Data - Data - Data everywhere!
May 31st, 2007
While we have a great deal of information on community issues, a question recently raised at a local meeting was - - - do we use it? I referenced this in a blog entry back in April. This question was asked after we were discussing the development and progress of the Kent School Services Network which is one of the most collaborative programs ever created in our area involving key county services, nonprofit agency engagement and foundation and other private funders. And you know how this massive effort started? With DATA! We mapped the services delivered around various school sites and made key decisions about which schools were going to be pilot schools. Plus we have funding for evaluation which is underway. That's DATA! We also had spent time during that meeting reviewing evaluation data on this county's prevention efforts and using that data to make the decision to dig in and understand it better! That's using data. A few weeks ago I also wrote about a process that GRCF staff along with the Community Research Institute at Grand Valley State University have been developing for more than five years and testing for the past 18 months intended to measure grant impact and ultimately impact on key areas that we have identified as priorities for this Foundation. The world of organized philanthropy is constantly on the hunt for systems of measurement. Transparency and accountability lead the list of "hot" topics these days. It is critical and this Foundation is on the leading edge of the use of data for making decisions - and we are wise and humble enough to know that we have a long way to go. This isn't just a turnkey process - it isn't that easy. But anything of worth isn't easy! Takes brainpower and resources and frankly a very patient board of trustees who have had faith in us. (Thanks to all of our trustees!) Last week at our Resource (grantmaking) Committee, a Eureka moment occurred. After hearing an analysis report about a grant proposal that addresses infant mortality and listening intently to a report that used data about the success of the services after many years in operation, our committee chair exclaimed "then why aren't we giving them more money?" The answer - because it would take millions of dollars to really reach out to key groups in the community. Not a startling sum frankly and something we will act on but after I literally levitated in my chair and could have hugged the chair (not terribly professional!), I realized that we are on to something and that our community leaders are ready and bold enough to act! Why? Because we use data to make decisions. Because we know that acting on that data is the critical piece. Many communities have data systems but not every community has the resource sitting right in their area like we do with the Community Research Institute. It takes adaptive and bold leadership to act on data. Not more meetings - not moaning about "why doesn't anyone do anything about this" - but action! More to come!