Have I properly identified effectiveness?
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the (Cheshire) Cat.
“I don’t much care where —” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“— so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
— From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Without a definition of effectiveness, we become like Alice, wandering through a Wonderland of possibilities with no hope of accomplishing anything in particular. Defining effectiveness allows us to focus our energies, prioritize our actions and manage our lives.
For example, are the warning labels affixed to plastic bags,
computers, prescription drugs, cigarettes, toys, tools and host of other products effective? If proliferation is the criteria, then the labels have been enormously successful. They litter the modern landscape like debris after a ticker-tape parade. If understanding is the objective, then the warnings are about as effective as using Braille to communicate with the average citizen. Scholars have shown that consumers often fail to read the warnings, and if they do, they rarely have a clear understanding of the message. If the purpose of a warning is to actually change behavior, then the record is even worse. Millions of Americans routinely ignore the Surgeon General’s warning on the back of their cigarette packages. However, if warning labels are designed to protect producers from legal liability then they have been relatively more successful. In short, defining effectiveness is not the simple, straightforward and obvious task it may appear to be at first glance.