The importance of a plain question

The Importance of a Plain Question

In over 25 years of delivering social research and evaluation, I have found Mark Twain’s aphorism – “a plain question and plain answer make the shortest road out of most perplexities” – frequently holds true. So, in this month’s blog, I will explore the importance of a clearly defined question and a well-presented answer.

At GtD we relish the opportunity of using our social impact analytics to help our clients understand the perplexities of their programs and interventions. Perplexities such as, why a well-conceived intervention is not working as expected? Is it a break down in the implementation of a planned intervention, such as the lack of front-line staff or poor engagement with clients? Or has there been a change in the local context, such as an employer making redundancies or the closure of a key service?

As Twain suggests, in addressing these perplexities we first need to have a “plain question”, in other words a question that is both simply phrased and clearly addresses a problem or opportunity faced by an organization. With government clients, their evaluation questions are often pre-defined by policy and research colleagues and are set out clearly in the Request for Proposal (RFP) or an Invitation to Tender (ITT). In such cases our challenge is to propose the most suitable method to provide a plain answer.

I will come to those suitable methods in a moment. Before I do, I want to say that it is equally rewarding to work with clients who have not been able to articulate the “plain question” before contacting us. In those instances, we will work with them to help define the question that needs to be answered. This might involve doing a series of descriptive analyses of their data to refine a general abstract issue to the point where the plain question (or questions) emerge.

Once there is consensus on the question, we can then decide the best way to resolve any perplexities. Our Measure package helps cut through any confusion by identifying the data needed to explain the outcomes that an organization is seeking to deliver, while our Learn package uses sophisticated predictive analytics to help clients to understand how the performance of a current intervention can be improved. Ultimately our Prove package provides the impact evaluation that provides the plain answer of “did it work?” and “was it worth it?”.

Admittedly these packages – Measure, Learn, Prove – are grounded in rigorous method and complex analyses. That is important, but we would fail in providing a “plain answer” if we did not convey these complexities simply and clearly. Here we take time to know our client and their preferred mode of communication: a conventional report, a digital dashboard or a presentation. Whatever we do, we need to know that the client understands the answer and has a way of executing any recommendations that flow from that.

If your organization needs to address some perplexing questions, then please contact us. We will help you find the plain answer.

Get the Data and Gideon’s Promise Team Up for Innovative Metrics Get The Data

Get the Data and Gideon’s Promise Team Up for Innovative Metrics

Over the past year, GtD has been proud to be work with Gideon’s Promise to develop measures of culture change that will transform the American criminal justice system. We are delighted to welcome Ilham Askia, Executive Director of Gideon’s Promise to guest blog about our partnership.

Get the Data and Gideon’s Promise Team Up for Innovative Metrics Get The Data

Ilham N. Askia
Executive Director
Gideon’s Promise

Gideon’s Promise is a U.S.-based, non-profit whose mission is to transform the criminal justice system by building a movement of public defenders who provide equal justice for marginalized communities. Gideon’s values-based approach uniquely trains public defenders to use a “client-first” method to defense practice. The impact that this approach can have on culture change in public defense will ultimately transform an entire criminal justice system. Since January 2017 we have been working with GtD to create an innovative approach to measure the effects of culture change in public defense systems.

While most experts focus on case outcomes and court processing to determine the effectiveness of a public defense system, Get the Data and Gideon’s Promise have designed a way to measure the effects of a values-based approach to training and supporting public defenders. Gideon’s Promise believes that, in order to have equity in the criminal justice system, the lawyers who represent the accused must be excellent in their profession but also care about the dignity of their clients. For over 80% of the people who are charged with a criminal offense, a public defender has the enormous responsibility to not only defend a charge but also illustrate the humanity of a defendant. If administrators of justice could view the accused more humanely, then the treatment of people warehoused in jails, prisons and courtrooms would be different. Because the criminal justice system does not effectively function to rehabilitate offenders, the dignity of the human spirit is stripped away as soon as an individual is accused of an offense. The culture of the system must change from viewing people as case numbers and files and more like human beings with lives that have value. Public defenders tell the stories of those who are deemed unworthy of support. Public defenders remind the system about the value of human lives.

Get the Data has designed metrics to discern whether the culture of an office, the confidence of a public defender, and environment play into how defendants feel about their representation. These metrics also measure whether the attitudes of Gideon’s Promise public defenders affect the public defender offices where they work, the courtrooms where they practice and the relationships they have with their clients. While no one else is measuring the impact of culture change in the criminal justice system, Get the Data and Gideon’s Promise are on the verge of a transformative approach to repairing a broken criminal justice system by using public defenders as anchors to reform and explaining their importance through quantitative data that measure qualitative relationships.

Although Gideon’s Promise is a national organization, it primarily focuses its work in the southeast region of the U.S. where the highest concentration of inequity exists. There are six public defender sites piloting these metrics. The Defender Value Spectrum Survey (DVSS) and the Client Evaluation Survey (CES) are being completed by a sample of Gideon’s Promise influenced public defender offices and clients who received services from those offices. Our goal is to conclude whether a values-based trained attorney positively correlates with how people view public defenders, clients and how both are treated in the court system. Are there sets of core values to public defense training and mentoring that systemically changes the culture? Is Gideon’s Promise’s curriculum aligning with the goal to transform the culture of public defense? Does a caring lawyer matter? These are all questions this study will answer. Our hope is that we can replicate this evaluative process across the country to not only inform Gideon’s Promise’s programming but also encourage public defense systems to adopt our model while providing data that our culture change model works. Caring, competent and committed lawyers are essential to true criminal justice reform.

This partnership is crucial to capturing a values-based approach to criminal justice reform. Gideon’s Promise is truly grateful to be working with Get the Data on this ground-breaking work.

Impact Management Programme Logo

GtD Approved Provider for Impact Management Programme

Get the Data are pleased to announce that we are an approved provider to the Access Foundation’s Impact Management Programme.

The Impact Management Programme aims to build the capacity of charities and social enterprises to manage their impact. This will help them to increase their social impact and diversify income.

Get the Data will support organisations to build impact measurement tools, develop impact plans, report performance, manage data, analyse data and design a theory of change. Please contact to learn how to take advantage of the fund.

Training is being held at locations across the UK for organisations who wish to participate in the programme:

  • London 9th February
  • Liverpool 23rd February
  • Birmingham 1st March
  • Bristol 23rd March

Visit for further information or to book onto a training session.