The last thing any nonprofit or social impact leader wants to do is ask their team to collect data for collecting data’s sake. Not only does this practice raise questions about the ethics of data collection, but it can also be a colossal waste of your team’s time and attention.
Purposeful data collection can be hugely beneficial in helping you gain insights and motivate your team about their past and potential future impact. For the data curious, this can be a huge motivator and source of input into smart, client-focused decision-making.
Becoming a data-informed organization requires you to assess and potentially take steps to increase your level of data maturity.
How Does Data Maturity Affect Organizations Today?
When we talk about data maturity, we’re referring to the degree to which organizations are collecting and analyzing data to make informed operational decisions.
Data maturity helps organizations with the following:
- Operational Insight: Does my team have access to the information needed to do their day-to-day work?
- Strategic Insight: Are we meeting our organizational goals? If not, why not? Where are there opportunities for improvement?
- External Communication: Are funders/grantors getting the insight they need about the work they’ve supported? Are we able to share insights with the community we serve.
When organizations lack data maturity, this can result in a few hurdles that make it difficult to advance your organization’s goals and mission.
- No data: If the information simply does not exist in a place that can be accessed by others, it can lead to too much pressure on one person to be the source of information or too much risk given the fragility of institutional memory.
- Unreliable data: Inconsistent ways of tracking information mean we’re comparing apples to oranges, which makes it tricky to ensure trust and alignment across collecting data is maintained; as a result, team members may be unable to access the data they need to support their clients.
- Inaccessible data: While data may be accurate and organized, it may be spread across multiple platforms and spreadsheets, making it difficult to track and update as needed; friction becomes unavoidable, and team members may find it tedious to get the information they are looking for.
What Are the Levels of Data Maturity?
Data use maturity is tightly coupled with data collection maturity. As organizations increase the level of sophistication with which they collect data, their ability to access and analyze that data likewise increases. This means they can start to not only ask but now answer questions about outputs (actions taken) and outcomes (effect of outputs).
Our Data and Technology Advancement Model ebook can help you understand the different levels of data maturity, and assess where your organization stands today.
In a nutshell, the following categories are outlined:
- Level 1: Nonexistent– There is no clear system for capturing, recording, or reporting data.
- Level 2: Emergent– Initial systems such as spreadsheets are being used to capture data, and reporting is simple and limited.
- Level 3: Established– A data system is in place, more complex reports are easily accessible, and an initial workflow has been established.
- Level 4: Mature– Data is easily accessible and reporting is more advanced. Automation and integrations extend beyond basic organizational processes.
- Level 5: Innovative– Advanced data analysis, predictive modeling, and decision support systems are used to inform strategic decision-making.
Measuring data maturity is an imprecise art; you may find that your organization spans two levels. Depending on the size of your organization, you may even have different levels of data maturity within departments or among teams. At the end of the ebook, you’ll find a helpful chart that summarizes the experience of being at each of the different levels.
Additionally, it’s important to note that the goal isn’t necessarily to get to the highest level. Many organizations can find their needs are met at Level 3, for example. How you plan to use data will help you assess where you need to be.
How Does Data Maturity Improve Staff Motivation?
If you’re looking to improve your staff’s motivation, investing in data maturity could pay dividends on that front.
Here are just a few ways data maturity can positively impact your employees:
- Providing access to accurate data: Help your staff generate reports with confidence and trust the data seen before them, providing trust and ease of collaboration amongst fellow colleagues
- Encouraging data-informed decision-making: Offer more agency to evaluate impact and generate ideas as a result of assessing key insights, gaps, and trends in data.
- Offer opportunities for growth: Take the ideas crafted above to the next level by empowering team members to begin implementing them, providing pathways for leadership and skill development powered by data insights.
- Enhancing communication, collaboration, and operations: Help leaders in your organization understand a more holistic perspective of the impact your staff has internally and externally through qualitative and quantitative data.
- Fostering a culture of innovation: Dive into the questions of what it means to extend beyond the walls of your organization, like how to combine data with others while maintaining privacy to maximize impact.
As you begin your journey of increasing data maturity, you may find insights in your data that you did not expect. We’re big believers in using data as a flashlight and not a hammer; in other words, we find value in using those opportunities for dialogue and conversation rather than focusing on the negatives that may now be more visible. It’s important to approach data analysis with an open mind and be willing to let the data guide your decision-making process, and this can prove to be quite meaningful for your staff in the work they do. By utilizing data as a tool to illuminate and provide insights, you minimize the risk of data misinterpretation, poor decision-making, and ultimately negative outcomes.
How to Improve Data Maturity in Your Organization
Before you take a big step in advancing your data maturity, it’s important to determine your data goals. Take some time to decide if there is something you are not doing today that you want to be doing. Do you simply need to be able to run the same report twice and get the same result? Or do you have your sights set on a more complex vision, such as participating in community-wide data sharing efforts? Answering these key questions will help you better understand the best next steps.
From there, you can:
- Assess data collection capabilities: Where are you collecting data? What’s being collected? Do people have access to the information they need?
- Establish necessary data governance strategies: Understand why you’re collecting data, determine who needs to access what levels of data, and establish a process for who creates reports and how they’re managed.
- Determine how often you want to revisit your data goals: Is this part of your strategic planning? This should be a recurring activity and will look different based on your specific needs. Before long, your “data strategy” will no longer be differentiated from your overall organization’s strategy.
Common challenges likely will arise as you take on this endeavor. For example, the tools you have employed organizationally may or may not align with your data maturity needs. Engaging a partner to help you assess your current workflow needs and align them against your existing systems may be a great next step. If you discover you need to make a change or if you find that your team relies on too many systems resulting in swivel-chair syndrome, you can then explore whether it is best to build or buy a software solution as a potential next step.
Putting new processes in place comes with a set of unique hurdles. Does everyone know what steps they need to follow to get data into the appropriate systems? And if they know, are they taking those steps? It is important to ensure you have someone designated as accountable for assessing workflow. This person isn’t just an enforcer; they should also be empowered to raise a flag if they discover that team members are running into issues with current processes or tools. If you find that workflow isn’t being adhered to, this is an opportunity for a conversation to figure out why – and how improvements can be made.
Why You Should Consider Investing
Investing in data maturity is critical for social impact organizations in today’s fast-paced digital age. By improving data literacy and data management practices, organizations can gain deeper insights into their operations, clients, and fields. This, in turn, enables your staff to make more informed decisions, identify new growth opportunities, and increase operational efficiency. A mature data culture facilitates better collaboration across departments and provides a more accurate and complete picture of your organization’s performance. By investing in data maturity, you’ll be showcasing your commitment to improving your staff’s ability to do their work and the positive effects they have on those you serve and the communities you care about.