How do you build data excitement? And more importantly, why would you bother?
Have you ever discovered an amazing tool that you wanted to share with your friends, family, or colleagues — only to get a tepid response, making it clear they’re not nearly as keen as you? You’ve gained a new skill or insight that makes your task infinitely easier and coworkers have offered a half-hearted ‘good for you’?
Building data excitement among nonprofits and social sector organizations can be a trying experience. Many of those on the front lines think that data is merely of academic interest. They don’t recognize how valuable it can be to the teams doing the work.
I once spoke to a mid-level, front-line worker while on a project aimed at helping refugee families arriving in Canada. When she learned what I did, she dismissed it as not relevant to her work. What she said stuck with me.
“I only have two minutes with this family. Am I going to collect their data, or am I going to help them?”
Right there, I realized that creating data excitement was an important part of my job. It wasn’t just about teaching people how to use data or giving them tools or support they needed to incorporate data analysis into their work. I had to make them excited. I had to show them the true value of data.
Academic or Practical?
People will use data when it’s interesting or exciting. Now, I think data is interesting and exciting pretty much all the time. But few others do. For many, data is of interest only to those who understand it. They don’t see the difference it can make when used to:
- Increase statistical power (especially useful for organizations with limited resources)
- Measure impact (great for decisionmaking and fundraising)
- See complexities not revealed by siloed data (which gives a better understanding of the situation at hand)
- Create stories that engage and educate
Data is a valuable tool in the arsenal that too many social sector organizations overlook. If you’re here, you’re probably not someone overlooking the importance of data. So how can we build data excitement amongst our co-workers, colleagues, supervisors, and peers?
Give Them a Win
People like to feel good about what they’re doing. In the social sector, job satisfaction tends not to rely too heavily on compensation. Nonprofit staff often derive much of their satisfaction about feeling good about the work itself. They’re helping people. Making a difference. Changing the world.
It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s worth investing time and energy to build data excitement. Make people feel good about what data enables them to do.
In my example above with the Syrian refugee project, we shifted the focus from how to get the best possible data and instead showed them how existing data could improve efficiency. Data would let them help more families, faster. They could feel good about that.
Give Them Power
People who understand data get to decide how it’s collected, analyzed, and used. Skilled data professionals are often paid well — organizations that stand to make a lot of money from data will pay a lot of money to have people analyze it for them. This, unfortunately, results in a circular inequity of data literacy.
Statistics Canada collects a lot of data on income and income equality across the country to measure progress. But how do we determine what progress is? Values are cultural.
The personal income of an Aboriginal person in Canada is much lower than the average. But income equality — including gender parity — across Aboriginal society is much higher than the national average, a statistic that marks native groups as having made greater progress than the country as a whole.
Working with groups to show how collecting and analyzing data that specifically represents their worldview or values is essential does a lot to build data excitement.
Give Them Skills
Once we build data excitement on a team, the best way to maintain it is to equip them with the skills they need to use data well. The enthusiasm cultivated by showing them the value and power of data will be short-lived if they can’t replicate the results.
The ability to build a data biography is a vital skill for any team that plans to collect and analyze data. We wouldn’t write a news story or report based on the testimony of a person you knew nothing about, and stories based on data should follow the same rules. To ensure any team gets the most out of their data, ensure they ask:
- Where did it come from?
- Who collected it?
- What is being measured?
- How was it collected?
- Why was it collected?
Getting to know and understand data (and any bias that might be hiding within it) will make it easier to tell honest, accurate data stories.
We Can Help Build Data Excitement
Do you need help to build data excitement on your team? At Datassist, we are proud to work with journalists, nonprofits, and government agencies of all sizes to harness the power of data for good. Whether you need expert assistance on your data project, or someone to help build data excitement in your organization, we’re here to help. Get in touch with us today.