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[EN] Innovation Hub Blog

Introduction to Data Awareness: Main Take-Aways

Authors: Marieke Schulte & Gigi Ong-Alok

15 februari 2022

On the 10th of February, The Partos Digital Lab & Digital Power Datahub kicked off the Data Awareness Series with the Introduction to Data Awareness. Rogier Kamer and Marieke Schulte, from Digital Power, guided us through a very clear presentation of what data is, why data matters and how it can be used.   During the online session, 21 participants from a variety of non-profit organizations participated. Gigi Pasco Ong-Alok, Innovation Facilitator at the Partos Digital Lab, Rogier and Marieke sum up their main takeaways.

Data is everything, but it is not neutral

All the information that we collect and store is data, at work but also in our everyday lives. Our ability to collect, store and analyse data has led to many great innovations (and there will be many more) and it allows us to make decisions based on information (rather than only gut feeling). We should, however, also be aware of the risks associated with data, such as the gap in digital literacy between countries and groups in society.  

One participant said: “Data is data, the way you use it can lead to risks and opportunities.” We should realize that we, humans, influence the ways in which data is collected, stored and analysed. This means that we impose our biases on this seemingly objective process and that is what eventually leads to data opportunities and risks. 

Data-driven vs. Data-informed

An interesting discussion was started on the benefits and drawbacks of data-informed vs. data-driven organisations.  

Increasingly, more organisations aim and claim to be data-driven in their decision-making. In practice, a fully data-driven approach implies automating every decision based purely on data. This works well in straightforward decision-making, like your radiator switching on when the temperature drops below 20°C. 

However, being data-informed implies strategically considering what this data means to you and what you want to achieve with the data. It leaves room for experts to take a closer look at a case and all available data, and so leads to more nuanced decision-making. Decisions such as whether or not to impose budget cuts (and if so, which) generally ask for a more balanced approach.

A data point of view

You need a (few) data specialist(s) in your team and data awareness throughout the organisation.

Becoming a data-aware organisation means being able to see data opportunities and risks and translate them to actions. For that, you need an organisation that looks at projects from the data point of view and a few data specialists (depending on the size of your team) who can put that perspective into practice. This requires constant feedback between programme specialists and data specialists. 

Data integration

Data awareness integrated in PMEL can help organisations to reach and measure impact. 

Most NGOs use a Theory of Change as an impact strategy. Measuring true impact is, and always will be, a huge challenge. While we all know that in an ideal world, goals are SMART, social impact is incredibly complex and subject to many external factors. How do we bridge this gap? 

Data awareness is (part of) the answer. The good news is: if you plan, monitor, evaluate and learn from this strategy continuously and based on data, then you are working data-informed! The bad news is: this is easier said than done. It all starts with thorough, data-aware planning. In the planning phase of projects, it is crucial to set clear definitions, define activities well and perform a baseline measurement. From there onwards, the PMEL cycle should ‘turn’ non-stop. In a data-aware organisation, your team is constantly planning, monitoring progress, evaluating results and learning from them. Even in a small task such as checking an assumption, you work your way through the cycle. 

From Data Awareness to action – join us!

Have you missed the introduction to Data Awareness session? No worries!

Watch the recording