Unreliable Data can Produce Poor Decisions

I recently finished an interesting revisionist military history book Deathride – Hitler VS Stalin: The Eastern Front, 1941-1945 by Loyola University professor John Mosier.  Squarely confronting the traditional view of this conflict, Dr. Mosier conducted extensive research of both Soviet and German documents to help him evaluate the chain of events that led up to the defeat of the German army in World War II.  In his book, Dr. Mosier asserts with some pretty good evidence that one major problem for the Soviet military during the war was the culture in the Soviet Union that drove officers and government officials to provide false reports because those who provided accurate reports which included bad news were usually punished. 

This created a situation where Stalin did not have any real idea of what the situation was on the ground.  For example, Dr. Mosier points out that the production numbers for Soviet tanks were dramatically over inflated because officials who were in charge of tank production dared not to admit that they had not met the unrealistic production quotas set forth for them.  

According to Dr. Mosier, though this was only was but one of many serious blunders that led to the deaths  of millions of Soviet troops and civilians, the disconnect between the reality in the field and the “numbers” made the tactical and strategic approaches ineffectual to a deadly extent. 

Though this is a far more grievous situation in a war, the same principal applies in other areas such as criminal justice, law enforcement, mental health and education.  If decision makers do not have accurate data to reflect what is happening in their schools and communities, progress or lack thereof cannot be accurately measured.  This in turn makes it less likely that effective strategies will be employed to address opportunities for improvement. 

One of the most common examples involves failures to accurately report, track and analyze data relating to school safety, crime and discipline.  If reporting approaches place pressure on school administrators, victims, school employees and public safety officials, then the number of reported incidents will drop while the actual incident rate can rise.  

Taking care that policies and practices do not interfere with easy reporting and accurate tabulation of data is needed to make schools safer and more effective learning environments.  

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.