My highlights from 2012–it’s all about information

I was part of some wonderful projects in 2012.  As I wrote my personal highlights from a third year as a consultant, I realised it was all about information: from how Twitter is helping me to learn new tricks to how national governments are improving health services.

The global Demographic and Health Survey program

In early 2012 I reviewed the massive Demographic and Health Survey program, supported by USAID for thirty years.  Our team did case studies in four countries.  What struck me was that having a high quality national survey feeds the demand for even more data to measure health services. I heard from people in national statistical offices and health departments that they want more skills in data collection and analysis.  I heard lots of examples from health departments of data making services more accountable. When an indicator suggests poor performance, such as high maternal mortality rates, then that becomes a national priority … well except in immunization where survey results often bear no relation to administrative records.

I look forward to seeing how MEASURE DHS evolves under new leadership and new program of activity.

Twitter

I’m not addicted. I can give up anytime.  But why would I? I’m following people who tweet on global health, evaluation methods and demography.  Twitter makes me feel less isolated.  It is like the most exciting conference ever: great speakers presenting the most cutting edge research and hallway chitchat that is alternately insightful, cynical and just plain catty.

How people learn and change

As a public health researcher and evaluator I am interested in what can make people adopt healthy behaviours.  Education is often seen as the way to change behaviour.  If people only understood what was good for them, they would change. As often as not, it isn’t that simple.

Still, people want information to make their own decisions.  Three Social Dimensions projects in 2012 looked into how people get their information and the results surprised me.  They all showed that in this digital age, reading—whatever the medium—is still how people find out information.

A phone survey for the City of Geraldton revealed that people learned about City business from the local newspaper; for them, if it wasn’t in the Guardian, it didn’t really exist. An online survey of people who receive an e-newsletter for the Northern Agricultural Catchment Council found that engaged readers really did share new knowledge with others and took actions to manage natural resources better. Improving the quality of the newsletter was a way to create a more engaged readership and a better environment. In our surveys of adults and teenagers for the City on internet use, the second most important reason for using the internet adults and teenagers was to find out more about things that interested them.

We really are in a knowledge economy.  People are demanding knowledge and they are looking for it in newspapers, on the web and their in-box. It is the quality of that information—not just the facts but the way it engages readers—that determines how well knowledge is transformed to action.   I don’t think that will change in 2013.

 

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