Okay, so I’m jobless right now. So I could sit around and mindlessly click the “Easy Apply” button on LinkedIn or I can write about some of the many things that are on my mind. For the moment, I’m going with the writing thing.
I put our new car in reverse.
And slowly I back it down our driveway.
Nobody coming, it’s clear from the rearview, I look over both shoulders, and finally the traffic camera on the car’s dashboard.
And just as I start to comfortably back into the street, the car decides to slam on the brakes. It wants to stop, so it stops.
It brings me back to high school drivers ed. Driving through the streets of McSherrystown PA with Mr. Breech. I didn’t come to a full and complete stop at one of the towns many stop signs. Mr. Breech took this as an opportunity to hit the brake hard, his signature drivers ed teacher move, before scolding his student in the middle of the intersection.
This feels just as jarring, except no Mr. Breech. It was the car that decided to stop. Not because there was something there, or I missed some kind of traffic signal, something in the algorithm just decided it wanted to stop. So it did, hard enough to put black rubber marks on the driveway.
This wasn’t the first time, it had happened several times already. With a quick google search I discovered that the Reverse Automatic Braking feature that came with my car can be thrown off by a slight driveway incline. And the car will stop, because it decides to stop.
Two planes down, hundreds dead, how do we prevent the next crash?
A sensor erroneously reported that the plane was stalling and erroneously sent the plane nose down, and pilots couldn’t override it.Vox: The Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes and controversy, explained
So unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the two Boeing 737 Max 8 crashes. But maybe you’ve lost track of the story as the news cycle has shifted many times since.
So it turns out there was an algorithm attached to a sensor. One sensor.
And that algorithm, based on data from the single sensor, has the ability to take full control over the plane to correct the situation. This lets it “prevent stalls” or in the case of the two planes that went down, “crash the plane.”
Since the initial crash last October, Boeing has been updating the MCAS software on the 737 Max to use data from the plane’s two AOA sensors, rather than relying on one sensor. Critics question why the airplane’s system wasn’t originally designed that way.CNN: Boeing relied on single sensor for 737 Max that had been flagged 216 times to FAA
A single sensor giving an algorithm the ability to override a pilot’s judgement seems like a huge problem. Is this how design is supposed to work?
In addition to not including inputs from two AOA sensors in its original design, Boeing did not flight test AOA sensor malfunctions and how MCAS software would respond, according to several sources.CNN: Boeing relied on single sensor for 737 Max that had been flagged 216 times to FAA
But is this really the designers fault? I mean they had the best of intentions to make the plane safer. What if this is evaluation’s fault, or rather, a lack of proper evaluation.
Design without Evaluation = Death
Design and Evaluation are directly related. In healthy organizations they co-exist.
Design is intention. It is the desire to achieve something, build something, or respond to some type of challenge.
Evaluation is a check on design. It is about reflection, context, evidence, and reality.
Unchecked intention causes mild annoying situations, like a poorly timed stop light or hard to find contact us button. Or slightly dangerous situations, like brakes slamming on as I back out of my driveway. And it can also cause planes to drop from the sky.
Evaluation is as Critical as Design
I’ve heard colleagues and non-profiters talk about evaluation in terms of improving programs. And sure, evaluation as a formative check on design or process of concept development, can be used to improve programs.
But design without evaluation can be like a car without brakes (or like the ever increasing number of rental scooters). If the idea is to get you from point A to point B, it might effective. But it could also cause far more problems than it solves.
Let designers create.
Evaluators, it’s your job not to stand in the way of design. But it is your job to prevent the destruction.
What’s the worst case scenario?
What if your after-school program doesn’t help the children it intends to serve?
What if your social media campaign takes up too much of everyone’s time?
What if the strategy you planned, doesn’t pan out. Who suffers?
Can you become too big or too important to fail?
Is that a problem?
Do you have someone on staff, an evaluator, to provide a check on your design? Or is the worst case really not that big of a deal?
Is the Boeing 737 Max 8 problem an outlier? Or is it a warning sign of scary things to come?
I think we’ve heard from the designers, where are all the evaluators?