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A rose-tinted spin on poor results doesn’t help anyone, public health conference told

A rose-tinted spin on poor results doesn’t help anyone, public health conference told

There is a problem in public health that organisations like BetterPoints can help with: fear of getting it wrong. 

If an intervention doesn’t reap the desired results, there is a strong tendency to put a positive gloss on it, which masks the true picture. We see often overinflated results from poor evidence rather than honest appraisals. This often means that little is learned and mistakes are repeated.

“Our fear of failure and wasting public money is creating exactly the problem we seek to avoid,” Hannah Bowden, Programme Director of BetterPoints Ltd, told Public Health England’s Annual Conference today.

“Meanwhile, we’re getting fatter, less fit and more expensive,” she said.

Public health would benefit much more from results that were appraised honestly and learned from, so that future interventions were more cost effective, produced tangible results and evidence that allows real measurement of what they set out to achieve.

But interventions take time and cost money. If an intervention doesn’t meet its stated objectives, the impression is the time and money were wasted.

Flexible systems like BetterPoints can help because they enable interventions to iterate rapidly. Ideas can be tested, learned from and improved upon quickly and efficiently, while the intervention is underway.

They enable the combination of the best of machine and human intelligence, to fail fast and iterate cost-effectively, adapt continuously and work at both population and individual levels.

Unless we look hard at real evidence and give an honest appraisal of outcomes, we will continue to waste money on costly interventions that don’t transfer across populations and can’t scale. Tools like BetterPoints can help, but it takes courage in the sector too.

Image: “Rose tinted sunset” by Nari Sin, licensed under CC BY 2.0.