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Image to illustrate no data can mean no voice and no idea

No Data? No Voice, No Idea – The Importance of Data

The collection and analysis of data must never be allowed to fall by the wayside – it’s a founding stone, not a ‘nice to have’.

Of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I? But here are six concrete reasons why data is important, drawing on Get the Data’s recent work with the Advice Services Alliance (ASA) as a case study.

  1. Data Is the Great Persuader

There is no more powerful tool for influencing stakeholders than data, as I explained in more detail in this recent blog post on using data to influence stakeholders.

ASA works with its members – various associations who provide advice services – to capture and analyse data from the front-line. This gives weight to conversations with all of those who have an interest in ASA’s direction of travel, reassuring them that strategic decisions are being made in response to changing needs, and reinforcing the professionalism that underlies the work they and their partners do.

 

  1. Data Means Funding

In particular, data is invaluable in drawing in new sources of funding, and persuading potential funding providers. Faced with a choice of projects or programmes in which they might invest, with ever-tighter budgets, funding bodies will regard convincing data as a good reason to choose your work over others. ASA will use data to add weight to its funding applications for this reason.

 

  1. Data Gives You the Power to Lead the Debate

ASA seeks to lead thought, representing its members in national discussions by highlighting issues affecting the people who use advice services. The body of data and analysis to which ASA will refer confers authority and allows the organisation to direct the debate and steer collective thinking around youth issues.

 

  1. Data Defines Good (and Bad) Practice

Using data provided by its members ASA will be able to identify areas for improvement in front line practice and also to pinpoint what is working especially well so that good practice can be shared across the community. It informs training programmes, service improvements and helps determine how resources should be employed for maximum impact.

 

  1. Better data and measurement development 

Good data leads to better data. Use of data means we learn its limitations and how to outcome those. We also learn how to measure the right outcomes, better; particularly in how to measure informal outcomes along said formal attainment.

 

  1. Data Is Cheaper and Easier Than Ever

Cloud-based databases are cheap and easy to implement compared to the cumbersome systems of the past. They make it easier for people to enter data and share it. So there’s really no excuse for failing to collect and analyse data in this day and age.

If you would like to find out more about our cutting-edge approach to data capture and analysis please get in touch.

Databse word cloud

Choosing a Database? Just Keep It Simple

When choosing a database for your project or programme, made to measure software or flashy online tools aren’t necessarily the right choice.

If you’re going to gather and analyse data in a serious way of course you need a database of some sort and, having spent much of my academic and professional career buried in them, I’m very much an advocate. But I too often see evidence of the database itself being regarded as the end rather than the means – as the solution to the challenge at hand rather than a tool for addressing it.

Perhaps that’s because we all so often feel under pressure, either external or self-imposed, to demonstrate what we have delivered in concrete terms. A specially commissioned database, perhaps with a catchy name and fancy interface, is something a project manager can point to and say, ‘I made this.’

The problem is that it takes huge amounts of time, resources and testing to create excellent software from scratch or to implement a powerful online tool, meaning that in practice these products all too often become clunky, creaky and frustrating. And products that don’t work well don’t get used.

As always, the answer is to focus on what you want to achieve. That will help you understand what kind of data you need to collect, who will be collecting and managing it and, therefore, what kind of system you need to house it.

Sometimes, of course, a custom-designed database or powerful online application are absolutely the right choice but, in my view, those occasions are actually very rare. More often than not the humble, rather plain Microsoft Access, or a similar tried and tested generalist professional product, is not only cheaper but also better suited to the task. Remember, these programmes have been worked on over the course of not only years but decades, and have huge amounts of resources behind their development and customer support programmes. Standard software also makes sharing, archiving and moving between systems faster and easier in most cases.

It is also possible to customise Access databases to a fairly high degree, either in-house using the software’s in-built features, using third-party software, or by hiring developers to create a bespoke front end interface without getting bogged down in the complicated underlying machinery.

And cloud data storage has made all this easier and cheaper than ever.

In conclusion, I’d like people to recognise that the real deliverable isn’t necessarily software, and that there’s no shame in off-the-peg. After all, a database is only as good as the information it holds and a clean set of useful, appropriate data is what people should really be proud of.

GtD - Jack Cattell Presenting at PPMRC

GtD’s Jack Cattell – Managing the Data Glut

Last month I had the great pleasure of spending a week in the USA to see for myself how GtD is developing its services in Atlanta, before attending the 9th annual Public Performance Measurement and Reporting Conference at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Americans and the British may be “divided by a common language”, but I was struck by the common challenges that policy makers and practitioners face on both sides of the Atlantic: ensuring that practice is grounded in “what works?”, getting more “bang for your buck” in service delivery and managing “big data” to understand how policy makers and practitioners are responding to complex social problems. Whether they are based in the U.S. or the U.K., all of us at GtD feel privileged to help our clients to meet these challenges by providing definitive social impact analytics that are helping them to monitor their activities; learn quickly how to improve them; and, ultimately to prove their effectiveness – definitively.

It was the theme of “big data” that took Alan and I to Rutgers University where we were delighted to contribute our thoughts and experiences of “managing the data glut” at the PPMR conference. Drawing on over 20 years of experience of research and evaluation in the criminal justice system, we used our work in the development of the DASHBOARD for the CJS as an example of how to manage the data glut. It provided a clear, illustrative example of how we rationalised over 1,500 separate performance indicators to provide a highly visual and user-friendly dashboard of data that provides managers across the criminal justice system a single version of their performance in bringing offenders to justice.

The presentation we gave at the conference is available to view on our LinkedIn page, please do follow us for updates and information relating to social impact analytics.

Contact my colleague Alan or myself if you would like more information about any of our projects or how our social impact analytics could benefit your organisation. If you believe you are ready to embark on your own social impact journey, you might be interested in our free Strategic Impact Assessment. Please do get in touch if we can be of assistance by emailing us at:

Jack Cattell jack.cattell@getthedata.co.uk

Alan Mackie alan.mackie@gethedata.co.uk

Jack Cattell - Director, Get the Data

Jack Cattell presenting at the PPMRNC at Rutgers

Jack Cattell will be presenting at the Public Performance and Management Reporting Network Conference at Rutgers University later this month. Addressing the theme “Data Driven Decision Making: Navigating the Data Glut”, Jack will focus on GtD’s work in rationalising an organisation’s data to provide clear performance indicators. The conference has attracted speakers from across North America, Europe and Asia and takes place on the 22nd and 23rd September.