Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Research, Economic Stimulus, and Community Progress

Research has never had more importance. Determining the best way to stimulate the economy; correcting our housing problems; providing the most effective health care and human services – all of these demand good research.

Paraphrasing Thomas Paine, we may now find ourselves in “times that try people’s souls.” In these uncertain times, research not only provides information; it also significantly contributes to democracy and strengthens democratic institutions. How so?

First of all, the obvious. Sound research provides facts which can support better decision-making. Sound research also provides understanding of cause and effect, enabling us to broaden our scope and take action not only when we have a problem but also to prevent the occurrence of problems.

Less obviously, but much to the delight of Mr. Paine if he lived now, the research process, when implemented well, has features which promote truly democratic flowing of ideas, sharing of opinions, and participation in decision-making. For example:

- Transparency: In a good study, all facts and data sit out on the table, for everyone to see, to critique, and to challenge.
- Involvement of multiple parties: A good study will involve all relevant stakeholders, taking special care to involve people with different points of view. (For example, in politics, those from different political parties; or in health care, the providers, the insurers, the drug manufacturers, etc., including those with different philosophies of care.)
- Clear vision: Good research demands clear thinking and valid measurement; these promote the establishment of a vision which everyone can at least understand, whether they avow or disavow it.
- Empowerment: The facts, the data, the findings, the conclusions – they sit on the table not only during a study, but beyond. Anyone can take them, re-examine them, and draw new conclusions.

In short, good research leads to the democratization of understanding the world and creates the opportunity for truly democratic decision-making. In our globalized society, where anyone and everyone can become a disseminator of information over the Internet, sound, credible research is critical for making wise decisions on the most effective and most cost-effectiveways to improve ourselves and our communities; to treat our problems and prevent problems from occurring.

The front page of The New York Times on February 16 featured a story on the $1.1 billion in the economic stimulus bill which will focus on comparing the effectiveness of different treatments for illnesses. More on that in a later blog, but it reflects the growing understanding that, with all the options available, we need research, if we want to have a larger impact within the resources available to us.

We at Wilder Research look forward to working on these issues and making progress with you and others in our communities. Any thoughts? Get in touch!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Daschle, Geithner & the Need for a “Moral Stimulus Package"

Can it really be the case that we can’t find a “best qualified” person for a major leadership position like Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of Health and Human Services, who does not also have characteristics such as honesty, integrity, and humility on his or her résumé? We were asked during the past few weeks to overlook the nonpayment of taxes by two Cabinet nominees, because they have special “skill sets”. When I hear that, I feel the need to promote, in a nonpartisan way, a higher standard of public leadership.

Throughout my career, I have met thousands of leaders in government, nonprofit organizations, and business who pay their taxes and honestly fulfill other community obligations. Tom Daschle (who withdrew his nomination this morning) and Tom Geithner might be fine fellows and in some ways deserving of appointments as Cabinet Secretaries. However, it’s difficult for me to believe that nobody among 300 million Americans comes a close second to them – with most of their competencies, plus the “competence” of honesty.

Our President proposes an infusion of cash into the economy to combat the economic recession we experience. But the roots of the recession, which now causes such pain in our local communities, do not lie in a shortage of cash. More cash will not prevent the recurrence of the problems we now have. Ethical leadership, on the other hand, does offer the prospect both to get us out of this mess and prevent it from occurring again.

Our President has the opportunity to stimulate and reinvigorate the moral fiber among decision-makers and leaders in government, nonprofits, and business. If he seizes that opportunity, the resulting effects in our local communities, and among all people from the most powerful to the most vulnerable, will at least equal the impact of an $800 billion dollar “economic stimulus” package.

Treating honesty and integrity as core qualifications for high-level leaders, rather than just a nice addition, might seem unusual. However, what if “well-qualified” Wall Street CEOs had honestly communicated with their shareholders, the government, and the general public? What if “well-qualified” bankers had conducted honest appraisals of risk? What if “well-qualified” individuals had been honest with themselves and others?

If a lot of honesty had flowed through our power networks, the crisis in our economic networks – which battered the retirement savings plans and college savings accounts and home ownership of millions of honest and hardworking people – might not have occurred.

We need economic stimulus in some way, shape, and form. But without moral/ethical stimulus of our leaders, we will fail to achieve the long-term quality of life that our communities deserve.