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How to understand and use social sector data

By Sarah Handley 24 October 2018

Find data confusing? If you’re from an organisation that is looking to get to grips with data but don’t have the resources—you’re not alone. A lot of organisations don’t have a dedicated data specialist, instead someone in the organisation finds themselves trying to make it a part of their role.

So, where do you start? Collecting and using the right kind of data can feel overwhelming. Here at NPC we work with charities across the sector on a daily basis to ensure they make the right choices when it comes to data. We run external training throughout the year to share this knowledge.

Our one-day introduction to data training is aimed at beginners, but it can also be useful to those people already doing data who are looking to refresh their knowledge and skills.

 ‘Hugely insightful and informative. I feel much more confident about how to use our data effectively.’

Whether you’re a complete novice or just looking for a recap, you’ll find a lot to take away from our training. Here are just three of the things you’ll learn:

Overview of the different types of data

It’s important to think about what you want from the data because this can inform what type of data you should collect. The 5 types of data is the best place to start. The choice is often framed as whether to collect quantitative or qualitative data but, where possible, charities should aim to use both to evaluate their programmes. The complementary insights that qualitative and quantitative data offer provides a fuller and more detailed understanding of how and why programmes work for a charity’s beneficiaries.

Understanding what your data is telling you

OK, so you know what type of data to collect but how do you start getting to grips with what it all means? We will take you through the analysis basics, along with first principles of understanding what your data is telling you, and point out the pitfalls to avoid. We will explain the different approaches for preparing, summarising and analysing both qualitative and quantitative data.

How to get the most from your data

Communicating and learning from your data is the next stage in making sure you get the most from your data. Choosing how to present your data can be confusing—should you use a table, graph or other data visualisation tool? We will help you to decide how to present your findings in an easily digestible way. We will take a look at real life examples of how other organisations present their data.

Learning from your findings is the most important part—as otherwise, what’s the point? But often, it’s hard to know how to feed your findings back into your planning. We will think about ways you can close that feedback loop and make sure that what you have learnt from your data is taken forward to drive service improvement.

Analysing and using data doesn’t have to be overwhelming or complicated. Used properly, data can be not only a resource but an ally, and our job is to help you achieve this. If you can’t make the training, there’s also plenty of free tools and resources out there—you just need to know where to look. The Impact Management Programme offers a free ‘Data Diagnostic’ tool which gives tailored advice what data you should collect and how, whilst Inspiring Impact provides sub-sector specific resources and the Measuring Up’ tool is a free, step-by-step self-assessment tool that allows you to review and improve your organisation’s impact practice.

Get tickets to NPC’s next data training, on the 22 November in London, here.