Blog from Senior Director for Evaluation, Outcomes, and Learning: Collecting Data is the Easy Part
When we think about data and learning, collecting the data is the easy part. It’s also easy to ignore – or become overwhelmed by – what to do next, especially with everything else on your to-do list. But learning is the best use for data, and its purpose is not to prove, but rather to IMPROVE. Data should live in service of learning (not to stay hidden in a computer file or a report on a shelf), and a key part of learning is making the time to intentionally engage with your data.
A recent learning activity we undertook here at Saint Luke’s Foundation reminded me that dealing with data doesn’t have to be complicated. Using data to learn can be boiled down to three key ideas. So, let’s shorten that to-do list when it comes to thinking about your data:
Discuss. The hardest part is always making time to stop and reflect. Pull out the data (or better yet, don’t ever put it away!), and share with other people. This may be one colleague, your whole team, or even outside stakeholders. Include those who can help to provide insight, context and interpretation of the data. It doesn’t matter how much data you have. Even a single, meaningful data point can launch a discussion.
Back to that issue of finding time…you can design your discussion to fit the time you have, whether that’s 20 minutes or all day. Here are two great resources that provide suggestions for learning activities and data games to help you to facilitate the discussion and to engage your audience. One strategy that has worked for me is to connect two complimentary activities, such as a data placemat and What? So what? and Now what? around one topic or data set. It can also be very productive to use one activity at one meeting, and then bring back themes and reflections to the next meeting to further the discussion using another technique. Sometimes, using smaller amounts of time and having some space in between gives everyone time to think more deeply.
Decide. What is the data saying, and what should you do about it? Based on your discussion, determine what you can from the data and then formulate conclusions. Remember, your data is there to help you learn: what can you improve or do differently? Use the diverse perspectives, experiences and expertise of your participants to generate ideas, and decide how to respond to the data. This is also a great time to figure out whether you have the right data to make a decision. What else do you need to know?
Do. Finally, put your decision into action with a plan to re-evaluate based on new data. Of course, that will bring you back to a new to-do list: discuss, decide, do.
Kathleen Lis Dean, Ph.D.
Senior Director for Evaluation, Outcomes, and Learning