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

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking a lot about how and why nonprofits should collect and use social identity data — why it matters, the difference it can make, and how even small organizations can have a big impact.

(If you’re just joining us, you might want to check out specific posts on collecting gender and sexual orientation data, data on ethnicity and race, and disability status data.)

Now that you understand how critical it is that we all start collecting social identity data, it’s time to focus on how we use social identity data. Using any data incorrectly can lead to misinformation and bias — not optimal in any case, but even worse when the bias works against groups that are already being marginalized.

Don’t worry! Careful, correct use of this crucial data can lead to a nuanced understanding of complex trends and social situations.

First Steps to Take

The most important step when you start to use social identity data is to get to know your data — where it came from and what it’s really saying. It’s exciting to get your hands on new data, and the impulse to jump to conclusions based on initial numbers so you can leap into action is tempting, but you need to resist.

Understanding how and why your data was collected is an important step in your data analysis. Whether you’ve gathered responses yourself, outsourced the task, or are relying on shared or public data on the social identities of the community you’re working with, it’s important to know and document:

  • Who collected it
  • When and how it was collected
  • Why it was collected

Developing complete data biographies is a critical part of understanding and analyzing your data.

The methods, timing, and ultimate goal behind the collection of social identity data can affect the data itself. It’s important to develop a data biography so you can recognize the difference between trends created by collection methods and trends that are really occurring.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Once you’ve cleaned and organized your data, you can begin your analysis. But just as with any other data, it’s important to avoid these common data analysis pitfalls when you use social identity data.

Ecological Fallacy

Remember, data stories can only go in one direction. You can use data on individuals to develop a picture of a community as a whole, but don’t try to use data on an entire population to draw conclusions about individuals within that group.

Prediction vs. Causality

Just because you see a relationship between two factors in your data, doesn’t mean you can assume one is causing the other. It’s important to understand the difference between a predictive relationship (where two factors are likely to change together) and a causal relationship (where one factor causes another to change).

Misunderstood Data Relationships

Relationships are complicated, and data relationships are no exception. Make sure you know what the interactions between your different variables mean, or you risk trying to address problems that don’t exist (or overlooking those that do)!

Communicating Your Findings

Once you’ve collected and analyzed it, I’m sure you’ll be anxious to use social identity data to go out and make big changes in the world. Awesome! But be mindful of how you communicate the information you’ve uncovered — even the most carefully collected and analyzed data can be misleading if presented in the wrong way.

There is no perfect way to communicate your data. (Even data experts can agree on that.) The important thing is to be transparent about your data, where it came from, and how you arrived at the conclusions you did. It’s also good to provide as much context as possible to avoid misleading your audience.

Use Social Identity Data to Change the World

As I write this post, I realize it may seem discouraging. I’ve spent all this time building a case for why you should be collecting social identity data, and now I’m telling you all the ways it can go wrong.

Don’t give up!

At Datassist, we truly believe the most important changes begin with data. And while sometimes collecting that data can be challenging or intimidating, it’s important to take a minute to remember why it is you do the work you do. You want to make a difference. You’re here to help.

So are we.

If you’d like assistance helping your organization use social identity data to improve your services, be more inclusive of marginalized groups, or start making the changes you’d like to see in the world, we can help. Whether you’ve got more questions you need answered or you’d like support with your next project, our team is at your service. Get in touch today.

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