HIGHER THINKING BLOG

Analytics Rule By Emily Cox

Analytics rule when measuring ministry outcomes.

Measuring ministry outcomes helps organizations answer the question, “How are we doing?” This question is critical. But an even more important question is, “How do I make the best thing happen?” While measurement helps you understand how you are doing, it is analytics that guides you along the path to make the best thing happen.

There are two key components of analytics: data, and analysis of data. Understanding your data is paramount to gaining insight from data analysis. Simply put, analytics is the systematic evaluation of data. Analytics helps answer questions such as, “Where is our outreach most effective?” “Are there differences in outcomes across regions?” “Is our ministry impacting one demographic more than another?” or “What method or approach is most effective in achieving our mission?

Having seen the benefit of analytics in ministry, I want to share four keys to better analytics that will offer your organization greater insight from its data:

Take inventory.

Leaders are often unaware of the wealth of data already being captured within the organization. So, take an inventory across departments to understand what is being captured, how measures are defined and what format the data is in (i.e. qualitative versus quantitative). Identify and document the systems or software being used to capture the data.

 Begin to centralize and standardize.

After taking inventory, don’t be surprised to find data collection and analysis occurring, to some degree, in almost every department of the organization. What you’ll most likely find is duplication of effort and variation in methods used to measure the same concept. Whether it’s Operations, IT, Marketing, Finance or Donor Relations, departments often require the same metric but differ in how that metric is defined and therefore measured. The need for standardization and centralization will become evident the deeper you dig.

Measure what matters.

One of the questions you need to ask as you centralize and standardize is “How is this data informing the mission?” If the data you work so diligently to capture is promptly put on a shelf and never looked at again, this may be a metric you can stop measuring. Asking hard questions of the data you’re collecting will help you identify what you can stop measuring and identify new metrics to capture.

 Quantify.

Data is often captured in a format that makes it difficult to analyze. Reams of free form text from field reports or interviews, while providing valuable insight, are often impossible to analyze in a systematic way and are time consuming to read and summarize. Where possible, quantify the data. Ask for feedback using scalable response categories. Capturing data in this way allows you to look for patterns in the data and reduces the time for review.

Once you know what you are measuring, how the data is being captured and that it’s being captured in a form that can be easily analyzed, the task of analysis begins. While this task will require the right skill set and tools, it fundamentally involves asking the right questions of your data.

Analytics can provide a wealth of insight to leadership and make measurements come to life. It can influence the direction of the strategic planning process, identify weaknesses and potential threats to the organization, and envision and increase the confidence of leaders.

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Emily Cox, Ph.D., is the director of Bible Research for Bible Study Fellowship. Prior to coming to BSF, she was a researcher in the health care field for more than 15 years. This is an excerpt from a timeless article originally published in the 2014 Winter Edition of Outcomes magazine.

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