How do we measure Progress?

As data becomes ever more available, there is a constant search for profitable uses to which it can be put. Sometimes it might appear to be getting ahead of itself - offering solutions in search of problems.

However, by no means every situation falls into that category and some problems are remarkably resistant to the application of quantitative analysis. One of these is assessing the outcomes from training programmes. Which session provided which learning to which people, and how did they apply it to which area of their work, and what effect did that have? Then, having completed that analysis, we would need to control for what might have happened had the people in the target group not gone on the programme being assessed.

On the other hand, here's a pleasant very short story of progress being clearly measurable. The Douro (Sp. Duero) is the third longest river in the Iberian peninsula. It reaches the sea at Porto and is the home of the port wine industry. When that industry began in the 19th century, barrels were transported down the river on sailing ships and there were frequent losses as the Douro was notorious for rapids and other natural phenomena. In fact, an Englishman, Joseph James Forrester, produced detailed maps in the 1840s which showed the varying nature of the river within Portugal and dozens of potential danger points. Now, that section of the Douro has five dams that control the water flow and generate electricity, including this one at Crestuma-Lever, construction of which began in 1978 and took seven years to complete . There still have been occasional tragedies on the river, but it's now unrecognisable from the perilous place it was before . That's progress.


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