I’m much obliged to my beloved friend Peter Campbell for the #NTCBEER button, which I wore proudly throughout the conference. You know it’s not just a good party but a great yearly tradition when a nondrinker looks forward to it.
However, at the moment, I want to call attention to the “Diva” and “Instigator” ribbons attached to my badge. This was a brilliant swag offering from the folks at the Strategic Fulfillment table in the conference’s exhibit hall. Usually at conferences, ribbons are given out by the event organizers to sponsors, exhibitors, speakers, and various other V.I.P.s. The Strategic Fulfillment Group was smart enough to make it a matter egalitarian self-determination. Any visitor was welcome to take and wear the ribbon of his or her choice.
I like “Diva” and “Instigator,” but the ribbon I really want is one that says “TECHNOBABE.”
I firmly believe that if your organization is driven by data, you’re stopping too soon.
It’s important to roll that data (which is raw material) into information (which has been sorted and analyzed), to roll that information into knowledge (which has been enhanced by understanding of context), and to roll that knowledge into wisdom (which been enhanced by experience and intuition). From there you can proceed to good decisions, and ultimately to mission success; moreover, at this point you of course now have more data. From there, it’s an opportunity for continuous improvement and possibly even further innovation.
My challenge right now is to come up with a clear image to convey this. The one that springs naturally to my mind is linear, but trusted advisors seem to favor a more cyclical illustration.
Please take a look at these two logos (which were created by yours truly), and tell me which one gets my message across most effectively:
And please feel free to post comments here (or send me email) to elaborate on your thoughts about this!
As I talk to some of the most impressive mavens in this field I sometimes ask, “would you travel to Massachusetts at your own expense, to give a free day-long training on outcomes measurement to nonprofit professionals here?
Nothing ventured, nothing gained – am I right? (Or as my dear sister once put it, I am The Mouth That Knows No Fear.)
A few really stellar experts actually agreed to do it, if a training event could be arranged to suit their schedules and other reasonable needs. Of course, I am stunned, overwhelmed with gratitude. Never underestimate the kindness of mavens!
So now I turn to my nonprofit colleagues in Massachusetts, with another unscientific survey. I want to get a sense of who would be interested in day-long free training. This survey is for them. If you’re not a nonprofit professional based in Massachusetts, please do the honorable thing, and refrain from participating in this survey.
No pilot testing has been done to ensure that the choices offered are both exhaustive and mutually exclusive.
The list could go on, but I’ll leave it at that. Although most of my training is in qualitativesocial research, I have taken undergraduate and graduate level courses on quantitative research, and the points I made about what’s wrong with my survey are what I could pull out of memory without consulting a standard text on statistics.
In other words, when it comes to quantitative analysis, I know just enough to be dangerous.
Meanwhile, I worry about nonprofit organizations that are under pressure to collect, analyze, and report data on the outcomes of their programs. There are a lot of fantastic executive directors, program managers, and database administrators out there – but it’s very rare for a nonprofit professional who falls into any of those three categories to also have solid skills in quantitative analysis and social research methods. Nevertheless, I know of plenty of nonprofit organizations where programmatic outcomes measurement is done by an executive director, program manager, or database administrator whose skill set is very different from what the task demands. In many cases, even if they come up with a report, the nonprofit staff members may not even be aware that what have done is presented a lot of data, without actually showing that there is any causal relationship between the organization’s activities and the social good that they are in business to deliver.
Let’s not be too hasty in deprecating the efforts of these nonprofit professionals. They are under a lot of pressure, especially from grantmaking foundations, to report on programmatic outcomes. In many cases, they do the best they can to respond, even if they have neither the internal capacity to meet the task nor the money to hire a professional evaluator.
By the way, I was delighted to attend gathering this fall, in which I heard a highly-regarded philanthropic professional ask a room full of foundation officers, “are you requiring $50,000 worth of outcomes measurement for a $10,000 grant?” It’s not the only question we need to ask, but it’s an extremely cogent one!
I’d love to see nonprofit professionals, philanthropists, and experts in quantitative analysis work together to address this challenge.
We should also be learning lessons from the online tools that have already been developed to match skilled individuals with nonprofit professionals who need help and advice from experts. Examples of such tools include the “Research Matchmaker,” and NPO Connect.
We can do better. It’s going to take time, effort, money, creativity, and collaboration – but we can do better.