Thursday, April 19, 2012

Process and review - seriously important.

Okay, so this article has been on my radar (a tab on my browser) for several days now. It's a critique from Gordon Campbell of the public private partnership deals that the government has set up to run some trial schools in Birkenhead. I'm not going to go into the fact that when you take a good long hard look at the charter school process it ends up costing more than a normal school, that's been gone into many times before and should hopefully be obvious to everyone by now.

I'd actually like to try and relate this to one of the processes I use when I'm doing my research. And that is review. Campbell asks a number of questions, relevant questions, like "how will contractual compliance be monitored and enforced" and "What costs for this monitoring-of-compliance role have been incorporated in the contract?" or  "Who will fund the legal costs of pursuing non-compliance". It's that first one that gets me though. When I've got a new set of data (getting seriously sick of waiting for the sequencing data from my last experiment to come back) there are several things I have to do with it. Stitch it all together to make sensible mRNA, figure out which mRNA's are present in greater numbers than they would normally be or maybe figure out which mRNA's are possibly kicking of even greater expression of another gene. It's easy to get something wrong. I'm done it many times before - something seems like a new and interesting result. First thing to do is go back and check it. Then you move onto the next step in the process. Then go back and check it from the very beginning. Continual monitoring and enforcement so to speak. The number of times I've been two or three steps into a process and then figured out there's something wrong in the first step.
The thing is, if you're continually going back and checking, then you're a lot more likely to pick up your mistakes. The fact that charter schools overseas haven't appeared to actually work aside, there should be continual monitoring and enforcement of contracts, so mistakes and problems can be identified, as there should be with any large new venture of this sort.

And as an <indignant> aside, whenever people ask for details about what's being spent or what the contracts involve, I note they tend to get fobbed off with "sorry, that's commercially sensitive". Fine, it's commercially sensitive, but one of the parties in that commercially sensitive partnership is my government and by extension me. it should be a precondition of any commercial entity doing business with the government that they know all of details of the deal will be made public.

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