I was asked this question by a client recently: “why is it always about data?” The organisation has struggled to identify appropriate measures to track its programme performance and impact, it has some systems in place but needs to improve and in exasperation one of the team turned to me and demanded to know why data is so important.
Data matters because:
1) You need it to verify that what you are doing is actually working
Collecting data and information on the performance of the interventions that you are doing with service users and beneficiaries is the best way to determine whether that intervention is proving successful. While of course you need to know how many people are getting involved in your project, or turning up for training, etc, you also need to know whether that intervention has actually made a difference: changed behaviour, changed a mindset, improved knowledge or changed a policy.
2) You need it to communicate successes or challenges to your donors or your supporters (or both)
Your fundraising teams will tell you they need a case study to communicate to your supporters why what you do matters. Case studies are only one kind of data and being able to provide statistics on the success of an intervention is also useful when communicating your story. Donors are as likely to want statistics and quantitative data as they want qualitative data such as case studies. Remember, case studies are useful for putting a face to an issue, but they are only one person and not always representative of the whole group you’re working with.
3) You need it to communicate successes or challenges to your beneficiaries or service users
You are communicating the successes and challenges of your work to your beneficiaries aren’t you? You are including your beneficiaries in designing and implementing your projects aren’t you? I say this because it is still remarkable how many organisations simply collect data and information from their beneficiaires and never communicate back to them the results of any analysis and performance. The beneficiaries are why your organisation exists in the first place. Including them is not only natural, it is important if your intervention is going to have any traction.
4) You need it to run the organisation
KPIs or key performance indicators are also data and are also (or should be) part of your monitoring and evaluation plan for the whole organisation. On top of that, metrics being tracked at a project level mean that you can manage, respond to and adjust the delivery of projects as you go, making them more likely to deliver the results that you are aiming for.
These all sound like obvious arguments when written down, but do not take it for granted that all organisations, including yours are doing all four of these things. When last did you review your M&E plan? Is it delivering at all these levels? Are you collecting the data that you need to or just the data that is easy to collect?