Data Matters: If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Improve It

Peter Drucker (1909-2005), known as the inventor of modern business management, is credited with saying: “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” This axiom may have exceptions, and what alcoholic doesn’t love exceptions? I certainly still do! But most of us in recovery gladly accept an anniversary coin and congratulate newcomers or long-timers when they reach milestones, be it 30 hours, days or years of continuous sobriety. 

Of course, we don’t keep records, but who doesn’t feel better about our fellowship when a GSR reports to Intergroup (IG) the number of newcomers joining their meetings? Or the AA helpline announces an increase in people seeking assistance? Or when one’s group contributes 7th Tradition in excess of prudent reserve to the next level in our service structure? 


Numbers like these matter: numbers of newcomers, service positions filled or vacant, meeting attendance up or down, 12 Steps completed, minutes of daily prayer and meditation … We might not think about these numbers like website page visits or KPI statistics, but I believe we ought to be using existing data to measure how well we are fulfilling our primary purpose as stated in the 5th Tradition, “Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” 


To those who think Drucker’s management advice doesn’t apply to an organization with an upside down org chart like AA – think again. Recent experience using a data driven outreach approach with Health Care Professionals (HCP) tells a different story.


After a career in marketing communications, I can assure you, “a message for everyone is a message for no one.” Meaning, for AA to be effective in (outreach) communications, it has to narrowly define a specific audience and address that persona’s needs. As former pharma sales exec, Basel AA member and a key collaborator for HCP outreach communications told me, “Joel, health professionals don’t care about AA or OUR ideas. Their only interest is THEIR patients and what you can do for them.”


As published in ArenA last month, this distinction is not trivial. Consequently, if we are to win HCP referrals to AA for problem drinking patients, we have to prove our claim of a solution to alcoholism is based on factual data. Thanks to free digital tools and the correlation of AA membership to long-term sobriety, such data is relatively easy to obtain and disseminate.


For example, an AA long-timer, working on a NATO airbase in Italy read, “The Butterfly Effect of Outreach to HCP.” Following Basel’s and Zurich’s examples, she collected local fellowship’s data, reported it in a powerpoint slide deck and sent it to the chief medical officer. A week later she was invited to make a presentation to the chief and his staff – resulting in his recommendation of AA as an additional recovery option (besides the military’s own program) for on-base service personnel with drinking problems.


The effectiveness of communication is not defined by the communication, but the result.

Milton Erickson

Will we continue to search out the ever present flaws and gaps in our communications? With enough imagination, courage, and dedication, will we resolutely address ourselves to those many tasks, of repair and improvement which even now the future is calling on us to undertake? Still clearer vision and an ever mounting sense of responsibility can be the only answers to these questions.” 

Bill W. from the book, “AA Today”, published by the Grapevine, July 1960.


In the past month, HCP outreach working groups have formed in Basel, Geneva and Zurich. Contact me ( to learn how easy it is to begin effective communications with local English-speaking GPs, rehabs, therapists and medical professionals. Resources and support available upon request to all groups in CER.


Submitted by Joel B.

Health Liaison Officer (HLO) of Continental European Region of Alcoholics Anonymous Great Britain



Three Talks to Medical Societies by Bill W., co-founder of AA

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YT video of the Cochrane Review article noted above

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