In Part 1 and Part 2 of our data culture series, you discovered the benefits of becoming data-friendly. Now that you’ve decided to embark on your data adventure, who will take responsibility for all the numbers and reports?
You could decide that your organization’s data project is your puppy and you’ll raise it all by yourself…but, you’ll probably have to hand off the data hat to someone else at some point. As talented as you and your staff are, you probably didn’t become non-profit professionals because of an intense love of statistics, so choosing a go-to data person may be hard.
When you’re unsure of whom to bring on the quest, the “Indiana Jones Method” makes it really simple to find the best person for the journey (hat and whip not included). Read on to discover who can seek out the Ark of the Excel, brave the Temple of Charts, and go on the Last Data Viz Crusade.
Like Indy facing row upon row of golden chalices and cups, your future data expert will have scads of shiny objects ready to distract her from the true grail.
So the person you decide on needs to learn best practices to choose wisely from the onslaught of information.
For example, she’ll need:
- A data management plan
- A strategy for how data will drive your mission
- A willingness to experiment
- An ability to adjust tactics and strategy over time
A discerning eye and analytical skills are what will help your team avoid certain doom from poor data choices.
“X never, ever marks the spot”
Your designated data wrangler must realize that not every piece of data will be relevant to your mission or won’t tell the whole story unless contextualized with other information.
For example, let’s say your organization goes on a one-month blitz to get people from Facebook to your donation page. Then, your analytics show that traffic is through the roof! But before you pop the champagne, your data expert will deftly ask,
“What is the bounce rate?
Where are our visitors coming from?
How long are they staying?
What’s our conversion rate?”
She’ll have learned that one metric alone is not the gold standard, and that your organization will need a range of key performance indicators to generate valid evidence.
“X marks the spot”
Although most facts aren’t laid out for you to find so easily, Indy found that X can indeed mark the spot from time to time. In other words, your data will point to connections and relationships, and you’ll have to sort out what is causing what.
To use an everyday analogy, it could be very tempting to say that when bathing suit sales increase, ice cream sales increase too. Although these stats are correlated, they aren’t causative, and confusing correlation with causation is a very easy trap, because the X does mark some sort of spot.
For your own nonprofit, let’s say you want to analyze the outcome of a neighborhood program.
Did the board’s investment make a difference?
Did extra staff on the ground do anything?
Or did an external factor like demographic change come into play?
These are the true questions your data person will have to ask to find out which spot the “X” really marks.
“The search for fact”
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jones pithily remarked that “Archaeology is the search for fact… not truth. If it’s truth you’re looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.”
Your data can tell many stories.
Your data expert needs to find facts that help your organization make decisions, and not go after “truth,” which can be a slippery fish.
Organizations continually get data from all directions, so a big mistake often made is to interpret the data as the truth. Olihawkins’ Animating Uncertainty, visualized “how misleading a single set of values can sometimes be when they are presented as if there was nothing uncertain about them”. For example, you can’t always get exact numbers from website data, and different analytics applications will give you different absolute numbers. In this case, you aren’t after hard numbers, but rather spikes and cycles: Are your numbers going up, going down, and when?
Your data person is therefore after meaning. Meaning comes from understanding trends instead of tracking high numbers, which can easily be confused with “truth.”
“It’s a leap of faith”
Indy was a relentless force against the Nazis, but he could make his students light up over Egyptian history. He also hated snakes, but he could dangle from rope bridges and hang off cliffs with the best of them.
Your data person needs this ability to make a wide range of folks, from board members to admin staff, feel comfortable around the statistics.
She’ll also need to feel excited about data so that she becomes comfortable in the role of data champion.
Get on the journey
While data wrangling does not have to be done by a data scientist, the job takes a skill set that goes beyond a facility with Excel.
Your designated data person will have to make everyone feel that it’s worth the investment of time and money to the leap over the data cliff. Along with knowledge about data relationships, she’ll need Indy’s strategic mindset and a thirst for exploration.
That way, you can all take the leap of faith that your data will drive your mission.
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