The numbers tell the tale? Two quotes (for the summer)

5 Jul

On the eve of holiday, I take temporary leave of my blog with: Albert Einstein, whose quote can be found on countless websites: «Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted».

Alan Bennett, whose quote – from Going to the pictures (pp. 475-476 of Untold stories) – refers to the National Gallery in London, but if you replace ‘Gallery’ with such words as ‘library’, ‘university’, ‘school’ or any other educational, cultural or even health care institution you can think of, you will see that the sentence still largely makes sense… Einstein notwithstanding. 😦

«… like most public institutions today the Gallery is required not merely to do its job but also to prove that it is doing its job. It is an exercise that is at the same time self-defeating and self-fulfilling. The current orthodoxy assumes that public servants will only do their job as well as they can if they are required to prove that they are doing their job as well as they can.
But this proving takes time, and the time spent preparing annual reports and corporate plans showing one is doing the job is taken out of the time one would otherwise spend doing it… thus ensuring that the institution is indeed less efficient than would otherwise be the case. Which is the point the Treasury is trying to prove in the first place.

And every public institution now is involved in this futile time-wasting merry-go-round. Necessary to this merry-go-round is another misapprehension, namely that everything is quantifiable, that what visitors to the Gallery come away with can be assessed by means of questionnaires and so on. Well, maybe 20 per cent of it can, and maybe 20 per cent of all these efficiency-inducing exercises are worthwhile, or worth the hours and hours of time and form-filling they take up. And yes, one can gauge from a questionnaire how quick the service is in the café or how clean the lavatories are, but it cannot be said too often that the heart of what goes on here, the experience of someone in front of a painting, cannot be assessed and remains a mystery even, very often, to them».

Photo’s from the wikipedia pages on Einstein and Bennett.


3 Responses to “The numbers tell the tale? Two quotes (for the summer)”


  1. To measure, for profit (1): education and democracy | bibliocw-soc - 19 June 2013

    […] numbers tell the tale”: this inveterate saying, which I addressed last year on this blog and whose practical consequences I sometimes come across in working life, it’s not irrelevant […]

  2. The abyss | bibliocw-soc - 20 December 2013

    […] take care of, an end-of-the-year mood which has to do with some concerns expressed earlier on this blog. What better opportunity for writing this post than to rely […]

  3. Spaanse filosoof in Franse krant over rendabele musea… of zijn het de universiteiten? | Blog Nostrum - 27 March 2015

    […] for? op deze blog) – aan een stuk dat ik bijna drie jaar geleden postte op mijn oude blog Bibliocw-soc, waar ik voorstelde, in de citaat die hieronder volgt, het woord ‘Gallery’ (i.e. de […]

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