Skip to main content
Search form
  • 00:01

    [SAGE video in practice][Measurement]

  • 00:10

    NARRATOR: Measurement is a part of our everyday lives.Each time we get on a scale or take a blood pressure reading,we're carefully measuring a variable that's important to usas individuals.In society, there are also variablesthat we regularly measure.And such measurement often affects large numbersof people.For example, the cleanliness of our streets or poverty

  • 00:32

    NARRATOR [continued]: are important public issues that affect the lives of millionsof citizens, affect the policies we propose and the way taxdollars get spent.Professors Dahlia Remler and Gregg Van Ryzinare public affairs researchers whonote that measurement in the public arenacan often be complex, yet it's essential to good public policy

  • 00:54

    NARRATOR [continued]: decisions.

  • 00:55

    DAHLIA REMLER: Government agenciesneed to measure things, to see what they need to work onand to see if the programs have worked.

  • 01:02

    NARRATOR: And that's just what New YorkCity did about clean streets over four decades ago.But unlike blood pressure or weight--

  • 01:10

    DAHLIA REMLER: It's multi-dimensional.It's harder to define what actually is street cleanliness.

  • 01:17

    NARRATOR: So the city began by asking residentswhat clean streets meant.

  • 01:22

    SPEAKER 1: No trash on the groundand no clutter in the middle of the street and no smell.

  • 01:27

    SPEAKER 2: I would say clean street wouldbe free from debris.

  • 01:32

    SPEAKER 3: A clean street is a street thatdoesn't have a lot of litter.

  • 01:36

    SPEAKER 4: You really can't measure it.

  • 01:38

    NARRATOR: But the city felt it could measure litter.However, precise scientific measurementrequires an operational definition.How would you define litter on the streets?

  • 01:48

    GREGG VAN RYZIN: Middle of the street, on the curb.Is it on the sidewalk?And how much of that counts?

  • 01:51

    NARRATOR: Alternatively, you couldmeasure the number of people hiredby the city as street sweepers or the average amount of timethey spend sweeping.

  • 01:60

    DAHLIA REMLER: So you'd love to measure all of these thingsto get a really good measure of the street-- holistic measureof the street cleanliness.That's really expensive and very, very time consuming.

  • 02:12

    NARRATOR: And the city already spends over $1 billion per yearjust cleaning streets.So New York City made a decision.

  • 02:19

    GREGG VAN RYZIN: They went through a processof taking photographs.

  • 02:23

    NARRATOR: The photos were ranked from least clean to most clean.

  • 02:26

    GREGG VAN RYZIN: Those became a standard,a photographic standard, that was then used to train raters.

  • 02:32

    NARRATOR: Today, raters carry handheld phonesand compare their judgments to the standards.But this definition of street cleanlinessis very narrow, as it only focuses on litter specificallyin the street as opposed to broadening the definitionto include other areas.

  • 02:48

    DAHLIA REMLER: So we'll have a less valid measure.

  • 02:50

    NARRATOR: And while the definition may be less valid,less inclusive, the precise but narrow photographic standardused results in high reliability among raters.

  • 03:01

    DAHLIA REMLER: Given that you have limited resources,you have to think about this validity-reliability trade-off.

  • 03:08

    NARRATOR: And Van Ryzin's researchshows that New York City's efforts are working.Over time, as street cleanliness ratings have risen,so has resident satisfaction.

  • 03:17

    SPEAKER 5: It's not like the old days you used to walk byand there would be trash all over the place.And I think, yeah, it's improved a lot since evenin the past five years or so, I would say.

  • 03:29

    NARRATOR: But while street cleanlinesshas improved in New York City, what's gotten worse,both here and across the nation, is the poverty rate.This graph shows government statistics on poverty.

  • 03:39

    GREGG VAN RYZIN: The number of peoplein poverty over time rising to 46.2 million.But it's very important to look at how the government definesand measures poverty.

  • 03:50

    NARRATOR: It was Mollie Orshanskywho created the official poverty definition more than halfa century ago.

  • 03:55

    DAHLIA REMLER: She knew there was a lot of controversy.So she sort of said, well, everyonecan agree that you need to have enough to eat.

  • 04:04

    NARRATOR: Food cost back then used up about 1/3of the family's budget.

  • 04:08

    DAHLIA REMLER: And so they just tookthat, multiplied it by three, and said, if you have that,you have enough.

  • 04:15

    NARRATOR: Amazingly, the definitionhas changed very little since then.

  • 04:18

    DAHLIA REMLER: They just took that old thing.And they just updated it and updated it for inflation.

  • 04:25

    NARRATOR: But since the 1950s, food priceshave come down dramatically, while other costs have risen,causing some critics to be--

  • 04:32

    DAHLIA REMLER: Stunned and appalledat the official measure.Instead, people want to look at a genuine measureof necessities, price it, see what it is, agree on that,and use that.

  • 04:50

    NARRATOR: Today, a supplemental poverty measureaddresses several flaws in the official poverty measureby counting some non-cash sources of income.

  • 04:58

    DAHLIA REMLER: You can't just look at the incomethat I've earned and see if I'm poor.You also have to see if the government gave mefood stamps or housing vouchers or other things like that.

  • 05:08

    NARRATOR: But surprisingly, non-cash health carecontributions like Medicare and Medicaid are not counted.

  • 05:15

    DAHLIA REMLER: And so I'm concerned, oh,we're not really accurately measuring poverty,because we're missing out on this important dimensionof poverty.That's a validity issue.

  • 05:26

    NARRATOR: Another issue is whether povertyshould be considered absolute or relative.

  • 05:30

    DAHLIA REMLER: Is poverty a relative concept?Am I poor if I'm so much worse off than other peopleno matter what I have?Or do we have an absolute standard for poverty?

  • 05:43

    NARRATOR: Recall that Orshansky utilized an absolute standardwhich still applies today.

  • 05:49

    DAHLIA REMLER: This issue of relative povertyis one that is, I think, quite politically controversial.And people don't agree about that.

  • 05:56

    NARRATOR: What we can agree aboutis that measuring public policy variables can be complex.And Remler and Van Ryzin have important take-home messages.

  • 06:06

    DAHLIA REMLER: The first thing to understandis to really think very, very clearlyabout what you want to measure.

  • 06:11

    GREGG VAN RYZIN: Look behind the scenes.See how the measurement is produced.And you need to be a critical consumerof those sorts of statistics.There are strengths and weaknessesto almost every measurement that the government or any agencyor the media report on.And I think understanding those strengths and weaknesses isan important skill.

Video Info

Publisher: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Publication Year: 2013

Video Type:In Practice

Methods: Measurement, Validity

Keywords: community and urban issues; food stamps; garbage; poverty; prices; public policy; public policy development; Sanitation services; urban areas ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Professors Dahlia Remler and Gregg Van Ryzin provide an analytical history of measurement policy. Their discussion outlines the history of two government measurement challenges, defining clean streets and the benchmarks of poverty.

Looks like you do not have access to this content.


Professors Dahlia Remler and Gregg Van Ryzin provide an analytical history of measurement policy. Their discussion outlines the history of two government measurement challenges, defining clean streets and the benchmarks of poverty.

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website