Introduction to the second session

Am I getting the hang of this? I am not sure. I feel more confident, and have a clearer sense of how the sessions will build. The feedback is really helpful, so keep it coming. After the last session, it seemed obvious to me that I had to invite Patrick McCarthy who is recently retired President of the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the United States, and before that the leader of a public system (in Delaware). He has great practical experience of dealing with the things that bother you all.

Next time I thought we might focus on a couple of things. First talk more about the problem of gaming. I was commended for sharing a short piece (Berwick’s three pages on the three eras). So then I go and share a long piece. Stefan Collini on the gaming of indicators. It is long, but it is also fun and very informative. Here is a clip to draw you in.

How much does your spouse or partner love you? Is it more or less than other people love their partners? To find out, we would need to measure the available evidence. Suppose that having identified the relevant population, we count how many times a week partners are brought tea in bed, how many times they are cuddled, how many times they are told ‘I love you,’ and so on. In this way, we establish benchmarks against which individual performance can be calibrated, with the intention of driving up the quality of loving among failing partners. To further incentivise this group, we maintain lists of those who are now unattached but who exceeded the benchmark when they had a partner; the threat of competition from these alternative love-providers should stimulate out-performance. Studies show that three months after the introduction of the benchmarks, the average increase in frequency of tea in bed is 36 per cent.

The requisite record keeping can now easily be outsourced. An app called LovStat is used to record evidence of loving from your partner at all times, and the LovBand on your wrist displays real-time statistics indicating where you currently stand on the Global Lovedness Index. In order to identify the value added, and not just the gross incidence of expressions of loving, an algorithm automatically adds a premium for those from historically under-loved backgrounds. (Despite the government’s commitment to a level loving-field, studies show that last year 58 per cent of all loving was received by just 11 per cent of the population.)

At first, the metrics may be a little inexact, but they can be improved: for example, instead of simply recording the number of instances of ‘I love you,’ LovStatPlus will distinguish when it is said sincerely from when it has been prompted or said as part of an attempt to have sex. However, it transpires that people are gaming the system: one partner recorded exceptionally high scores by bringing the same cup of tea into the bedroom several times in the space of a few minutes. What’s more, critics say there is evidence to suggest that partners are increasingly neglecting any form of loving behaviour not recognised by the categories in the program, a pattern known as ‘loving to the test’. And as scores rise across the board, some are beginning to wonder whether this system of measurement really does allow meaningful discriminations to be made. Where loving is concerned, we seem to be reaching a situation in which, as so often with self-estimation, the entire population considers itself ‘above average’.

Second, I thought I would do more on scale, including defining what scale is. (Probably not what you think it is, but lets see). That is going to mean quite a lot of talk about positive contagion, catching good things off each other. In case you just like short pieces, I am sharing something from Ann Hagell on knife crime which acts as a good backdrop.

Plus, if all goes well, we should be joined by Frank Oberklaid. He is a paediatrician based at the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital but he is coming to talk about place, and how it has been used in Australia as a mechanism for change.

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