Connecting Together for Impact Pt 2
Q: Can you describe some of the reasons why an organization might want to considering transitioning into optimally using data and thinking about focusing on outcomes?
Herman: I think everyone in the nonprofit world can agree that our greatest goal is to do the best work we can with the clients we serve. When an organization begins taking on the data collection process, they can get a multitude of information that will help the organization have an impact on their clients. The data provides a very clear picture of who they are serving, how often they are serving them, the effectiveness of the work the organization is doing, what opportunities are available to contribute and ultimately how to make programming decisions.
Data can provide evidence that an organization should invest in a certain area, or create a new program around a certain goal; it can also help an organization determine what not to do. For example, they don’t need a bus to pick youth up from point A and take them to point B, but instead they need to move their meetings to a different location so youth are able to better access it. This is a simple example, but one that can have a big influence on which kids they are able to work with based on a location situation alone.
I think one of the other great things that comes from a focus on data and outcomes is that it pushes you to get more input from the children that you are working with. They can give you information that you might not have asked before, and it’s going to help you be better whatever it is you are trying to do with those children. Gathering input from the kids gives them the opportunity to really co-create what is happening, and what needs they have for you to address.
Q: Moving toward becoming a data-driven culture requires a great deal of initial investment. What advice do you have for an organization that is concerned about putting in staff time, funds, and time into learning how to use a data system?
Herman: I think that for most organizations, from government to for-profit to nonprofit, the reality is that we have to do the same or more work and programs with fewer resources. For the nonprofit sector, though, it’s continuing to become even more competitive for funding than ever before. I personally believe that we’re fooling ourselves if we don’t think that the investments involved with having data to show our impact, what we need to improve, and also about areas of growth and needs in our community won’t be relevant in trying to obtain more funding. So the investment is absolutely worth it.
There is definitely a need for more people with skills around understanding data: understanding not just what to collect but how and when to collect it, what to do with the data, how to store it, how to use it to make decisions and how to use it in evaluation. The way that we’re approaching it locally is working to, one, be that resource for multiple nonprofit agencies and two, conducting workshops and providing learning opportunities. We want to build the number of people who are comfortable and confident with working with data so that they can help grow the data collection, usage, and evaluation processes within their own agencies.
Q: The Omaha Data Collaborative (ODC) leverages multiple types of data to get a stronger insight into the community, including through a partnership with local schools. How is this data helping to determine what needs are present and how to address them?
Herman: We at the Omaha Data Collaborative are still building our data system and processes, so it’s a bit too soon to report results. I can say, however, what we hope we will be able to do. Currently, we are working across multiple kinds of agencies, with each having a different role. Together, we’re trying to determine across all our agency partners who we are serving and where, how often we are serving them and what activities are being experienced by those individuals.
We also want to know what knowledge, skills, abilities and motivations are being influenced in the youth we serve. How do these qualities relate to their academic achievement and school engagement? Getting a crystal clear picture of these relationships is our biggest goal. We also want to use this information in our alliance with the Omaha Public Schools district, and other local school district partners in the future, to determine how that data aligns with their efforts. With that information combined together, we can determine what community resources we can mobilize, reallocate, or prioritize elsewhere.
Q: What are some of the future areas that Omaha Data Collaborative want to concentrate on as it evaluates the current state of Omaha youth?
Herman: There are a few points that we really want to concentrate on in the future, some of which I alluded to earlier. First, there is a current and future need for greater capacity building. We also want to work on helping people get comfortable with using the data they already have in their organization. Further, we want those individuals to become comfortable with moving beyond what they’ve always asked for and done before.
The for-profit world has done a lot of work in developing measurement tools and strategies for getting data for what they want. The nonprofit sector, I believe, is missing this same type of systematic knowledge at this point; there isn’t the same road map to help us know what to measure first, second, and third, and with what tools. One of our challenges is developing the system of measurement strategies and tools that help us optimally understand our youth. To the extent that the Omaha Data Collaborative can help, we’re going to try to provide some assistance to help move forward effective strategies and tools that can measure youth outcomes from a multi-faceted sense, as well as provide us input on what our programs are doing.
Anne E. Herman, Ph.D., is the Senior Vice President of Analytics and Performance at the United Way. Dr. Herman is an industrial organizational psychologist who has extensive experience in statistics, methodology, performance management, organizational assessment and change, organizational strategy, program evaluation, leadership, creativity and innovation, and employee selection and promotion. She is also a member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Academy of Management, American Psychological Association and the Organization Development Network.
1. Engle, P. L. and Black, M. M. (2008), The Effect of Poverty on Child Development and Educational Outcomes. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1136: 243–256.