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 In Data Analysis Concepts Simplified, Data Analysis Tools, Data Resources for Nonprofits, Team

Did you know there is a National All or Nothing Day? (Full disclosure: I didn’t either until I started researching for this post.)

Apparently, the day is dedicated to encouraging people to throw caution to the wind. Organizers want us to try that thing we’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t quite have the nerve for: skydiving, trying a bold new look, or telling that cute girl at the office that we’re into her.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend an “all or nothing” approach to operations for nonprofits or social sector organizations, there is something to be said for making the leap into doing things we know we can benefit from but hesitate to try.

No, I’m not recommending extreme sports or bold confessions of emotion (but go ahead and rock that man-bun or magenta pantsuit). In this particular instance, I’m talking about data sharing. (Gasp!)

Data Sharing Pros and Cons

In case that statement was news to you, hi, I’m Heather and I think data sharing is super-important. I’ve talked about the benefits of data sharing a lot in the years since I started Datassist, but I’m going to keep talking about it until we’re all doing it because I think there is really that much value in combining data from different sources.

Unfortunately, while we’re all pretty keen to reap the benefits of what other institutions know, we start to feel a little reckless when we approach the idea of merging our organization’s entire database with someone else’s. Fortunately, exposing our data doesn’t have to leave our team — or our clients — exposed (more on that in a sec).

But why? Why would I embrace an all or nothing approach to data sharing when my organization is doing just fine with our own data?

It’s a fair question, and one I get asked a lot. So let’s examine it. Why would you bother tackling the data sharing challenge? Here’s a quick list of the pros and cons for you to consider:

Pros

  • Data sharing can make analysis better — more complex data to compare can facilitate more insightful evaluation, and broader data about clients can help us design programs to more effectively meet needs
  • Data sharing can make analysis cheaper — not only does sharing reduce data collection costs, but it can help you make better strategic decisions, which means you’re making better use of your resources

“One of the defining challenges of the second decade of this century will be for the public sector to learn how to tap into this new “unnatural resource” (shared data) to understand the changing needs of citizens and respond with agility.”

Robert Kirkpatrick, United Nations Global Pulse

Cons

  • Data sharing can raise confidentiality concerns — how can you protect the privacy of the people you serve while simultaneously passing their sensitive personal data around to other organizations?
  • Data sharing can raise security and legal concerns — Sharing data demands attention to detail, and robust, professional systems for data sharing and storage are required to ensure your information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands

A Little Goes a Long Way

Data sharing doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” proposal. There is a middle ground, and a little bit of data can still go a long way.

You can test the waters before you jump into the deep end of data sharing.

The Peel Child and Youth Initiative had concerns about data sharing when we first started working with them, but they recognized the value of sharing their data and accessing data from other organizations.

They started slowly; they found ways to share data within partner institutions’ different abilities to share. They developed a plan and began gathering key morsels of information from school boards and public health departments.

They demonstrated important patterns about youth issues while keeping individual data safely anonymous and keeping each institution’s record system intact.

Like PCYI, you too can wade into the world of data sharing. Test the waters before you jump into the deep end. Begin by sharing small amounts of data with multiple institutions, giving yourself time to ensure collection and storage methods will meet your standards for client confidentiality and data security. Before you know it, you’ll be a data sharing pro.

Get Started Sharing Data Today

You don’t have to wait for All or Nothing Day (which is in July, btw) — you can step out into the world of data sharing now! Start reaping the benefits of collaboration and shared data today.

If you’re not sure how to add external data to your analysis, download your free copy of our workbook 7 Steps for Adding Public Data to Your Analysis. If you’d like more hands-on assistance with data sharing, we can help with that too. Get in touch with our data experts today.

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