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 In Data Analysis Concepts Simplified, Data Resources for Nonprofits, How To

An important Rolling Stone piece on The 5 Best and Worst Trans Moments of 2015 reports that the rate of murders committed against transgendered persons in the US is at an all-time high. As someone who has conducted extensive research on violence against marginalized populations, I see this report on the data as a good thing.

In order to understand why I’d view such a disturbing piece of news as positive, you must first understand the real work of data collection and analysis in the social sector. Negative trends in your data aren’t always a negative thing.

The Dangers of Incomplete Data

The article references another Rolling Stone piece where the subtitle reads “At least 81 transgender people have been killed this year, according to new, possibly incomplete data.”  

This last phrase — new, possibly incomplete data — is key.  Of course the data is incomplete — because many people who are transgender and murdered will not be counted as either murdered or transgendered.  But as the US experiences social change and as the cultural norms are more accepting of trans people, the data is now more complete than it used to be.  My guess is that more trans people are not being killed than ever before, but that more deaths are being accurately reported as hate crimes perpetuated against this marginalized population.

From the Rolling Stone article:

“Analyses shows the FBI’s counts drastically underestimate hate crimes in general — accounting for just two to four percent of hate crimes actually committed, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates — but the problem is especially bad for gender bias crimes.”

“These totals represent only the known victims; there may very well be countless other victims of fatal anti-transgender violence whose deaths we will never know about because police, the press or family members have consistently misidentified them based on their assigned sex and name at birth.”

– Kylar Broadus, executive director of the Trans People of Color Coalition

Don’t Assume Your Work isn’t Working

When working for a good cause, don’t immediately assume an intervention isn’t working based on negative data trends in your first look at the numbers.

Negative data trends can be the beginning of a new level of data collection quality.

It’s not time to panic, jump to conclusions, question your research, or stress that your donors will pull funding.  Numbers going “the wrong way” are often a sign of short-term success, because they represent the first round of more accurate data than perhaps has ever before been available.  If your work continues to succeed, the numbers will move in the right direction in the long run.

A number of projects I’ve worked on aim to prevent violence against women in local communities.  These projects have involved education, prevention, de-stigmatization, and emotional and financial supports.  Almost without exception, the data in these communities shows an increase in domestic violence shortly after we implement a program.  

Many times, these negative data trends jeopardized our funding and damaged our enthusiasm — until we came to realize the data was actually demonstrating our success: fewer women were tolerant of violence and abuse, and more assaults were being reported.  This was good news!  

Fortunately, our funders were savvy enough to understand these results, and this actually led to increased funding and further support of our work in the long run. When dealing with negative data trends, it’s crucial that you understand what your numbers really mean, and educate stakeholders on why the data appears as it does.

Don’t Let Negative Data Trends Get You Down

It can be disheartening to see numbers moving in the “wrong” direction when you’re working hard for change. It’s important to remember that numbers moving in a negative direction aren’t always a bad thing: they can demark a turning point in data collection on your particular issue.

At Datassist, we provide data science expertise to journalists and nonprofits alike. We can help transform your data into images and stories that move people and convey the value of your work. If you’d like to know more about how we can help you, get in touch today.

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