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  • Writer's pictureJohn Copps

What is your data treasure chest telling you?

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

In our third Pioneers Post article on public service entrepreneurship, John Copps presents his top five tips on getting the most out of your data.

We live in a world saturated with information. Data is everywhere. If you deliver a public service then it’s more than likely you deal with an assortment of information on clients, their interactions with you, and what they think of your services.

No organisation can operate effectively without high quality management information. Having accurate and timely data at your fingertips is critical – but my experience is that most organisations don’t do this as well as they could.

This is a shame because it is a treasure-trove of information for understanding your service better, managing your resources, and improving outcomes. It’s also a great tool for entrepreneurs to spot opportunities. If you don’t collect and properly interpret the right data, the chances are you are not getting the most from your services.

Here are five top tips for upping your data game:

1. Ask the right questions

The first thing to remember is that you can have as much raw data as you like, but it’s useless unless you know what questions to ask to properly interrogate it. Be clear about what information you need and why you need it. Categories of data can include:

  1. User satisfaction ratings – a crucial gauge of what clients think of a service and where it might be improved

  2. Outcomes achieved – contractual KPIs or additional internal measure will provide the ultimate judgment of the success or otherwise of your organisation

  3. Staff utilisation data – do you really know what demands are being made of your team and what they are spending most of their time on?

  4. And let’s not forget financial information, which every successful organisation needs to be on top of. Before you do anything else, this is the bit to get right.

2. Invest in a system to capture and store data 

You need somewhere to keep your data that is reliable, safe, and accessible. Most organisations I’ve come across use a variety of Excel spreadsheets, which are fine for simple tasks but leave too much room for error when keeping larger amount of information. A better solution is the various off-the-shelf databases out there, with products aimed at different sectors. Inevitably these involve an extra cost but this can be more than recouped through the time saved writing report or patching together information from various sources.

3. Find the right person

To make it work you need the right person. This should be someone with an interest and aptitude for data, and the imagination to think about what is possible. Perhaps you already have someone like this in your team, but if not hiring someone with a background in analytics or market research will make a good addition. Their job will be to turn the information into accurate and timely insights which you can use to make better decisions.

4. Pay attention to presentation

If a picture paints a thousand words, a graph paints two thousand. It’s important to have an efficient way of communicating insights to managers and front-line staff so that they can make informed decisions. This doesn’t have to be pretty but it helps engage people if it is! Many successful organisations use ‘dashboards’ to cascade information both up to the Board and down to front-line staff.

5. Act on what you learn!

There is no point in having information for information’s sake. When you find out something new, or see a peak or trough in your data, make sure you do something about it. As a manager, praise improvement where you see it and tackle under-performance – those around you must know that the information will be acted on.

I’ve seen the benefits of a clear approach to management information many times. The upside is real and, very often, has a tangible cost saving attached to it. I’ll give you an example. I used to work for an organisation that provided online counselling to young people with mental health problems. The model relied on counsellors being available whenever users needed them. When I arrived, the rotas were written to provide a more or less equal spread of counselling staff across the day to cope with demand – except that demand was not even.

An analysis of the numbers of counselling session and when they took place revealed a clear pattern. Paying attention to what this data was telling us meant reducing the number of staff on at quiet times (during the day) and increasing it at busy times (in the evening), and then tweaking this as required on a month-by-month basis.

This produced a double win: we were able to help more people and reduce the costs of the service.

Your data is a valuable asset and should be treated as such. Listening to what it tells you will help you do your job better, see opportunities to do things differently, and may also save you money. If you are not on top of your data ask yourself: why not?


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