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What's the difference between efficiency and effectiveness ?
September 6, 2005 7:01 AM   Subscribe

What's the difference between efficiency and effectiveness ?
posted by vincentm to Writing & Language (17 answers total)
 
Efficiency is doing something with the least possible expenditure of resources (such as time, energy, etc.)

Effectiveness is doing it well, doesn't matter what it takes.
posted by Goblindegook at 7:12 AM on September 6, 2005


This site is not meant to be used as a dictionary. If you have some specific question about a subtlety between the two words, or an unusual usage you've noticed which doesn't fit the textbook definition, then please elaborate. Otherwise, try dictionary.com.
posted by drpynchon at 7:13 AM on September 6, 2005


Efficiency = output (number of customer service calls taken per hour)

Effectiveness = outcome (customers who are satisfied with the answers received)
posted by LeiaS at 7:14 AM on September 6, 2005


I recommend Merriam-Webster over dictionary.com. Fewer pop-ups.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:16 AM on September 6, 2005


Efficiency: killing two flies with one blow of the flyswatter.
Effectiveness: killing at least two flies with one small 20-kiloton ANFO explosion.
Meta-answer: "search the web for dictionary" is a better answer than "dictionary.com". But there don't seem to be any really good dictionaries online. M-W is probably the best, yeah.

...and on looking at the M-W definition for "efficient", it is indeed very close to "effective".
posted by sfenders at 7:39 AM on September 6, 2005


Since I already had the OED site open, I was going to put up possible definitions but on starting to do so realised they would add little to what has already been said. Worthwhile to note though that the terms can be interchangeable in some circumstances.
posted by biffa at 8:03 AM on September 6, 2005


Bartleby has a fairly current American Heritage dictionary (typically described as more descriptive and less prescriptive than M-W, which I prefer for most purposes), and dict.org has a selection of older ones.

Or there's the OED (a subscription service, but check to see if you can get access through your public library or academic institution).
posted by box at 8:05 AM on September 6, 2005


Efficiency: doing things right
Effecitveness: doing the right things

This from my management training.
posted by gfroese at 8:46 AM on September 6, 2005


Effectiveness is comparing information from several dictionaries to determine the best answer. Efficiency is using AskMefites to do the work for you.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:11 AM on September 6, 2005


Peter Drucker once commented on something similar - to paraphrase, effectiveness (doing the right thing) is more important that efficiency (doing things the right way).

Before worrying about how fast your train is going, think about whether it's going in the right direction.
posted by WestCoaster at 11:10 AM on September 6, 2005


Ask Metafilter gives me more 'human' answers than any online or offline dictionary. Knowledge is a social thing...
posted by vincentm at 11:28 AM on September 6, 2005


Ask Metafilter gives me more 'human' answers than any online or offline dictionary.

It's still not what AskMe is for. I have lots of small questions that pop up every day of my life, but I don't come running to AskMe to find out which type of oil I should use in my car -- I open up my owner's manual and find out for myself.
posted by scody at 1:29 PM on September 6, 2005


I don't know what motived the question, but it has an interesting answer. The metafilter consensus seems to be that definition number 1 of 'efficient' in Merriam-Webster is pretty much entirely forgotten.
posted by sfenders at 1:45 PM on September 6, 2005


[Thanks to your link to the OED, box, I just discovered my new employer grants me access. There goes the rest of my day!]
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:07 PM on September 6, 2005


The first definition for "efficient" in the OED is: "Making, causing to be; that makes (a thing) to be what it is; chiefly in connexion with cause." Merriam Webster has a similar first definition. I don't think it's forgotten, but I do think its use is specialized. You'll hear "efficient cause" discussed in both philosophy and law, but not in general conversation.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:12 PM on September 6, 2005


Auditor here.

AUS806.04 defines efficiency as mean the use of financial, human, physical and information resources such that output is maximised for any given set of resource inputs, or input is minimised for any given quantity and quality of output.

AUS806.05 defines effectiveness as the achievement of the objectives or other intended effects of activities.

Before these, though, comes economy under AUS806.03. Economy is the acquisition of the appropriate quality and quantity of financial, human, physical and information resources at the appropriate times and at the lowest cost.

Another way of looking at it is:

- Economy is concerned with the relationship between planned inputs and actual inputs;
- Efficiency is concerned with the relationship between planned processes and actual processes; and
- Effectiveness is concerned with the relationship between planned outputs and actual outputs.

Having said all that, most auditors summarise it thus: efficiency is doing the thing right, effectiveness is doing the right thing.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:42 PM on September 6, 2005


"Efficient" as it is used in connection with causation is a common notion in philosophy. We use it all of the time. However, it is not absent from the vernacular. When most people use "cause" in common conversation "efficient cause" is generally what they mean. (The answers to why chickens cross roads being a notable exception.)

It is more or less the last of Aristotle's four causes to remain in popular use. (To be sure philosophers are still aware of material and final cause, even referring to or using them on the odd occasion. Formal cause is only encountered in historical studies. It is seriously out of favor.)
posted by oddman at 6:40 PM on September 6, 2005


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