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Operational Research

Presenting data in a post-truth world

impact_issue_4Issue 4 of the OR Society’s journal “Impact” has just been published and uploaded to issuu

The article that grabbed my attention was Mike Pidd’s “Making an impact: too important to ignore”. Mike is Professor Emeritus of Management Science at Lancaster University.

He has written about the “post-truth” world in which data, evidence and rational argument is ignored in favour of appeals to emotion and feel-good stories. He reminds us of the work of Henry Mintzberg whose research and publications in the 1970s showed that however much we might wish to believe that managerial decision-making is rational, the evidence suggests otherwise. Mintzberg reported that high-quality analytical work done in the rail industry was not implemented because managers simply didn’t have the time to try to understand complex arguments. Additionally, in some cases, they have no inclination to do so.

Pidd concludes “Many of us love getting our hands dirty using clever mathematics, sophisticated computing, or churning through huge data sets. …they are not enough to make real, sustainable impact”. “I really do believe that making a real impact depends on developing a narrative that does more than support our analysis. Narratives, stories, if you will, form soft and personal data of the type preferred by Mintzberg’s managers. They are easy to digest and don’t require reading through detailed reports.”

The takeaway message: those of us who are comfortable working with data need to become better at story-telling if we want to make an impact in a post-truth world.

Other stories include one of the Pro Bono projects and a project from South Africa, Shout-it Now, which is involved in HIV counselling and testing, which used simulation to help them contribute significantly to reducing the rate of new HIV infections.

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