and even pretty honest. That corned beef hash that you accidentally ate at the diner when you stopped in for coffee? In the diary. The late-night bowl of sugary flakes? In the diary. Day two, only the good stuff goes in the diary, and a few days later you are still making a half-hearted attempt until finally, you just find yourself scribbling down a bunch of made up stuff in the waiting room moments before your next appointment.
For decades, the self-reported diary has been the primary research tool for studying and measuring our eating, sleeping, and other behaviors; the foundation of efforts to help us change those behaviors. But, it doesn’t really work. It is a fantasy.
The Quantified Self
New technology offers a different approach. In the past few years we have spent millions of dollars on a host of devices and apps that passively track our behaviors. Products from FitBit, Nike, Jawbone, Garmin and others. The theory of this technology, or movement (called “The Quantified Self” by some), is that more data – and more accurate data – about our behavior will help us understand ourselves better, and thus provide a foundation and methodology for improving ourselves.
Today’s technology tracks our steps, sleep patterns, communication habits, and more. Tomorrow’s technology will automatically log the food we eat, its caloric and nutritional components, and its effect on our bodies. This passive tracking of data clearly is a more realistic approach for us fragile, distracted, willpower-exhausted humans. The machine collects the data in clever way. The algorithms automate the analysis of the data to give us insight into our habits and patterns, and help us track our progress towards a goal.
Of course this approach to problems – any kind of problem – is de rigueur. We know it as Big Data and it is prescribed as a solution to everything from unemployment to world hunger.
We are bringing the Quantified Life philosophy to companies, governments, and to entire nations. Tomorrow we will have the Quantified Organization, with the promise that decisions based on tradition and superstition are replaced by decisions based on facts and evidence.
The Quantified Organization
It is easy to be cynical about Big Data. Sometimes I am. But mostly I get it and I believe it. Clearly it raises a host of business, policy, legal, ethical, and societal issues. In any case, it doesn’t matter whether I get it or not: it will be the way that we function as organizations – and increasingly, as individuals – moving forward.
The idea that we should make decisions based on facts or evidence as opposed to tradition, intuition, and superstition of course derives from the Enlightenment and the scientific method itself. But even in areas where you might expect that this approach is already baked in, there has been a push to focus on the evidence. In the 1990s, for example, the concept of “evidence-based medicine” (or “evidence-based practice”) was introduced into the medical field and has since taken hold as an operating philosophy in branches of medicine from optometry to dentistry.
Evidence-based practice is defined as:
Applying the best available research results (evidence) when making decisions about health care. Health care professionals who perform evidence-based practice use research evidence along with clinical expertise and patient preferences. Systematic reviews (summaries of health care research results) provide information that aids in the process of evidence-based practice.
If the practice of medicine – which has embraced the scientific method for over a century – can benefit from a heightened focus on evidence-based decisions and policy, then surely there are other practices that could benefit from it as well. Any come to mind?
How about Information Governance?
Evidence-Based Practice and Information Governance
Today in IG we make so many decisions, and craft so many policies, based on nothing more that tradition and superstition. This is especially prevalent in the records and information management (RIM) facet of IG, but it exists elsewhere as well. Why do we have 1000 categories in our records retention schedule? Because that’s the way the last guy did it. Because we inherited the schedule from a company we acquired. Because Janice liked it that way. Because that’s the right way. Because that’s what makes the most sense to me. Because that’s what my old boss told us to do. Because that is what the consulting company sold us.
Where is the evidence?
What is true?
Are these justifications based on anything more than tradition, superstition, or office politics?
I propose a new focus for IG practitioners – a focus on Evidence-Based Information Governance. This philosophy should be embedded in everything we do in IG. It is egregious that we wave our hands magically and use purely anecdotal evidence to create fear around information risk. The risk of a spoliation charge in a litigation, for example. How often does it happen? What is the risk of it happening? Go look it up for yourself.
We need to bring evidence into the practice of IG. We need evidence to quantify value. To quantify risk. Evidence to make decisions about how much time, money and effort we should put into managing specific kinds of information.
