One of the many benefits of performance measurement is its ability to help us understand and provide context to the past. Most modern organizations, which find themselves drowning in a sea of raw data while yearning for real insights, would undoubtedly agree this attribute of measurement provides a vital service. However, the very best performance measures also allow us to extend our gaze into, and therefore plan for, the future.
Of course this necessity of peering into the future in order to craft a proactive response applies to virtually any organization, in any discipline. One unique application of this facet of measurement is the prevention of gang violence in Los Angeles. With gang-related homicides numbering in the hundreds, it’s vital that police officers be equipped with the very best information in order to prevent future attacks on a population that is almost exclusively young and extremely vulnerable .
An anthropologist at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) is using a novel measurement approach to combat the problem. His name is P. Jeffrey Brantingham and his method is something called the Lotka-Volterra equations. Back in the 1920s Lotka, an American statistician, and Volterra, an Italian mathematician discovered that similar-sized rival groups of a species will claim territories whose boundaries form a perpendicular line halfway between each group’s home base. Brantingham and his team at UCLA took the equations and, using police data on the location of thirteen approximately equal sized gangs in East Los Angeles, mapped their ‘anchor points’ or home base. With the anchor established, they were able to draw corresponding boundaries for each gang’s territory and predict where violent clashes were most likely to take place. According to their model 58.8% of violence would occur less than a fifth of a mile from the border, 87.5% within two-fifths of a mile, and 99.8% within a full mile. Their predictions turned out to be remarkably accurate. Of the actual 563 gang-related incidents over a three-year period, 58.2% were within a fifth of a mile, 83.1% within two-fifths, and 97.7% within a mile.
The breakthrough in this approach is the accuracy with which the researchers can determine a gang border. Police have sketched gang maps for years, but are bound by the conventions of a standard map. That is, they typically draw borders along streets, rivers, etc. The UCLA team’s measurements allow police to pinpoint specific hotspots, and therefore allocate resources with far greater efficiency and effectiveness.
This story should serve as a reminder to us that no problem is immune to the powerful impact of performance measurement and management.
Right now there are undoubtedly perplexing issues facing you that may seem to defy measurement, but if you scratch below the surface, look to history as a guide, and apply some creativity to the situation you will find a measurement that yields astounding insights.
Joseph Stromberg, “Mapping Turf Wars,” Smithsonian, April 2013, page 24.