If you work in human services because you hate math, terms like “data,” “quantitative analysis,” or “pivot table” might sound scary. Don’t be intimidated! Data does not have to be complicated. Simply stated, data is useful information that you collect to support organizational decision-making and strategy.
The list below shares twelve reasons why data is important, what you can do with it, and how it relates to the human services field. You can also download ’12 Reasons Why Data Is Important’ to print out copies and share with your colleagues and other stakeholders.
1. Improve People’s Lives
Data will help you to improve quality of life for people you support: Improving quality is first and foremost among the reasons why organizations should be using data. By allowing you to measure and take action, an effective data system can enable your organization to improve the quality of people’s lives.
2. Make Informed Decisions
Data = Knowledge. Good data provides indisputable evidence, while anecdotal evidence, assumptions, or abstract observation might lead to wasted resources due to taking action based on an incorrect conclusion.
3. Stop Molehills From Turning Into Mountains
Data allows you to monitor the health of important systems in your organization: By utilizing data for quality monitoring, organizations are able to respond to challenges before they become full-blown crisis. Effective quality monitoring will allow your organization to be proactive rather than reactive and will support the organization to maintain best practices over time.
4. Get The Results You Want
Data allows organizations to measure the effectiveness of a given strategy: When strategies are put into place to overcome a challenge, collecting data will allow you to determine how well your solution is performing, and whether or not your approach needs to be tweaked or changed over the long-term.
5. Find Solutions To Problems
Data allows organizations to more effectively determine the cause of problems. Data allows organizations to visualize relationships between what is happening in different locations, departments, and systems. If the number of medication errors has gone up, is there an issue such as staff turnover or vacancy rates that may suggest a cause? Looking at these data points side-by-side allows us to develop more accurate theories, and put into place more effective solutions.
6. Back Up Your Arguments
Data is a key component to systems advocacy. Utilizing data will help present a strong argument for systems change. Whether you are advocating for increased funding from public or private sources, or making the case for changes in regulation, illustrating your argument through the use of data will allow you to demonstrate why changes are needed.
7. Stop The Guessing Game
Data will help you explain (both good and bad) decisions to your stakeholders. Whether or not your strategies and decisions have the outcome you anticipated, you can be confident that you developed your approach based not upon guesses, but good solid data.
8. Be Strategic In Your Approaches
Data increases efficiency. Effective data collection and analysis will allow you to direct scarce resources where they are most needed. If an increase in significant incidents is noted in a particular service area, this data can be dissected further to determine whether the increase is widespread or isolated to a particular site. If the issue is isolated, training, staffing, or other resources can be deployed precisely where they are needed, as opposed to system-wide. Data will also support organizations to determine which areas should take priority over others.
9. Know What You Are Doing Well
Data allows you to replicate areas of strength across your organization. Data analysis will support you to identify high-performing programs, service areas, and people. Once you identify your high-performers, you can study them in order to develop strategies to assist programs, service areas and people that are low-performing.
10. Keep Track Of It All
Good data allows organizations to establish baselines, benchmarks, and goals to keep moving forward. Because data allows you to measure, you will be able to establish baselines, find benchmarks and set performance goals. A baseline is what a certain area looks like before a particular solution is implemented. Benchmarks establish where others are at in a similar demographic, such as Personal Outcome Measures® national data. Collecting data will allow your organization to set goals for performance and celebrate your successes when they are achieved.
11. Make The Most Of Your Money
Funding is increasingly outcome and data-driven. With the shift from funding that is based on services provided to funding that is based on outcomes achieved, it is increasingly important for organizations to implement evidence-based practice and develop systems to collect and analyze data.
12. Access The Resources Around You
Your organization probably already has most of the data and expertise you need to begin analysis. Your HR office probably already tracks data regarding your staff. You are probably already reporting data regarding incidents to your state oversight agency. You probably have at least one person in your organization who has experience with Excel. But, if you don’t do any of these things, there is still hope! There are lots of free resources online that can get you started. Do a web search for “how to analyze data” or “how to make a chart in Excel.”