On Tuesday May 16th 2017, 60 nonprofit and public sector leaders attended a ground-breaking workshop called ‘Giving Data a Voice: Transforming Data into Actionable Insight Through Story’ by Lori Silverman of Partners for Progress. The workshop was intensive, content rich, and truly revolutionary in terms of how we think about our data, how we collect it, how we interpret it, how we share it, what we do with it, and how we can use it as a transformational tool.

While the content of the workshop is still settling into our minds and we think about how we can take this information forward, we thought we would highlight some of our initial takeaways.

1. Create Data Visualizations for the Reader

When we create visual interpretations of our data it is so important that we design these visuals with a clear purpose. We can not leave the interpretation of the data up to the reader. We have to ask ourselves, ‘what exactly are we trying to say with this graph, chart, etc.? How can we make that crystal clear?’ If we let the reader draw their own conclusions they may draw the wrong ones. By asking ourselves these questions in the process of creating the visual interpretations of our data, it can help us make the data ‘come to life’ and help to tell the story of our work.

2. Avoid Justification & Validation

In the nonprofit sector, we often feel that we have to justify and validate our organization’s existence. The relationship we have with our funders is pretty unique; we don’t sell widgets so we don’t have sales revenues to speak to our ‘success’. We provide services to make people’s lives better. It’s not quantifiable in the same way that sales are. As a result, we often feel conscious or unconscious pressure to use our data as a way of justifying the work we’re doing, rather than truly exploring what our data can show us about the impact we’re having with our programs and services. When we remove ‘justification and validation’ from the process, we allow ourselves to understand our data in potentially new ways that can help draw new insights.

3. Embrace Data Anomalies

Lori made the point that data anomalies are trying to tell us something. When we find something in our data that isn’t showing us what we believed the data would show us we shouldn’t ignore it or explain it away. This is an opportunity for us to explore other impacts or outcomes our work may be having. Even if our programs have a long history, if new information is showing up in small ways, pursuing it further can lead us to new knowledge and possibly, transformative insights.

4. How We Ask is as Important as What We Ask

When collecting our data, we ask our service users/clients any number of questions. They may be in a survey or a discussion, or even just compiled by way of other indicators (i.e. have they found a job, are they housed, have they completed the program, etc.). But how are we collecting qualitative data? How are we collecting stories and showing how our programs and services are making a difference in the world? To get the story, we have to ask for it in a story format. And the way we can do that is by starting the conversation with, ‘Tell me about…’. Those three words are a powerful tool in drawing out a story from our clients, service users, volunteers and other stakeholders. With these words we’re not asking for data; we’re asking for a story.

We are looking forward to hearing from those who attended the training. (Check your inbox for the link to the survey!) We’ll be compiling the feedback from our survey and sharing it as a blog. Stay tuned!

PLC would like to thank its partners Peel Counts and The Region of Peel for helping to bring this training to Peel Region.

This week’s blog was written by Tina de los Santos. Tina brings a diverse mix of nonprofit and business leadership to her role at PLC. Throughout her career she has been passionate about creating engaging learning experiences that support and inspire people’s professional and personal growth. Tina is our chief knowledge sharer and enjoys digitally connecting with other leaders in Peel to help them find great resources and learning tools.

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