The Healthy Congress Index: OKRs for Our Legislators!?

Apr 20, 2015

I love metrics. I believe deeply in the practice of keeping score. And as a lover of metrics, I was delighted by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s announcement yesterday of a new metric: the Healthy Congress Index (HCI)! (Click here for the USA Today story.) The BPC, a highly respected Washington think tank founded by eminent former legislators from both sides of the political aisle, has constructed (click here for their “Methodology”) the HCI from data related to:

  • Working days and days in session for both houses of Congress
  • Debate practices in the Senate
  • Floor amendment process rules in the House of Representatives
  • Bills ordered reported by Senate and House committees, and conference committee activities

At last, we have a quantitative score to measure the productivity of a segment of our society that virtually everyone feels is at the bottom of the productivity heap. Lest you think I’m being sarcastic here, I’m not – I’m very seriously enthusiastic about this initiative. After all, that which is measured tends to improve. There is only one problem with the HCI:


Right now, the HCI is simply a hard-to-assimilate pile of graphs and numbers. That’s progress, but while an “index” may be constructed from disparate data, in order to be a true index it must be a single and usually numerical score – if you don’t believe me, see definition 6(a) in Merriam-Webster or the Wikipedia entry for “Index.” The data need to be boiled down to a single score enabling us to assess each Congress’s performance and identify trends in Congress’s behavior. That may seem a bit arbitrary, but without that, all the HCI will generate is a lot more heat and very little light. And after all, this “arbitrariness” hasn’t hampered us from embracing the Consumer Confidence Index® published by the Conference Board, or those measures of “quality of life” that boil down to a single numerical ranking of U.S. urban areas.

So to the Bipartisan Policy Center, I say congratulations and great work! You’ve done the heavy lifting of identifying the key data contributing to the Healthy Congress Index; now you need to go the last mile and turn the HCI into a real, trackable score. Let’s hold our legislators’ feet to a real fire!

(If the term “OKR” in this post’s title is new to you, it stands for “objectives and key results,” a term widely used in business to identify the metrics used to assess performance and often to determine compensation as well.)

“Painting with Numbers” is my effort to get people to focus on making numbers understandable.  I welcome your feedback and your favorite examples.  Follow me on twitter at @RandallBolten.

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