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What Is the “Democratization of Data” and Why Does It Matter for Your Nonprofit?

As the leader in a social-good organization, you are in charge of “directing the nonprofit to achieve its mission and determining the right talent, resources, and tools to implement programs effectively.” This is an important, rewarding, and sometimes heavy responsibility. Thankfully, you do not have to do it alone. There are strategies to empower your team to help you move your organization forward. One of these strategies is called the democratization of data. You may have heard the term before, but what does it mean? How can it help your nonprofit? And how do you implement it?

What is Democratization of Data

In government, democracy means that the people take part in the running of their city, state, or country. A mayor cannot run a city by themselves. They need the support of the people who live and work there. For social-good organizations, democratization means giving your team members necessary tools and opportunities to proactively find new ways to achieve your mission.

When it comes to data, democratization means that everyone in your organization has access to the data they need to do their job. This does not mean that everyone in your organization has access to every piece of data in your system. Not only are their privacy and security concerns with that approach, too much information can be overwhelming. Having access to the right data for their responsibilities empowers team members to be proactive and find data-driven solutions to complex problems.

In addition to empowering individuals, the democratization of data 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 to create data-driven strategies. There is still a place for data specialists in democratized organizations. Not everyone is a data analyst, nor do they need to be. But data transparency across organizations helps drive innovation and increase impact.

Data transparency and democratization also help position your organization for the future. Funding models and donor expectations are constantly shifting. Donors are no longer satisfied with just knowing how your organization uses their money. They want to know what impact you have created. How are the individuals and families you serve better off because of the work you are doing? The democratization of data is a key step in developing a data-driven strategy that promotes both increased fundraising and long-term impact.

Implementing Data Democratization

Once you’ve recognized the value of data democratization in your organization, the next step is making it happen. It may be tempting to overhaul all of your processes and procedures to push forward with a new, data-driven strategy. But this is rarely the best approach. Sudden and extreme change can overwhelm your team and even create active resistance that slows down progress. Digital transformation is best completed one step at a time.

The Right Technology

The first step to developing any data-driven strategy is implementing the right tools. Gone are the days when spreadsheets and slide presentations are the only way to compile and communicate data. Modern, cloud-based software applications provide tools to both input and communicate a wide variety of metrics. They also aid in data democratization by allowing for role-based access permissions. Meaning that everyone has the data they need, but only what they need. Which reduces privacy and security concerns.

Incorporate Instead of Replace

Once you have the right tools, incorporate them into your existing practices and procedures. Adding technology to what you already do, as opposed to changing everything to focus on the technology, serves two purposes. The first is that it softens the transition for team members who may be less enthusiastic about change. A slow approach allows them to develop confidence in the tools without feeling overwhelmed.

The second benefit of this approach is that in order to make data informed decisions, you need data. Some of your existing methods are working well and only need minor adjustments. While others need to be revised or even replaced all together to achieve the most impact. But until you are regularly tracking performance indicators, how do you know the difference?

Narrow Your Focus

If your organization includes a variety of service areas or unique programs, start with a narrow focus. In an article for Forbes, Derek Steer referred to this approach as “opening the windows gradually.” Give your team the data they need for specific areas, using the simplest reports. After they’ve incorporated the technology into their current processes, open the window a little bit more. Over time, your focus areas will expand, and your reporting dashboards will become more sophisticated.

Your nonprofit exists to serve your community and create lasting impact. Incorporating data transparency and democratization is one tool that can help you achieve that mission, now and in the future.

SureImpact is a purpose-built impact management platform that is designed for social-good providers by social-good providers. SureImpact provides the data collection and impact reporting infrastructure needed for social-good organizations to empower their teams and increase their impact through having access to the right data. SureImpact’s simple and collaborative case management and outcome tracking tools are designed to help nonprofits manage, measure, and communicate their social impact while also increasing data capacity for their team members and helping their organizations thrive.

Learn more about using technology to manage and share your social impact in our free guide “The Ultimate Guide to Impact Measurement.”


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