Conversations with Breed Health Coordinators: Passion and Data

I’ve had lots of really interesting conversations with Breed Health Coordinators (BHCs) about what they are trying to achieve in their breed. One of the great things about most BHCs is that they are so passionate about their breed, its health and its development. There’s no lack of enthusiasm and motivation to make a difference, but there’s never enough funding or resource to match these.

Our conversations often lead us to discuss the available data which could give an insight into where and how the  BHC could make the most difference and how this could be achieved. So, for example, what’s the value of a big, expensive  and time-consuming Breed Health Survey that engages lots of owners, if nothing happens with the results? At the other end of the spectrum, Dave Brailsford’s “1% Principle” might suggest that finding a low-cost (online) way of educating lots of owners about good husbandry, breeding practices and the need for health testing could aggregate into a sizeable pool of benefits. This latter point is particularly relevant when you look at the most common health conditions identified in the VetCompass Project: Otitis, Periodontal disease and Impacted Anal Glands.

Many breeds have lots of data, but perhaps lack the capability or capacity to analyse it and draw out the insights. Sometimes the data is locked away in spreadsheets, sometimes it’s in an online Health Survey database.

Passion without data will take you a long way, but in an increasingly complex and uncertain world, the danger is that you simply won’t be able to demonstrate the impact you are making and won’t be able to persuade owners and breeders to participate in future initiatives.

In our conversations, we usually decide that data without passion is simply “boring”. Nobody really cares about numbers. When was the last time you got excited to hear someone saying “I’m going to do a t-test” or “Let’s draw the regression line”?

Inevitably, there’s a 4-box matrix combining Passion and Data (consultants like me can always boil the world down to two parameters, can’t they?).passion-data_matrix

On reflection, this is a slight variation on something Tom Peters said, way back in the days of ‘A Passion for Excellence’. He said, “Most improvement initiatives fail for one of two reasons, they either have passion without system, or system without passion; you desperately need both”.

I’m convinced that Passion plus Data is a winning combination for any breed that is serious about safeguarding its future.

It’s probably also a good argument for having a diverse Health Committee in addition to a BHC. There’s usually someone in the breed whose day-job involves doing things with data as well as all those enthusiasts who bring breed-specific knowledge, an understanding of genetics and veterinary or healthcare skills. If that committee also includes teachers, trainers, fundraisers and marketing people, you’ve probably got most bases covered.

You’ll soon be able to vote for Breed Health Coordinator of the Year which will be another great way to recognise all the hard work these people do.

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