How To Measure What You Want To Prevent

by Stacey Barr |

Robert, a new Measure Up subscriber, asked how can you demonstrate results when your job is to make sure something doesn’t happen. He’s basically asking how can you measure what you prevent?

taking some tablets with a glass of water

If measures are evidence of results, and evidence is observable only in the physical world, how could we possibly measure something that doesn’t happen? Of course, we can’t. So we need to think differently about it, to piece something useful together for monitoring prevention activities.

The first piece is that we still need evidence of the ultimate outcome we want. We can’t measure if it doesn’t happen, but we can measure if it does. If we want to reduce the rate at which an undesirable event happens, then one way to measure that would be the time between those events. A good result is that the time between those events gets longer and longer.

In safety, the undesirable events are injuries and deaths. In auditing, the undesirable events are non-conformances.

The second piece is that we want to understand what factors have the most power in preventing those undesirable events. These factors might include attitudes, knowledge, skills, practices or behaviours, or ‘near misses’ (where the event almost happened but was successfully prevented or luckily didn’t eventuate). These occurrence of factors – once we work out which have the most power in preventing our undesirable events – should also be measured.

The second piece is really about finding the lead indicators of the undesirable event (the lag effect, measured by a lag indicator). For safety, the lead indicators might be number of near misses, average number of overtime hours worked, or average test score of participants completing safety training. For auditing, the lead indicators might be percentage of prescribed work practices adhered to, or average time to put new recruits through training on work standards.


Tell us about the results you want to prevent, and how you’re measuring them.

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  1. Glenn Read says:

    Good question, good response – but in Robert’s case I don’t think it goes quite far enough.
    Your process works well for those instances in all businesses that are undesirable (claims, accidents, bad debts, etc). However, Robert’s role appears to be to actively prevent something happening, and he should therefore also consider KPI’s based around the actions he (or his business in general) is taking to fulfil this task – whether that’s percentage of relevant staff who have received prevention training in the past three months, number of incident investigations conducted, number of procedures that have been changed to implement further preventative measures, even the number of staff disciplinary interviews relevant to his ‘thing that must not occur’.
    At some stage, all the KPI’s you mention above may well reduce to zero, which is obviously the ultimate goal of his position – the trick then for Robert is to be able to demonstrate that this is through his continuing actions, not that he is now dispensable!

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Sounds like a lead indicator discussion, Glenn. Measures of the *results* from those actions are probably more meaningful than measures of the amount of action. So instead of measuring # staff with prevention training, it might be more useful to measure the % staff who have the know-how to do the prevention and the % opportunities for prevention where staff apply their prevention know-how.

  2. Mike Davidge says:

    This is a great discussion and reminds me of the Kirkpatrick evaluation framework. He suggests 4 tiers or levels: level 4 is the outcome we want (or don’t want in this case); level 3 is behaviours – we do certain things consistently which lead to the outcome. These are process measures; level 2 is knowledge and links to some of Stacey’s lead indicators. We can’t do the right things if we don’t know how to. Finally level 1 is engagement. Are we motivated to do the right thing?

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