Monday, July 2, 2012

60 Steps Revisited: Step 20 - Formulate Hypothesis

Back in 2009, I did a series of posts covering the excellent book Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. The book is published by the US DOJ's Problem Oriented Policing Center (POP Center). Because of the value I think this book has for crime analysts, and policing in general, I am going to re-post this series on here on the blog.

We're up to Step 20 - Formulate Hypothesis in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers. Imagine that your Chief comes to your office. He tells you that City Hall is getting complaints about a particular crime problem and tasks you with coming up with a solution. What do you think his reaction would be if you tell him that you will take a guess at a solution? I imagine he'll say something like "You're an analyst. I don't pay you to guess. I want a solution." In actuality, they do pay you to guess, it's just dressed up and respectable when we call it a "hypothesis". Much of what we do in law enforcement is guess work. We base our guesses or hypotheses our training and experience but in the end it is still a guess.

The authors have some guidelines about this guess work:
  1. clearly state your hypotheses
  2. not be wedded to them
  3. use data to objectively test them (Source: Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers )
These guidelines are what differentiates a guess from a hypothesis. As we analyze our crime problems using the strategies outlined in the previous 19 steps we've covered in Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers we should be working towards a hypothesis. This hypothesis is our attempt at understanding the dynamics of the problem so we can then develop a possible solution. The analysis should always move us in the direction of a solution. It should not, as the authors caution lead to "Paralysis by Analysis".
The lack of explicit hypotheses can lead to "paralysis by analysis," collecting too much data, conducting too much analysis, and not coming to any useful conclusion. Source:Crime Analysis For Problem Solvers
It is important to realize that we will never have all the information we need to be absolutely certain our hypothesis is correct. There comes a time to be decisive and put our hypothesis out there. We don't want our crime analysis units to be thought of as a "black hole" where data comes in but information never escapes. 

Next time, we'll cover Step 21 - Collect Your Own Data.

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