Operational Definition Training

When in the context of data collection, an operational definition is a clear, concise definition of a measure. With the myriad of data collection actions that take place in a healthcare setting, the ability to strengthen your team’s ability to create an effective operational definition is an important component to effective reporting.

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Practice Your Operational Definition Reporting Abilities

In order to examine your team’s ability to create effective operational definitions around a given measure, complete the following exercise with your team.


  • Split your team up into smaller groups. Make sure different stakeholder types are represented on each team. No verbal communication can take place between the teams during this exercise.
  • Give the first team a bowl of M&Ms
  • Ask them to write an operational definition (OD) for a defect (such as a chip or a crack, color type is not allowed)
  • Determine the number of defects. Place the team name or number on the OD. Keep the original count to yourself.
  • Pass the bowl to the next team along with the OD
  • Each team should count and record defects for the other team’s M&Ms. The OD is the only source for directions.
Examine the Results of your Operational Definition Exercise

Once the operational definition exercise is complete, explore the results of the exercise with the wider team


  • Despite having a written definition to measure defects, what kind of variation was found in each team’s perception of the definition?
  • What types of variation were found between each of the groups? Explore through discussion the thought process each group used and how it differed from the other groups’ process
Explore the Wider Implications for Future Stakeholder Consensus Needs

Having completed this exploration of the variation in stakeholder perceptions to the operational definitions utilized for the exercise, explore how the lessons learned can impact future activities.



  • How does a IT staff member define a given defect?
  • How does a clinician define the same defect?
  • What can be done to ensure multiple stakeholders address a potential defect from an agreed-upon operational definition.