Measuring matters, as long as the what- and how-question are very well thought-out

After a pleasant conference opening, the numerous economists, engineers, psychologists… present were introduced into the common thinking of people involved in all kinds of measuring.

Antoon Vandevelde – Institute of Philosophy of KU Leuven –  gave his answer to the question that occupied everyone that day: “Does measuring matter?”.

He started his story pointing out where it most of the time goes wrong when it comes to measuring, but more interesting was that he therefor also gave some possible solutions, namely using multi-criteria analysis instead of only cost-benefit analysis and being aware that judgement is unavoidable as human being.

Antoon added a philosophic touch to his exposition by linking the source of the mistakes we make with our anthropological background. Reciprocity, with the prominent example ‘trust’, was hereby the most important concept.

The conclusion was as follows: “Trust is good, control is better, but with the use of measurements if you are working with people”. This is a valuable message that immediately emphasizes an important social aspect, and which I always carry with me as a science student, often confronted with measuring. 

Quality and quantity

Willy Vandenbrande – QS Concult – came with another fascinating story about measuring. We now live in a world where the situation has changed a lot (think of the world population, the environmental problems etc.), but the system itself didn’t change similarly, so the economic view we get is a crumbling impact. It’s confronting that we are so much focused on quantity, so that the system becomes the goal and all species get on the second place.

After this session I’m truly convinced that there is the way to make an end to this absurdism of the 21st century. So dear sir Vandenbrande, as 22 year old wannabe quality consultant I will do my best not to be ‘the ape with an attitude’ anymore and not to consider quality and quantity as antonyms. With a sense of urgency and correct measurements, let’s make Joe Juran’s prophecy of a system change to quality come true and make a sustainable future! 

ISO 17025

Another session that left me some inspiration was brought by Bob Van Doorsselaere, Marc Van Ryckeghem and Johan Pype – SGS. They emphasized the importance of good guidelines and norms for efficient measuring in a lab context, such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, VLAREM …This was a bit more specific than the previous sessions, but for a student like me who is writing his thesis on ISO 17025 probably the most interesting one.

After paying the necessary attention to the concept of total measurement error (and the sub-errors), the different steps from sample preparation to reporting were discussed. Besides that an amusing insight in complexity, and the associated relevance of instrumental and analytical expertise, was given. Bob finished the presentation with a slide about a new rule that will be implemented in the new ISO 17025, namely the decision rule.

This rule brought also a very nice conclusion, which I will remember : keeping Ishikawa in mind, one single analysis doesn’t give a list with all the information and drawing the line isn’t a self-evident case. Ring tests or working top-down and the GUM-method (for new calibrations) are at this moment generally decided the best solutions. 

Human expression

In between the sessions, the main ideas were confirmed by several company representatives. The interaction with the audience was creatively organized through elevator pitches and with quotes that every quality manager has to think about, such as “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”, “’Human resourcing’ should be changed to a more human expression” …  My personal conclusion after this eye-opening day: measuring matters, as long as the what- and how-question are very well thought-out!

Jonathan De Durpel, Master of Chemical Engineering Technology, Student Business Economics – University of Ghent

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