Choose Your (Data Visualization) Weapon

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There are plenty of software programs out there to help you visualize your data. Excel, which you may already have, is perhaps the simplest to use. Other programs such as Tableau and Qlik Sense allow you to create interactive visuals and “drill down” into your data. If, for example, you see an overall downward trend in program participation, you might want to see if the trend holds for subgroups of participants such as women, men, or those in certain age groups. Free versions of Tableau and Qlik Sense are available as long as you store your data and visuals on the companies’ servers (and you can make your data and charts invisible to anyone with the URL).

See other data tips in this series for more information on how to effectively visualize and make good use of your organization's data. 

Image Source: tallyfox.com

(This data tip originally appeared on Philanthropy News Digest’s PHILANTOPIC blog.)

Don't Just Set Goals, Track Them

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Many organizations go to a lot of trouble setting goals, eating up loads of staff and board meeting time, and then neglect to do one or both of the following:

  • Figure out how they will know if they are making progress toward their goals.
  • Track their progress toward their goals.

If your organization or program doesn’t already have clearly articulated goals, a logic model is a good first step toward setting them. Logic models show how resources, programs and services, and desired results relate to each other according to your organization’s strategic plan. (For more on logic models, check out the Pell Institute’s Evaluation Toolbook.)

You can set goals for any stage of the process: what resources you hope to garner, what services you intend to provide, or what outcomes you expect to see. The trick is to make these goals specific and measurable. Don’t say you will work strengthen a program, say that participation in the program will increase to 250 and that evaluation surveys will show average ratings at or above 4 (on a five point scale).

Once you set specific and measurable goals, don’t wait until you have all of the necessary data to visualize it. It’s important to bring the data to life for everyone involved, and that means showing it sooner rather than hiding it in spreadsheets and databases.

Even a simple line graph showing progress over time toward a goal will make your data perceptible, prompting you and your colleagues to ask yourselves important questions, such as: Is our data accurate? What additional data do we need to better understand the trends we see? What is going on in our program or our community or our field that might be affecting these trends? Questions like these can strengthen your resolve to gather new or better data as well as to make changes to enhance the efficacy of your program.

See other data tips in this series for more information on how to effectively visualize and make good use of your organization's data. 

Image Source: Pixabay.com

(This data tip originally appeared on Philanthropy News Digest’s PHILANTOPIC blog.)

Go With The Flo (Florence Nightingale)

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Like many nonprofit staff today, Florence Nightingale probably wasn’t a numbers person at the outset. She became a nurse to serve others. Yet, she soon realized she could provide care more effectively with the help of data. Working with a statistician named William Farr, Nightingale analyzed mortality rates during the Crimean War. She and Farr discovered that most of the soldiers who died in the conflict perished not in combat but as a result of “preventable diseases” caused by bad hygiene.

Nightingale’s solution? She invented the polar area chart, a variant of the pie chart, meant “to affect thro’ the Eyes what we fail to convey to the public through their word-proof ears.” Each pie represented a twelve-month period of the war, with each slice showing the number of deaths per month, growing outward if the number increased, and color-coded to show the causes of death (blue: preventable, red: wounds, black: other). Clearly seeing the importance of hygiene, the Queen and Parliament quickly set up a sanitary commission and, as a result, mortality rates fell.

See other data tips in this series for more information on how to effectively visualize and make good use of your organization's data. 

Image Source: Smithsonian

(This data tip originally appeared on Philanthropy News Digest’s PHILANTOPIC blog.)

Admit That You Avoid Data

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Nonprofits avoid data for any number of understandable reasons, including:

Data animus. Many nonprofit staff members possess expertise in environmental issues, the arts, health, or education but not data analysis. Some suffer from data aversion. They admit — or sometimes proudly proclaim — that they are not “numbers people.”

Time. Nonprofit staffers do not have time for data analysis. They are struggling to stay afloat, to submit the next proposal, to sustain their programs, to address the huge and varied needs of their clientele, to cultivate donors. As a result, digging through data is almost always a back-burner item.

Fear. Some worry about what their data might reveal. They fear they won’t be able to control the narrative, that the data will be taken out of context, or that funders will withdraw their support based on the data.

“Dirty” data. Many nonprofits have entry-level staff or multiple staff entering data into management information systems or spreadsheets. The result can be “dirty” data — data with a troubling level of inaccuracy because it has not been entered correctly and/or consistently.

Wrong data. While many nonprofits have data on their financials and clients, they often lack data that demonstrates theimpact of their programs. A tutoring program may not track students’ school grades or test scores. An employment program may lack data on program graduates’ wages over time.

Disconnected data. Rather than maintaining a central management information system, small nonprofits often store their data in separate Excel spreadsheets.

See other data tips in this series for how to overcome barriers to data use.

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(This data tip originally appeared on Philanthropy News Digest’s PHILANTOPIC blog.)

 

Make Your Data Visible

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Nonprofits are lousy with data. But, like secretive hoarders, we are reluctant to admit how little data we actually use. We may pay lip service to “evidence-based practices” or “data-driven strategies”. But, if pressed, many of us admit that we care about the people and the programs and glaze over at the site of a spreadsheet.

Indeed, we are not wired well for processing data in spreadsheets.

Our visual system has evolved, over millions of years, to process images essentially in parallel. We don’t read the Mona Lisa from top to bottom and from left to right. We take it all in together and understand, almost instantly, that this is a picture of a woman in front of a landscape, sporting a dark dress and an inscrutable smile. Words and numbers, which only appeared within the last few thousand years, require our visual system to scan individual characters one at a time and piece them together to create meaning.

Data is encoded in words and numbers making it difficult for us to extract the stories they can tell. However, if we use visual elements (like bars, pie slices, and sloping lines) to encode the data, the story can come into focus more quickly. 

See other data tips in this series for more information on how to effectively visualize and make good use of your organization's data.

Image Sources: thinglink.com and perfect-cleaning.info

(This data tip originally appeared on Philanthropy News Digest’s PHILANTOPIC blog.)