It is common for individuals within an organization to focus on their own tasks and responsibilities, rather than seeing how they fit into a large whole. Likewise, many nonprofits focus on their own specific roles in the social-good sector rather than seeing their mission as a piece in an overarching mission of achieving social impact and transformative systems change. Lasting change for individuals and communities requires individuals at every level of an organization, and individual organizations within a larger cooperative, to see themselves as a vital piece of a larger network. One of the best ways to achieve this cooperation is to create a data ecosystem.
In the natural world, an ecosystem is created by a series of interconnected relationships between plants, animals, and their physical environment. Likewise, a data ecosystem is made up of a cooperative network of data users and contributors who depend on each other to collect and analyze the metrics everyone needs to make data-driven decisions as they promote positive change. To better understand how this works, let’s look at some of the different pieces that go into creating a data ecosystem.
Choose the Right Metrics
An effective data ecosystem starts with measuring the right metrics. There are different categories of potential metrics to choose from, including user data, outputs, and outcomes. What you can and must learn from data depends on the mission of your social-good organization. The same goals that dictate your programs and services should determine your data collection strategies. As you work to determine what metrics best fit your mission, develop questions that address the needs of your individuals and families in your community. Then track indicators that best help you answer those questions.
Empower Your Frontline Team
Much of the data collection process will be handled by your frontline team. Once you know what indicators you intend to track, you need a way for your staff and volunteers to efficiently and accurately track them. Achieving consistent and accurate data collection is a matter of both training and ease of use. Your frontline team has a lot of important responsibilities in addition to data collection. Provide the tools to make data collection a priority without turning it into a burden
In addition to collecting data, frontline team members need access to the data needed to best do their jobs. This approach is known as the democratization of data. Data democratization does not mean that everyone can access every piece of data in the ecosystem. That would create both security concerns and information overload. But ensuring that every team member has the right data for their responsibilities empowers them to be proactive and find data-driven solutions to complex problems.
Direct Your Programs
Your programs are designed to create positive impact by helping individuals address specific challenges. Do they work? How do you know? Choosing and then collecting the right impact data can help you understand how your programs are performing, if they are achieving your mission, and how they can become even better. The very same information that is collected by the frontline teams can be analyzed and viewed on program level dashboards that provide you real-time insights to your programs’ impact. One way this is possible is through longitudinal studies. As you track your program participants over time, you can better understand their challenges and their outcomes.
Manage Your Organization
Even the best designed programs cannot function without an organizational framework to support them. Individual and program level data can provide transparency into the efficiency and effectiveness of your administrative team. You can then use that knowledge to provide professional development where needed and recognize and reward your best performing team members.
In addition to empowering individuals, the use of data ecosystems solves many communication and strategy challenges across organizations. The old methods of limited access and specialized data analysts created information silos and blind-spots that had to be overcome for organizations to create and follow data-driven strategies. Data transparency across teams and even organizations helps drive innovation and increase impact.
One of the best ways to drive impact is for like-minded organizations to collaborate to address individual and community needs. A truly effective collaboration requires communication and cooperation, both of which are made possible by creating a data ecosystem. When organizations track and share agreed upon metrics, it helps them better understand the combined impact of their interventions. Which then increases the overall impact of their collective efforts.
Communicate with Funders
Outcome-oriented funders want to see a clear picture of how investing in your nonprofit will help them drive positive change. Including current funders in your data ecosystem provides them real-time insights into how you are changing lives. This level of transparency can help you build trusting relationships with your current funders, which increases your chances of securing continued support. A healthy data ecosystem can also help you show potential funders that you are a good investment now and will continue proving it in the future.
Creating an effective data ecosystem requires the right tools. Impact management software empowers you to collect, analyze, and communicate the metrics needed to support every level of your data ecosystem. It also gives you the insights you need to determine if you are achieving your strategic goals. It also simplifies reporting so you can show organizational leaders, community partners, and funders that your clients are better off because of the work you are doing. If you want to demonstrate that you are delivering efficient, equitable, and financially sustainable results, you need a data ecosystem that is fueled by impact management software.
SureImpact gives you the insights you need to prove you are changing lives. SureImpact is a powerful case management and outcomes reporting software designed for social-change makers by social-change makers. SureImpact offers person-centered case management, impact management, dashboards, and analytics, enabling staff to track and measure activities and outcomes for their clients, while providing leadership with powerful insights into program and organization performance and social impact.
To learn more, view our SureImpact overview video.