PROSPERITY: Sure it sounds good… but can we MEASURE it?

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successWhile deep in my research leading toward a new AIACC strategic plan, a comment by nationally known planning consultant Glen Tecker resonated with me. “A strategic plan without a means to measure progress – that’s not really a strategic plan.”

The AIACC new plan brings focus to our efforts – in my shorthand the three columns are simple and clear: Resources, Influence and The Future. What’s not so obvious: how can progress toward our vision be put to a bean counting? For example, we might all agree that “Elevating Public Awareness of the Value of Design” is worth investing in, but what metric might be used to monitor how effective our programs are in moving us toward this goal?

In 2008, scientist Douglas Hubbard wrote an article for Architecture Boston that began with this bold statement: “The perception that many things are immeasurable is common – but also an illusion.” As author of a book titled How to Measure Anything and a consultant on metrics, Hubbard bases his argument on three principles, expounded in three quotes:

  1. “Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is based on the idea of approximation” (Bertrand Russell, mathematician and philosopher)

In serving on the AIA National’s Practice and Prosperity Committee, I found there are, in fact, organizations that have devoted themselves to a rigorous measurement of prosperity, such as the Legatum Institute, which has over 200 metrics in 8 broad categories that it tracks in order to assign a prosperity index to the countries of the world. While their approach is effective, it’s also a rather an extreme example – far beyond anything that would make sense with limited AIACC resources. For us, a tack equally effective would be to consider how the medical profession measures pain: simply ask the patient to self assess, on a scale of one to five. This latter approach might the hat trick we use to measure architects PROSPERITY in California.

  1. “A problem well stated is a problem half solved” (Charles Kettering , inventor)

When you can clarify what the essential qualities are that make a goal important, you find, as often as not, the foundation of something that might lend itself to measurement. Hubbard cites an example tossed to him as seemingly immeasurable: mentorship. Using this principle, if one of the “results of successful mentorship” is leadership, then counting new leaders could be a metric to evaluate mentorship.

  1. “It’s amazing what you can see when you look” (Yogi Berra)

Just because you can’t hold a tape measure up to happiness does not mean it can’t be measured. For example, a study called “The Geography of Happiness” used the content of 10 million tweets to rank locations in America by the feeling of their residents. (You’ll notice that Napa, California, came out on top).  Might tracking Google search words related to careers in architecture measure “public awareness” of our profession?

As design professionals, we have a deep bag of tricks to bring to our creative problem solving – and they include intuition, anecdote, and rules of thumb. All these still have a valid place in our toolbox, of course, but in the rapidly changing landscape of architectural design, there are increasing areas where they fall short. Take energy performance for example. Old school intuitive diagrams of blue and red air flow arrows have been superseded by rigorous computer modeling and data collection. Perhaps Intuition helps get us pointed in the right direction, but increasingly it is metric data which determines design success.

One of the admirable qualities we share as design professionals is our knack for creative problem solving. When we look at the challenge of measuring AIACC progress, we can take Hubbard’s three principles and overlay them on our strategic plan, and mix in the metrics we already gather. The end result of this effort: a simple graphic DASHBOARD which charts our progress at a glance. Every one of our 100 + AIACC programs takes a certain amount of people and money resources. The dashboard I envision will show us where our efforts are nudging us in the intended direction – and where trajectory should be adjusted. This tool will also help us see The Future: evolving patterns – trends – before they become problems.

As we move toward developing this AIACC Dashboard in 2016, your thoughts, ideas and suggestions are welcome: shoot me an email at


Michael Malinowski, AIA

Michael F. Malinowski has been providing adaptive historic re-use, urban infill, residential including affordable housing, and commercial revitalization design solutions for 40 years as principal of Applied Architecture, Sacramento CA. A number of his projects have been ‘city shaping’ and widely recognized, including the Warehouse Artist Lofts 2015, Sacramento historic adaptive mixed use) Galt Place (2011, urban infill wood podium design); Globe Mill (2008, Sacramento, rebirth of an abandoned mill and silo complex) and Hotel Stockton (2006, Stockton, historic adaptive reuse). Michael has also worked with over 1500 families in shaping sustainable, functional and inspiring living environments.

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