Often we hear from associations who know they should be doing more with data – they know that decisions based on data are almost always better decisions, but they don’t know where to begin.  Every day we hear in the news about how data is being used in medicine, government and business, but the question we hear most often is, “Is this the right time for us?  Can we afford this?”


And it’s a good question.  Recent advancements in the areas of data visualization and data discovery are game changers because they enable association leaders and staff to see and understand their data quickly so that they can make decisions with confidence.  Decisions about how to better serve their customers, where to find new audiences, how to optimally allocate resources, which new products and services are likely to succeed, pricing strategies, identification of who is “at risk” for not renewing, not attending, not donating and much more.  The key is to look at your strategic plan and ask “How can data help us to execute and achieve our mission?”

The most important thing to consider when planning your data initiative is whether your association is ready to make a culture shift.  Harvard Business Review calls this “a culture of evidence-based decision making” and those organizations that have it have all seen improvements in their performance.  However, most organizations don’t yet have a strong data culture and don’t really do a good job with the information they already have.  This is one of the primary reasons that additional investments in data don’t achieve results.  Data is an asset, just like cash, buildings, or people, and it needs to be maintained in order to remain an asset.  But most organizations don’t know how to manage it (governance and quality), analyze it in ways that enhance their understanding (data visualization and discovery), and then make changes in response to new insights (and measure the results of those changes). These competencies don’t just spontaneously arise once an investment has been made in data.

So how to you create a culture of evidence-based decision  making?

  1. Leadership: leaders set the example.  When making decisions, leaders can model the behavior they want to encourage by explicitly and publicly citing the evidence in the data that supports the decisions they are making.
  2. Hiring practices: analytical thinking is a prerequisite for today’s association. Look for candidates with a curious mind, who seek to know “why” and who are deductive reasoners.
  3. Onboarding: set the stage right from the beginning. During the first week provide hands on training with data visualization and discovery tools which will inspire the new staff to understand and explore the data.
  4. Training: both new and existing staff will benefit from understanding the stories in their data.  With data visualization tools like Tableau, they can learn to have a “conversation with data” and begin to learn “what they don’t know that they don’t know”.  Often this is where important new insights arise which enable the association to grow.  Realize that training is not a one-time thing and plan to invest in monthly or bi-monthly team training sessions.
  5. Performance reviews: reward those that model the behavior you want others to follow. This seems obvious, but we’ve all heard, “What gets measured gets done” – so the key here is to measure and reward performance related to the use (and maintenance) of data.

When is an association ready for analytics?  I believe it’s when you are ready to embrace an evidence-based decision making culture in order to execute and achieve your mission.