Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Information Quality is Not a Myth

Ever since my little brother and I jostled in the backseat of the Oldsmobile for control of the power window I have wrestled with the question -- how do we get beyond subjective claims on truth and the universal limitations of self-preservation? As the "KM" guy at a global consulting firm this question is less personal -- but no less pressing: how to determine information quality...

* Is it on an incremental grading scale?
* Is it fact-based, answering to the accuracy of the details it reports?
* Was it written by someone you know representing a media brand exposed to the full force of any laws the author has otherwise violated?

I remember quoting
Bill Moyers in a college term paper on media bias that the greatest myth about journalism was its stated mission of objectivity -- that the story tells itself, not the reporter who files it. Yes I still agree with this premise. No I don't think you can create an assembly line of qualified observations and shiny, error-free and verifiable news stories parading out the door on a world we share and shape. But relativism is no excuse not to try. Shades of gray in fact are much closer to a meaningful assessment of quality than how any absolute verdict rings in pursuit of any final truths and supporting facts -- no matter how selective or self-serving.

In our clamoring for truth the most insatiable hunger we feed is the desire of knowing who to believe -- not the belief itself:

* Oh, her pedigree all graduated with honors from the Gospel School at Harvard
* So, he's on the board of Unassailable Opinion Group
* Hey, they've been selected to present their latest study to the leading lights of our Truth Squad eight years running.

In all instances we're not talking about truth, accuracy, actuality or even debate. We're talking about credentialing -- our need as individuals to wrap ourselves within the stature of the groups to which we're members or branded in some way. But while credentialing curves our quality cravings, it does nothing to pass the sniff test -- do these experts square on-the-ground realities with the actual consequences to their analysis, and where their recommendations may lead their disciples, clients, and subscribers?

* Are they detached observers?
* Do they get their hands dirty?
* Do they have their palms greased?

This dilemma is the core battle to determining information quality:

1. Do I want cool disinterest in my content supply? Or do I want a bona fide witness, maybe an advocate.
2. Do I want a referee with a degree? Or do I want a vested party whose passions can pierce the confusion and noise of the marketplace?

Information quality is not about removing defective sound bytes from the news radar. It's not about ridding the public information supply of erroneous conclusions. It is about presenting the perception of content producers so that we can reference information that meshes with our own quality standards. Every time we saddle the content supply with some new requirement...

* Accurate (and fact-based)
* Credible (and believable)
* Authentic (and real)

... we are really asking for qualities that are at cross-purposes.

We're no better off than rejecting objectivity as propaganda, the intoxicant of the news elites and the self-important. I would argue that we can scale, diagram, and yes measure the presence of these vital ingredients to our public discourse. But the first convention we need to drop is that the values are absolute. Authenticity and credibility represent a continuum of relative values and they are inversely proportionate. You surrender some authenticity -- you buy a little street cred. No authenticity to trade? Here's one absolute dictum: a fraud is a fraud.

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About attentionSpin

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.