Practically Speaking
Written by Kristi Mayo, Evidence Technology Magazine   
Monday, 18 January 2016

There’s a theory behind everything: the system of ideas or principles that dictate why and how we do what we do. Around those theories we build a framework of method and procedure. But over that framework, to complete the structure of a standard operating procedure, we must also include practicality—the way we actually get the job done, efficiently, here in the real world.

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is really just another way of saying that practicality drives us to find better, faster, cheaper ways of getting a job done. It can be easy to point with wonder at the sophistication of new technology—because, as we all know, technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated at a dizzying pace. But at the foundation of every new invention is a person thinking, “That way just isn’t practical. Let’s try something else.”

An example can be found in the March-April 2015 issue of ETM: In 1881, someone suggested that perhaps continually prodding the wounds of President James Garfield with various pointy instruments was not a very efficient way of locating the bullets that were lodged in his body. Instead, inventor Alexander Graham Bell stepped in with a new device that could emit a sound when it was brought within proximity of a metal object. It didn’t work… But, partly as a result of that development in an effort to save the life of the President, today we have a practical tool, the metal detector.

Another example can be found in the article “Automation in DNA Analysis”: The theory—and the procedures—that drive forensic DNA analysis are obviously sound, but as demand for analysis grows and backlogs become bigger, more practical methods are called for. Developments in automation are making tackling the DNA analysis backlogs much more practical, and we can only expect to see those technologies grow faster and more efficient in the near future.

Looking at the total structure of a process—built upon a sound foundation of theory—it can be easy to forget about the amount of hands-on, day-to-day effort that it takes to cover the framework in order to make it correct and complete. That effort to keep it practical and functional is what maintains a continual move toward innovation.

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