Data is the fuel of the digital economy. But the benefits of good data extends well beyond businesses: data is essential to the productivity and success of modern for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Unfortunately, while 90% of nonprofits collect some data, "almost half say they aren’t fully aware of the ways data can (and does) impact their work.”
To better understand the applications of data for socially-impactful organizations, social sector experts have categorized data into two types: “data for action” and “data for impact.”
Data for Action
Data for action is the information that can be leveraged to respond to real-time community needs, manage teams, and enhance productivity. For example, for organizations responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, data for action could include metrics such as:
- quantity of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in inventory
- availability of ventilators in hospitals
- empty Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds
- number of food-insecure families in the community
- number of households with recent job losses
In a constantly-evolving crisis, the lack of ‘data for action’ can mean that emergency response & relief efforts quickly become chaotic and inefficient. Real-time, action-oriented data, combined with easy-to-use predictive analytics tools, allows organizations to accurately respond to issues proactively and decisively.
Real-time data helps organizations understand project performances during the project rather than after, when it is often too late to fix underperformance (e.g. not serving households that are most in need). Data for action also guides organizations in identifying the most effective emergency responses and helps leaders aptly reallocate valuable resources from otherwise unproductive methods to bolster impact. At its best, data for action drives the activities and operations of organizations towards meaningful outcomes.
Data for Impact
Another critical opportunity for organizations to utilize real-time data involves collecting and analyzing a large volume of inputs to better understand the ‘big-picture’ effects of their programs, which is called “data for impact”. It is important to apply data analytics to both daily operations and broader decisions relating to organizational structure, as each type of data feeds into the other.
The rise of big data has made this information far more accessible. As organizations like Amazon Web Services and Booz Allen Hamilton start to collect their own data and make it public in the interest of open data and transparency, their peers are free to use that information for themselves to better measure the effectiveness and long-term impact of their initiatives. Google’s Dataset Search Tool is a great place to start and other sources like Altmetric, Kaggle, and Group Lens offer more niche datasets.
Donors, impact investors, government agencies, and other funders are equally interested in data as it shows how their funds are being spent and the impact of their resources. Looking forward, funders should consider investing in data collection projects as essential program costs in order to monitor program efficacy. This will involve supporting a new wave of organizations that center data analysis in their operations and are willing to discontinue ineffective initiatives in favor of more sustainable, higher-impact efforts. Making these investments will better prepare leaders to accurately review projects and metrics with a solid foundation of knowledge of what is occurring on the ground.
Although most organizations are on the right path—collecting data is an essential first step—low data usage demonstrates an acute need to increase investment in tools for data aggregation, analysis, and reporting. Organizations have to leverage both ‘data for action’ and ‘data for impact’ to achieve real-time updates on supplies & inputs, continuous program performance monitoring, and organizational transparency. As big data continues to lower entry costs, impactful organizations can capitalize on this opportunity to improve.
If you’re interested in learning more about tools and best practices to effectively leverage data in a social-impact setting, please schedule a time with us below or reach out to our CEO, Anish Nagar (firstname.lastname@example.org), to schedule a pro bono consultation.
Corecentra provides advanced digital tools for organizations to manage, monitor, and report their social performance and impact. We help foundations, nonprofits, and select government agencies manage portfolios and programs, aggregate and analyze data, and easily report outcomes to key stakeholders. By seamlessly integrating program management, budgeting & finance, stakeholder engagement, predictive analytics, and impact assessment, our products empower organizations to increase their social impact and deliver a quantified view of social performance to donors, beneficiaries, and communities.
Our Emergency Response & Impact Management (ERIM) platform allows organizations to efficiently manage a wide variety of pandemic-related projects, including economic support programs, community health initiatives, medical supply efforts, and other philanthropic activities. Instead of waiting for data to trickle in from legacy systems and processes, leaders can use ERIM to track results and make data-driven decisions to help communities in real-time.