Three questions trustees should ask about data

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The Data Evolution project is looking into data maturity in charities and social enterprises.

Ultimately we want to help social sector organisations make better use of data to plan, target and demonstrate the impact of their services.
There are many factors that make it easier or harder for organisations to become more sophisticated with data. It is clear that governance, strategy and culture play very important roles. And those are key responsibilities for the board of trustees.

But what can trustees usefully do to encourage their organisations to become more data driven?
Here are three questions we suggest you ask:

1) What does the data tell us*?

When discussing business plans, when holding strategy sessions, when looking at changes to services ask about the evidence and the data. It’s a simple question and the answer you get will depend on where your organisation is on the data journey.
Over time, if your keep asking, the answers may become fuller and more useful.
And your services, over time, are likely to become more effective, more efficient and better suited to your communities.

2) Can we review the data asset register?

This is a rather grand term for the idea that an effective organisation should keep a list of what data it holds, who is responsible for keeping each dataset up to date and how the organisation checks that the data is kept safe.
Simply compiling such a list can be a really useful task in itself. It can reveal hidden datasets, compiled in one team but not shared across other teams. It can reveal gaps in data.
Making this register something that the board reviews regularly can really help to raise the profile of data.

3) What do we know about the communities we are working with?

It’s not just about your data.

Increasing amounts of useful information are published by many organisations. In particular the Office for National Statistics publishes a wide range of high quality information about the makeup of communities. Local councils, health services and other charities also hold vital information and may publish it or agree to share it with you.

By looking at the context in which you deliver your services, you may spot opportunities you had missed, gaps that could be filled or very different ways to think about your services.

Asking more sophisticated questions

In the commercial sector there are a range of models that businesses can use to understand where they are in terms of effective use of data and, consequently, what the most sensible next steps would be.

We published a report about data maturity models as part of the Data Evolution project.

We didn’t find any models that can be directly applied to charities or social enterprises but we hope that our research will lead to the development of useful tools for the sector.

Help us now

You can help us with this work by completing this very short survey and encouraging your colleagues to do the same.

*Or, if you want to be a strict grammarian “What do the data tell us?”