Posts tagged data-driven organization
Before You Collect Data, Ask Some Questions:

We take for granted now that schools and non-profits run on data. You’ll never hear a non-profit leader say “we have too much data”, or “we shouldn’t be collecting this or that”. However, before you say “let’s collect that”, ask yourself:

1) What’s the point? You might not hear it easily, but within each data request there is a subtle distinction between “Show me data so I can learn what works” and “Show me data so I can prove it works.” In one case, the purpose is learning and improvement, and the other it’s probably funding. Both purposes serve an organization’s mission. When bringing data in to a conversation, make sure you’ve got data that responds to the right question. For example, you may set a shoo-in goal for your funder that 75% of participants will achieve the outcome. When you meet with your internal leadership team or staff, let’s celebrate that outcome, but then look at the participants who did NOT achieve the outcome. In an improvement culture, we’re combing the data for problems: any participant who the program didn’t work for or who may need more interventions. In funder reports, we’re highlighting success and growth.

2) Is the juice worth the squeeze? I was chatting with a high school counselor recently who told me he spends three half-days a week inputting data, mostly case notes. I must have misheard. That’s a full day and a half each week! Why does he do this? Well, the boss needs it to keep the organization running. While I appreciate his commitment to the organization and data collection, that’s too much “squeeze” for something the funders aren’t actually asking for. When considering whether to collect data on something, know your plan for what you’re going to do with it. It’s not enough to say “It would be cool if we knew…”. We have to think about the time staff takes collecting data as a monetary cost to the organization. How much would you pay? You should pay for data that benefits participants because it will: (1) help fund your organization, (2) help staff do their jobs more effectively or efficiently (even considering that data collection), (3) play a key role in leadership’s decision-making process.

3) Are we going to look at the data? If there’s no plan and no team to review the data, and the purpose is learning and improvement (not funder-driven), don’t waste your time. Let everyone leave a bit early today. OR, consider how the data will inform key services before you collect it. If half of your organization’s work is helping young people plan for college, what do counselors need to know, and when? If the transcript report takes 5 minutes to run every time they meet with a student, the data can be used for reflection, but it’s not a tool. Do leaders and supervisors know how to talk about data, or value it? If not, get feedback to inform capacity building.

3 bullets is pretty standard. I’ll stop there. Anything I missed?

Resolution to Learn and Share

Hello Internet! (Or more likely, my dad and a friend or two),

This is my first blog post, and a challenge to myself to start taking stock of what I’m learning from my short experience as Ali Holstein LLC. Just like any good diet, I figured making this learning public would help hold me accountable for continuous learning and reflection. As I resolve to start sharing lessons and resources, I’m also looking back on what I’ve learned in 2018 - a year in which I made a major pivot from working for large organizations to becoming a team of 1. So here are some things I’ve been thinking about that will hopefully be valuable to someone else out there working with schools and non-profits:

  • Data is not a bucket. Data is a mindset and a culture. A data-driven organization does not hire a “data person” to “do the data.” A data-driven organization has leaders and staff who know they need information and evidence to make decisions, and they have a clear idea of what they are trying to achieve. They are able to look at data not just for what they want to share with funders or governing bodies, but for the growth areas (or holes) that must be addressed in order to reach their goals. They know they will never figure it out, but rather, will always be working to make things better.

  • Consulting is more than patching a hole in the ceiling. It’s figuring out what caused the hole, making a plan to prevent future holes, and making sure your client is more prepared, confident, and motivated to NOT hire expensive consultants to fix holes. Not sure how to do all this yet. Stay tuned.

  • Giving myself a “title” in an emerging role was a struggle. My working title is “Youth Program Consultant and Data Translator” to be a little specific about which organizations I work with. “Data Translator” is a term I made up (that already existed) to highlight a problem I’ve found in the field - a deep commitment to collect and report data (to funders) but a need for good structures for learning and growing from the data.

  • Relationships. All work with young people revolves around relationships. I kinda knew this already, but I’m seeing it more in the data (higher attendance when students feel they belong). Glad we’re starting to measure the right things.

Excited for the journey ahead. Please leave a comment, Dad!

Happy New Year!

Ali