In today’s world, there are plenty of tech options, processes, and formulas to implement and manage data. However, not all associations are at the same point in their data strategy journey.

For those struggling to find the time or knowledge to get started, building out a lightweight framework can help combat both those obstacles. A lightweight framework can also help organizations that are in the process of updating an existing strategy – whether that’s understanding data and systems, solving known and unknown challenges, or improving operational performance and member experience.

Together, we’ll explore how to implement this framework, step by step, so that your organization can move forward on your data strategy journey.

Strategic Alignment

The easiest first step is to review the overarching goals and success factors from your strategic plan. Understand what key performance indicators (KPIs) are involved in determining if your organization is on track to meet your goals. Then, ask each department which of their goals align with the association’s overarching goals and how they plan to measure their efforts. Are the goals measurable or are they “feeling” focused? Start broad and then zoom in on the details to ensure your data strategy aligns with your association’s strategic plan.

Tech & Infrastructure

Ask all of your departments about the platforms and processes they currently use to collect data and whether or not the current infrastructure is set up to meet their needs. Here are a few example questions to consider asking:

  • What systems do you use today, and what would we like to have in the long term?
  • Do your systems enable staff members to easily extract the data they need to make solid business decisions?
  • Are there any legacy systems that no longer make sense or could be scaled back in scope as other existing systems provide the same or better functionality?

Get multiple perspectives so you have the data to justify any changes you intend to make down the line.


Does your organization have the data you’re looking for? Is your data available in a format that is easy to access and act on? Spreadsheets are great, but it’s much easier to showcase data in visual forms so more staff understand what the data says. Does your team feel comfortable with the quality of the data? Who are the stewards of your organization’s data?

As with the first two focus buckets, you’ll want to reach out to a variety of teams to uncover not only what you didn’t know about your data, but also whether there are any gaps. An executive might think everything looks great, but the day-to-day users of your data might have more details on how things are really going.

Organization & Culture

Last, but certainly not least, you’ll want to make sure your organization as a whole is aware of your data strategy. A few questions you might consider asking include:

  • When we onboard a new team member, do we train them on how to find or access our data and where to go/who to speak with about data?
  • Do we have our training programs documented, and if so, how often do we update them?
  • Do departments seek access to data for insight or are efforts on the rinse and repeat cycle?
  • Are data and visualizations used in All-Hands and department meetings to report on progress against goals?

Culture change starts at the top. Members of the leadership team should become accustomed to asking for data to support requests for additional budget and new initiatives. But it’s important that everyone have access to the data and know what the organization’s strategic goals are. You can learn more about tackling this in another blog – How to Use Data to Support Strategic Goals.

When the entire organization starts to realize that they’re going to be asked for data to support their requests, they start to do the legwork on the front end. Be patient, as with all changes, this shift takes time.

Moving from Now into the Future

When it comes to closing the gap between current and future states, it’s important to focus on the outcomes you want to achieve. Once you have that settled, your team can focus on how you’ll get it done.

Time box your long-term goals based on months, quarters or even years. Get specific so you can fill in the details with small, achievable steps. Also, take a look at what other associations are doing, what others within your community are focusing on, or even what industry partners are seeing as trends.

It’s important to get specific about what your organization wants to achieve, but also keep in mind you aren’t required to improve every single process or fill every gap at one time. Choose a few to start with and build from there. Working in phases will help keep you and your team accountable and avoid getting overwhelmed. To help plan your next steps, consider prioritizing based on:

  • Business impact
  • Resource requirements
  • Reach
  • Readiness/data maturity
  • Budgeting

Getting Started

We’ve outlined how to create a data strategy using a lightweight framework. Depending on your association’s focus areas, current needs, and future goals, your framework might look a little different.

When it comes to gathering information, make sure your stakeholder meetings are small. Aim for one subject matter expert, one decision maker, and one staff member who executes the tasks. Try to avoid adding more than 5 people per group or department. Additionally, try to spread the sessions out by a few weeks. If you’re pressed for time, you could send out a 10-15 minute survey, compile the answers, and then hold a 30-minute meeting to review the results with the group.

If you’re further along in your data journey, make sure you have the following implemented so you can successfully and efficiently make ongoing updates to your data strategy:

  • Shared dashboards and performance management systems
  • Data quality standards and processes
  • Data collection and systems audits
  • Content taxonomy and central repository
  • Data literacy and training
  • Cross functional and collaborative team culture

Above all, remind yourself and your team that a data strategy isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. Don’t strive for perfection. Strive for progress. One small step after another is what will get you and your association closer to achieving your data strategy goals.

To help get started, download our lightweight data strategy framework template and follow along with this on-demand webinar to learn how to use this template and start building your own data strategy.

You can also take our data analytics maturity assessment to see where you stand today in your analytics journey and steps you can take to move to the next level.