It is shameful that today, in 2014, this is the exception rather than the rule in IG.
Today we have incredible tools that can easily shed light on our information to give us the visibility and the evidence we need to make good decisions. Go take a look at the providers who support the IGI as an example, as a starting point.
Anyway this post is getting a little long.
But I am passionate about this idea, and will write and work to advance this idea.
Let me know what you think.
Yesterday I published my first blog post on LinkedIn about the most fascinating subject known to people-kind: the definition of information governance. Believe me, this wasn’t my first blog post on the topic, just the first time I had published on LinkedIn. Anyway, in the post I discussed the definition we are advancing at the Information Governance Initiative and talked a little about my history with IG. My post came in the midst of some great back and forth among folks like @parapadakis, @piewords, @schellberg, @jimerrifield, @chris_p_walker, and @rlayel on Twitter and great blog posts by George, James, John, Laurence and others about the core concepts of IG. Who knows if anyone outside this circle finds the subject as fascinating as us, but what the hell, long tail and all that.
Anyway, today George published a thoughtful critique of the definition. Earlier in the day I was reading about a back and forth between a New York Times columnist and Walmart that has gone viral. It’s pretty interesting and funny (I mean the exchange, not the underlying issues being discussed) and feels like an important moment in how social media is radically changing the way that organizations interact with the media outlets who cover them. In any case, I was inspired (not that my output is “inspired) to steal the technique, and pulled out my virtual red pencil to respond to George’s post, hopefully with less snark that the Walmart exchange. I’ve never met George but I’m sure we are almost certainly much, much closer in our positions that the NYT columnist and the Walmart PR flack. Below is the relevant portion of George’s post, and my response. You can read the whole post here.
I was invited to participate in the LinkedIn publishing program, so I thought I would give it a shot, with my first post about the definition of information governance developed at the Information Governance Initiative, with the support of 93% of those we surveyed. Check it out here.
Pretty entertaining, and also from a case that is also interesting from an Information Governance perspective.
Just a quick post – came across this article when trying to fix a configuration issue with Apple Mail and Gmail, and I thought it nicely summed up the attitude I encounter from IT and others in our information governance engagements. Ask an attorney sometime if there really is “no harm in keeping tiny emails around in this age of ever-expanding storage space.” The drug dealers of the IG world have really done an incredible job convincing the addicts that the drug has no downside.
One of Gmail’s perks is a ridiculous amount of storage space, so Google has set it up to highly encourage archiving your email instead of having to make the decision to delete just some of it. After all, you never know if that rainy day will come next month or four years from now, and there’s no harm in keeping tiny emails around in this age of ever-expanding storage space.
More often that not, here’s what happens on that “rainy day,” in a depressing office park somewhere in the suburbs:
The company spent $900,000 to produce an amount of data that would consume less than one-quarter of the available capacity of an ordinary DVD.
RAND study on e-discovery, 2012
Now, folks outside of the IG and e-discovery bubble might reasonably think that, hey if there is ever a problem, I can just start deleting emails then, right?
Here’s a couple more quotes to consider.
And, my favorite
I just finished writing a report at the IGI that is a broad survey of market, legal, and technology developments that affect records retention and management practices. Some interesting things going on around the globe. For example, in April 2013, the UK abolished its primary financial regulator, the Financial Services Authority, and replaced it with two new regulatory bodies: the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA). According to Steven Formica, CEO of Fontis International, a provider of global legal data for records retention schedules, this reform resulted in extensive changes to records retention requirements. For example, Steve’s firm replaced 104 existing records retention legal requirements related to the FSA with 686 new entries based on the requirements of the FCA/PRA. This kind of increased specificity and scrutiny on records retention is happening in the US and around the globe.
In any case, I will be discussing the paper and its key findings on a webinar hosted by Recall at 2 pm ET on March 25th, 2014. Click here to find out more and register to attend. The paper will be available for download immediately after the webinar.