NCAN's Inaugural Data Resource Roundup, Part 1

February 24, 2015

Bill DeBaun, Program Analyst

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Data Resource Roundup! In this series we will periodically share resources, including blogs, courses, white papers, and other tools, that cover various aspects of data. Whether it’s better managing and tracking of data or getting your organization to become more data-driven, it will all be here in the Roundup. This edition is particularly full (and will continue tomorrow) because it contains resources I’ve collected over the past year. Have your own resources that should be featured here? Be sure to let me know about them at or by putting them in the comments.

The phrase “big data” gets thrown around a lot these days, but there is some confusion out there about what it all means. Here are two particularly great pieces explaining the rise, and significance, of big data. In “What We Talk About When We Talk About Data,” Executive Director of Idealware Laura Quinn, offers up some definitions of technical jargon like “unstructured data” and “APIs” along with an explanation of the various meanings of “big data.” In this article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “Big Data for Social Innovation,” the authors note that “data-driven intelligence has been used successfully in technical and business endeavors, but a very different situation prevails in the social arena. There, a large chasm exists between the potential of data-driven information and its actual use in helping solve social problems.” They go on to outline some of the barriers and solution to big data’s use.

Many of the following resources focus on the skills and approaches that can help organizations to make better use of the data that they have.

Becoming More Data-Driven

  • Logic models are important tools that organizations can use to show how the elements of its program—its resources, activities, outcomes, etc. —come together. Creating a logic model may be a required part of program evaluation, but it’s also a great way to simply explain your program to prospective donors. This Logic Model Development Guide from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation is an excellent, detailed resource for logic model newbies and devotees alike.

  • Organizations talk all the time about how they are data-driven, or at least want to be. But organizations do not become data-driven overnight. It’s a gradual process, but where does that process start? “Getting Started with Data-Driven Decision Making: A Workbook,” from the Nonprofit Technology Network and Idealware (which is a useful provider of a number of webinars on non-profit organizations, not just data-related topics), asks just this question. This document is free (just put in your contact info) and well worth your time if your organization is search for square one to becoming data-driven. This guide goes step-by-step to identify questions your organization wants answered, the metrics that could answer them, who would use those metrics, how they would be collected and tracked, and more. This would make for both a great staff retreat activity and a reminder of all the steps to consider when expanding data tracking.

  • Speaking of Idealware, they have another white paper of note; this one is in collaboration with Exponent Partners (a Salesforce consultancy for non-profit organizations). The paper, “Nonprofit Performance Management: Using Data to Measure and Improve Programs” is a good introduction to how data can transform an organization’s processes for the better. Although there are case studies from a variety of non-profit organizations, the most useful sections are “Overcoming Barriers” and “Successful Data Practices.” This report is also free to download.

Courses, Toolkits, and Professional Development

  • What are the specific skills to operate in the data science environment that finds itself with so much available data? The team at Leada published “The Data Analytics Handbook” to answer some of these questions. There are four volumes: data analysts and data scientists, CEOs and managers, researchers and academics, and “big data edition.” Using interviews from professionals involved in data-using top-tier organizations, the handbook attempts to get at what each of these groups should know, and ask, to get the most out of the information they have.

  • If you have ever wished that there was a place where you could ask other data analysts at nonprofit organizations about a problem you’re having or just experience a learning community of like-employed professionals, you’re in luck because that is the aim of Data Analysts for Social Good. This affordable ($100 annual subscription) gets you access to all of their upcoming and past webinars (these include how to get more out of Excel and other data tools as well as topics related to impact and program evaluation) as well as monthly office hours for asking questions.

  • The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University hosts the Strategic Data Project, which pairs data analysts with school districts to perform high-impact data analyses. The SDP makes available its Toolkit for Effective Data Use. The toolkit is “a resource guide for education agency analysts who collect and analyze data on student achievement. Completing the toolkit produces a set of basic, yet essential, human capital and college-going analyses that every education agency should have as a foundation to inform strategic management and policy decisions.” Although these tools are aimed at those working in school districts, many of the skills will apply to work done in college access and success organizations. The toolkit includes dummy data sets and step-by-step directions for data cleaning using Stata software. This resource is probably not a light undertaking, but it could give a fledgling analyst some more experience with key data skills. Also of note from the SDP is the “Strategic Use of Data Rubric,” which can be used “as a basis for gathering evidence of data use across the organization allows educational leaders to identify specific areas for improvement and highlight specific steps to move the organization toward using data more strategically.”

Check back in tomorrow for the second half of the inaugural edition of the Data Resource Roundup!

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