By DAVID SHAYWITZ

The dashboard is the potent symbol of our age. It offers the elegant visualization of data, and is intended to capture and represent the performance of a system, revealing at a glance current status, and pointing out potential emerging concerns. Dashboards are a prominent feature of most every “big data” project I can think of, offered by every vendor, and constructed to provide a powerful sense of control to the viewer. It seemed fitting that Novartis CEO Dr. Vas Narasimhan, a former McKinsey consultant, would build (then tweet enthusiastically about) “our new ‘control tower’” – essentially a multi-screen super dashboard – “to track, analyse and predict the status of all our clinical studies. 500+ active trials, 70+ countries, 80 000+ patients – transformative for how we develop medicines.” Dashboards are the physical manifestation of the ideology of big data, the idea that if you can measure it you can manage it.

I am increasingly concerned, however, that the ideology of big data has taken on a life of it’s own, assuming a sense of both inevitability and self-justification. From measurement in service of people, we increasingly seem to be measuring in service of data, setting up systems and organizations where constant measurement often appears to be an end in itself.

My worries, it turns out, are hardly original. I’ve been delighted to discover over the past year what feels like an underground movement of dissidents who question the direction we seem to be heading, and who’ve thoughtfully discussed many of the issues that I stumbled upon. (Special hat-tip to “The Accad & Koka Report” podcast, an independent and original voice in the healthcare podcast universe, for introducing me to several of these thinkers, including Jerry Muller and Gary Klein.)

A good place to start may be a 2013 essay by Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

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