Home » The Value of Impact: Ned Breslin at TEDxMileHigh (Full Transcript)

The Value of Impact: Ned Breslin at TEDxMileHigh (Full Transcript)

People don’t go there for any other reason, but over the hills and off the road are some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, amazing people. We were working on a program there, and we were constantly feeding back data, we were asking hard questions, we were holding these meetings, we put numbers on blackboards, lots of percentages, and we were kind of acting like teachers frankly, saying, “So what do you think about that?” It was a teacher-student relationship; it really wasn’t good. But this guy came to every meeting. His name was Clemmy. He never said a word, until one day while we were talking he stood up.

He was an older man, he balanced himself on his cane. The whole place quieted. He looked at the ceiling, and he said, “I actually have no idea what you’re talking about. You keep coming here and throwing numbers at me, and I don’t understand them. I’m embarrassed to say I’m illiterate; my friends and others know that, but I think I can be part of the solution. I think I have a role to play. If we can just make the numbers clear, I can do something”. So Clemmy was absolutely right. It was a hard lesson not only in transparency but in cultural sensitivity. Clemmy figured out how to visualize the data in ways that everyone would understand.

He put them on these huge billboards at the front of his community and changed the results all the time. What it did is it drew people in. People came, they offered insight and were helping because the data was open. Now that’s kind of a cute example that in the world of big data and aid transparency, they might scoff at this. But actually, what’s happening in aid data right now, and in the whole transparency debate is actually not shedding light, it’s causing confusion.

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What’s happening now is we have what I call data puke. You sit there, and you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to give you everything, blargh!” I’m going to vomit everything onto a map or onto a platform, and go, “Woo! We’re transparent, you can see everything!” And you can actually see nothing. The point of transparency is to elicit action, to ask hard questions, to see if there’s overlap, if there’s duplication, if there’s corruption I can’t weed my way through this. It fails the Clemmy test! The Clemmy test would say is it actionable? Do I understand it? Can people across cultures understand this? If it can’t, it’s just vomit.

It’s not good enough. At the end of the day, I’ve worked for many organizations that embrace monitoring. These organizations are dynamic, they’re exciting, they’re places where things are happening, and people come, problem-solvers come. I’ve also worked in agencies that resist monitoring. They say, “It’s too hard, I don’t want to do it, I’ve got to protect the brand.” These are lifeless organizations that do not save, that do not challenge the status quo, and do not transform society. Because Dilly, in the end, was right. We’re intervening in peoples’ lives, and that carries enormous responsibility. The least we can do is be open and honest about it. Thank you very much.

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