In the social sector there is a growing need to collect and make better use of our data. We need more data both for informed decision making and capacity building, but many organizations are struggling to keep up logisitcally with a heavier load of data management. What's more, different organizations use different methods for impact data collection from paper to highly sophisticated technology solutions.
Who Benefits from Data Insights?
Data provides insights on a broader level, granting us a glimps into the full scope of our impact. Here are a few examples of organizations who require data aggregation:
- Large & Medium Sized Foundations aggregating social impact for grantee programs and project impact
- Collective impact initiatives
- Shared business initiatives
- Funders in cross-sector aggregation such as Microfinance, Affordable Housing, Education
- Data & Social Impact gathering for CDFI funders, micro-lending data aggregation programs such as FIELD
- Impact First - Impact Funds
- Universities supported social enterprise accelerators
- Non-profits and business interested in aggregating program impact on raising impact funds
With all the unique needs out there, we are moving relatively slowly for innovating the practice. But there is change to celebrate.Emmerging Tools
Fortunately, there is a revolution underway in cloud-based applications that enhances the data capacity of the social sector with hundreds of service-oriented solutions available at significantly lower cost compared to traditional IT applications. This trend specially benefits resource-constrained organizations such as small to medium-sized nonprofits and social enterprises.
These tools also have a significant advantage over MS-Excel, which has huge limitations in data tracking and data management, particularly with challenges facing accuracy and audit ability of data in high quantities. Most social sector academic researchers focus on offline beneficiary data collection.
AirTable, for example, is a cloud-based online database tool that provides powerful, yet simple app development that any non-IT person with basic MS-Excel skills can use. Within hours, users can easily build applications to manage beneficiaries and program outcomes.For example, we worked with a nonprofit Friends Of Future has more than 15 different program objectives, we were able to build an individual beneficiary and program management system within days. More importantly, this tool can serve as a quick data collection system through mobile and online forms. Basic volunteer & donation management are now part of a system that everyone could start using from day one. Each organization can summarize year-end outcome data and send it to the parent organization for a better social impact demonstration and reporting.
If the organization grows further, all the development done in-house can serve as a baseline for a matured IT application.
Some more example are SmartSheet for a Project Management, Silk for visualization and social media story building, Plot.ly, Looker, Import.io, etc. SMS and ODK based technologies have perhaps played a major role in reducing the data collection cost. I am just mentioning these few as a representation of the hundreds that can be found out there.
This tremendous democratization of tools allows many organizations to build their internal IT capacity without significant investment. More importantly, these tools grant the organization immediate access to the information that can be used to improve their performance and communicate their results to the funders. Besides, once the right tools are identified, the organization’s ability to track, collaborate and share outcome data becomes higher.
The new age solution like Impact Cloud™ can complete the data collection cycle with clean, constant, and integrated data pipeline.
Curious to learn more about data collection and using technology to solve the challenges?