Are you swimming in data?

underwater photography of school of fish
underwater photography of school of fish

Are you swimming in a sea of data already collected? 

My clients often have existing data being collected that has not been reflected upon or was referenced for one purpose and not looked at again.

Examples include organizational documents and reports, feedback surveys and interview transcripts, assessment results, case notes, workshop attendance, and the list goes on. I’m sure there’s more you can add from your own experience!

However, this data that is rich with insight waiting to be revealed is often not touched. There may be many reasons: time, effort level, priorities.

But I’ll tell you: it’s worth the effort and prioritization when you gain so much insight from that data. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. With a little facilitation support to clarify your goals and some strategic analysis and visualization, your data will become a beautiful sea of wonder to explore! 

a person in black wetsuit under water signaling okay

Like this scuba diver, you may wish to explore the vast sea of data.

At first, this diver will enjoy just observing the surrounding school of fish for a while. Next, they’re going to start wondering things like,

“Ooo, that one is cool, how can I focus on it without the other fish getting in the way?”

“I see that fish off by itself, wonder what it’s up to and why it’s not in the school?”

When you want to explore a bunch of data, begin with the clarifying questions

Like the diver, you have questions to ask of the sea of data already collected. Here are some that have come up when brainstorming:

Do you have any assumptions about what may be happening that you’d like to verify with the data? 

Do you want to know about some main takeaways from the data?

Do you wonder about any differences in your data? 

Do you want to compare something about different groups?

How could this data support your goals towards the broader mission? 

Through a facilitated session, your team can explore the [prepared] data with focus.

I always prepare the data before these group sessions using data cleaning and analysis techniques that organize the data for easier interpretation. The data analysis decisions are guided by the clarifying questions that the group has prioritized. If you don’t have the skills or time for this step, look for those with data analysis and evaluation experience to prep the data for you.

I will always recommend that interpreting the data be done as a group exploration! This facilitation can be done in-person, virtually, or through online feedback tools. Facilitation can be done by someone internal to the process, or by a consultant. Facilitation is definitely a skill that is developed and honed, so be thoughtful about who takes on the role.

The facilitated group can explore the data to identify things like:

Patterns of similarity arising from the data

Any major outliers in the data

What happens across the lifecycle of an intervention

Understanding the group’s overall level of satisfaction

What existing data do you have just waiting to be explored? Let me know in the comments below!

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