The Decision Maker

Are You in the Feedback Loop?

Posted by Aaron Wang on Jul 7, 2011 5:13:10 PM

The July 2011 issue of Wired magazine featured an article by Thomas Goetz entitled Feedback Loop – How technology has turned an age-old concept into an exciting new strategy for changing human behavior. See http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/06/ff_feedbackloop/

The essence of the article is advances in technology are driving a feedback loop revolution. Goetz cites the simple example of a radar-sensor speed limit sign that reduced speeding in a school zone after all other efforts failed.

What is the relevance of a feedback loop in this case? As the author states:

The [speed limit] signs leverage what’s called a feedback loop, a profoundly effective tool for changing behavior. The basic premise is simple. Provide people with information about their actions in real time (or something close to it), then give them an opportunity to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors.

While the principals of a feedback loop have been well-known for some time, technology has advanced the ability to quickly provide high-quality information at an increasingly lower cost. The radar-sensor in the speed limit sign previously was too costly to be deployed on the street corners of America. Now that the price dropped for such devices, those blinking signs are commonplace.

The feedback loop is a crucial concept for the success of your organization. As conditions change, timely decisions need to be made to adjust course. Too often, however, information about the present situation is locked up in your organization’s databases. By the time an analyst as extracted, prepared, and analyzed the necessary data, the time for effective decision making has passed. In terms of the feedback loop, you are “out of the loop” if you cannot get high quality information at the right time.

Fortunately, technology in the reporting and analytics area has advanced both in terms of capability and decreasing cost. For example, we recently developed a web-based analytics service that a not-for-profit client introduced to its member organizations. The service is available on a month-to-month subscription basis for a fraction of the cost the members would have spent had they implemented individual efforts to develop the same capability.

Is your organization “in the (feedback) loop”? If not, take some time to identify what areas could benefit from better, faster information and consider how new advances in reporting and analytics could get you into the loop.

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