Is the data conversation passing you by?

Photo by  Markus Spiske  on  Unsplash

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Data is big these days. If you're like me, you see at least 1 (or 5) articles on data pop up in your LinkedIn feed daily.

In spite of data being everywhere, you may feel left out. You hear about data analytics and harnessing the power of "big data," but you don't have or need big data. You know you need data, everyone says it can improve your business. You also believe it can prove to investors, partners, donors, and funders that you're having a positive social impact. 

But the conversation seems completely irrelevant to the size and scope of your business.

Some good news first: the power of data for your business is first about improvement and second about proof. 

Why is this good news? Because it is completely within your reach to collect information that can 

  1. Improve your understanding of the problem,
  2. Contribute to an improved solution, and
  3. Provide some insight into how your business may be contributing to changes people are experiencing related to the problem.

Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” By purposefully collecting information that you think will help you improve your work, you give your business the opportunity to respond to the changing context of the problem. This will improve your solution over time, and ultimately, will be the key to you creating the social impact you want.

If you already have data...

You may already have data (information) that you can look at and begin improving your business. A simple way to start using your data is to print out a recent report you've sent to investors or funders and to have your staff talk through what this data means to them. Ask a few questions, such as:

  1. What is your first impression when you read this information?
  2. What is one thing you learn when looking at this information?
  3. What is one idea that you think might help to improve the results of our work based on this information?

You also can look through your existing database, or recent surveys, do some basic analysis and start exploring. What are the questions that come up for you? What new insights might be emerging?

If you have little to no data...

You may also be in the position of having very little data. If so, there's no time like the present to start.

Depending on your proximity to the people who are experiencing the problem, you have a few options to begin collecting data. And while I always like a nice, orderly data collection plan, and would love to help you figure out how to do that, I firmly believe that some useful data is better than no data at all. Just keep these things in mind:

  • Decide why you want to collect data and how you will use it. What, specifically, are you looking to improve? Product delivery? Pricing? Program design? Use this as the filter for all of your questions - only ask questions relevant to your purpose.
  • Based in your relationship with the people affected by the problem, ask them for guidance around a data collection method that fits best in their culture. It may be a survey, or it may be something more like the Most Significant Change technique.
  • Whatever method you use will require asking questions. Write your business goals and desired social impact on the top of a whiteboard. Write out ideas for questions under these headings.
  • Block off time in your calendar to both plan for data collection and for data analysis and plans for use. Once you collect data, you owe it to the people who provided you with that data to use it. Go to the people who shared the data to provide their own ideas about what it means, and to give ideas about what your business could improve based on that information.


By taking the time to decide what data to collect and then improving based on what you learn, you make it more likely that your social enterprise will actually contribute to the solution of an important problem. And by pairing thoughtful data collection, analysis, and use with sound business strategy, you will make it more likely that your social enterprise will be profitable long-term.