Back to Blog
LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
This is not a law but a phenomenon in the social sciences that people by human nature make decisions based on what they predicted or expected to be the outcomes, and ignore the unintended, unexpected, unpleasant, and accidental consequences of those actions.
In the evaluation community, evaluators are trained to view these consequences as possible impact areas or emergent issues that the organization (doing the evaluation) need to be more serious about.
With confirmation bias, this is very difficult. We always want to hear or publicized what we have done, achieved, accomplished, that we have solved the problems. We do not hear about the consequences of say, moving budgets around, due to scarce resources, ignoring the 'small needs of small group of people,' whereby we can create winners and losers on a day-t0-day basis.
I was talking to a general manager of a research-based organization. He told me that "the pendulum has swung too far, cut off their head- which means at least 60% of research budget will be eliminated."
Research is one of those things that do not have a quick, immediate, sensationalized, dramatic effect/result on issues. This is one of those painstaking, often laborious, untelevised, mundane types of jobs where non-dramatic results are expected. The next genetic discovery to feed the next generation of people will not going to be the top headline in a newspaper. This is not the 'stuff" that could compete in attention with the Trump impeachment or the local Wexit movement.
Unintended consequences also do not manifest in quick turn-arounds. It can take years and years, until the impact is generalizable, can be described, and can be traced to those interventions that were conducted many years ago. Who will be there to ensure, report, and write about it for the world to know? Taleb talks about the 'silent evidence.' Because we don't know what we don't know, we are at the mercy of the present and what is palpable.
We, humans, like immediate gratification. We are wired to have our cake now, and eat it now too! Despite the call to delay gratification, it is very difficult to resist the temptation to get something out there, fast and furious, even when it is deleterious and completely misguided. Not all are cut out for it. The rest of us fall easily for some things and not for other things.
Which leads me to the next point about what to do with unintended consequences.
What we study, gets magnified. What we ignore, tends to occupy less of our cognitive space. Aside from embracing this idea, we need to be open minded about how our intended and unpleasant consequences impact on the work that we do, and how we publicize our successes. With a grain of salt, we will be more sensitive about our actions, be accountable to those that we serve, and negative impacts should be part of the rigor of metrics we use to make critical judgements about our resources.
Yes, we would like new hospitals, new playgrounds for the kids, new schools, and new airport, all the nice amenities of city living. But who will pay for it and who will get less as a result?
If you're interested to deep dive into your strategy, change, and engagement issues, reach out to me at email@example.com. Don't wait for the perfect time, situation, or budget.
0 CommentsRead More
Leave a Reply.