Recently, I came across this article about recommendations for the U.S. Census data. While I found the article interesting overall, I was really struck by this quote: “Meanwhile, the academy panel said, the job of producing more than 11 billion estimates a year from the survey is stretching the [U.S. Census] bureau’s capacity. The agency has never evaluated which data products are most useful. The report suggested that the bureau do such an evaluation and consider trimming the number of data tables it publishes” (added emphasis). Despite calculating many statistics that are used to evaluate different aspects of U.S. society, the Census apparently has not done much self-evaluation as an organization!
Although it might be easy to criticize the Census for failing to evaluate their organization, especially given how data-oriented they are, it also might be easy to sympathize with them. We’ve all had that year where we didn’t do enough initial planning and evaluation, so we ended up doing a ton of work because we weren’t sure what, if anything, was helping our organization grow. Well, the year is young, and with a little planning, it is possible to incorporate some performance and evaluation metrics for your organization into the year.
At Corona, we not only help organizations evaluate and plan, we also help ourselves evaluate and plan. (Yes, our company is not just a research and consulting firm; we’re also a client of our own research and consulting firm.) So about a month ago, we had our annual retreat. One of the best parts of retreat is looking at the data we collected during the year and making plans for the upcoming year—something that we love to do both in our personal and professional lives. Below are some questions that Corona and maybe your organization might want to think about when planning for the year:
- Are you collecting enough demographic information about your members, customers, donors, visitors, etc.? Maintaining good records of who supports your organization can be useful when deciding whether to target new markets, evaluating the success of different tactics used to attract those markets, assessing how your organization is or is not growing, etc.
- Are you looking at the right types of internal metrics? Are there metrics beyond financials that you should be examining? Are the metrics that you currently collect helping you plan or answer questions? Or are they just sitting on graphs?
- Although it is often useful to do a large survey of your members, customers, donors, visitors, etc., a shorter survey sent out more frequently may better serve your needs. Do you need to understand an issue in depth? If so, a longer survey might be better. Did you already investigate that issue last year and are now ready to engage in a series of steps to address it? If so, more frequent, shorter surveys might be better because they can track changes happening in response to actions that your organization takes.
- Can you use old data to answer new questions? By applying a different analysis technique or segmenting your data in a different way, you may be able to answer a question without gathering completely new data.
It may already be March, but it’s not too late to think about where you want to be, as an organization, at the end of the year and how you will know if you have made it.