Finding order in chaos
This story is a part of NonProfitWork: a collection of opinions and insights to help non-profits work better and drive greater impact.
The world is full of data. Look around you – from the number of years you have lived, the hair on your head, to the number of buttered toasts you have eaten; there is data everywhere in thousands of different formats. What is essential is to find order in chaos – managing the data logically to create a pattern or an insight.
As a non-profit or a small business owner, you can use data-driven insights to make tactical and strategic shifts. So, having strong data management processes is essential. Here are a few steps that can help you better manage your data:
1. Plan what to capture
Have a clear idea of what you want to capture and why you want to capture it. Say you work at a koala farm. You may wish to collect information about the number of koalas on the farm, their ages, food preferences, etc. This data would directly help you keep track of your koalas and understand their behaviors.
On the other hand, you may also decide to capture how many legs each koala has. Now, this data, in most cases, would not be helpful and would unnecessarily clutter your relevant data. So, always think about what information you would use in the future and stop collecting any extra data points.
2. Plan how you’ll capture the information
Having sheaves of paper containing loads of information that is hard to maintain indicates that things need to change. Though paper-based data collection methods are something that many of us are more comfortable with, leveraging technology can enable you to capture and handle data efficiently.
Online data capturing software on apps like SurveyMonkey, Alchemer, Google forms, etc., can make your data collection effortless. You can easily create data collection tools using any of these apps, sitting miles away from your koala farm, and get real-time data filled in by (not koalas!) the data collection team!
3. Strategize where you will store the data
Before the data starts trickling in, it is essential to have a robust system in place where all your data will reside. A central Management Information System (MIS) is one of the best and most efficient ways of capturing your data in a single place. Microsoft Excel has always been a strong contender for any data storage tasks, but investing in a strong cloud-based MIS will enable every team member to view, retrieve & analyze your data from anywhere around the world.
4. Create timelines for capturing data
As soon as the data collection tools and system are ready, set down detailed data collection processes. These processes would guide the data entry and monitoring staff to check their data themselves and understand its real-time urgency. Setting realistic timelines to capture data would enable one to see the progress of Tim, the baby koala, almost instantly rather than six months later, when Tim would be a toddler.
5. Make people responsible for their data
All the cogs must work in sync for a machine to run smoothly—the same stands for the teams collecting and monitoring the data. Every member needs to own their data and understand the need for integrity and transparency in capturing and monitoring it.
“Every member needs to own their data and understand the need for integrity and transparency in capturing and monitoring it.”
6. Non-Compliance is expensive!
Having data collection processes, a place to store all your data, and a responsible team doesn’t guarantee that the data is captured in the desired manner. Though every organization aims to create a data management system that requires no monitoring, it is essential to develop excellent compliance processes. These processes will ensure that the captured data does not stray far from the standard data.
7. Reinforce! Reinforce! Reinforce
Lastly, positive reinforcements for both collecting & monitoring the data will work charms for you. Learning from past mistakes and striving to achieve better will take your data management system to the next level and is the secret to maintaining a very happy cling of koalas!