Over the years, a data maturity scale for the nonprofit sector has emerged. This scale is a way to measure how nonprofits are using data and understand the types of value that can be obtained. It covers everything from a baseline level of the use of data in its raw form all the way up to prescriptive analytics to drive decision-making. –From “Data Driven Nonprofits” by Steve MacLaughlin
Like a martial art, we can assign levels of data maturity.
Your organization collects and keeps only the data it needs and checks its accuracy and completeness on a regular basis. All other uses of your data are based on data health.
Your organization uses forms and reports to display, discuss and distribute the data about what happened in the past. They describe what happened in the past by categorizing, summarizing and collating your “healthy” basic data. Your database system allows reports to be easily customized and new reports to be created when they are needed. Your members have access to forms and reports so they can investigate your data when they need to. Forms and reports are not usually useful for understanding what is happening right now or what might happen in the future.
The most common diagnostic analytics are seen as dashboards and alerts. They are useful to start understanding the relationship between causes and effects. Just like the data you collect, you have to be vigilant about how much you display. If you don’t intend to make changes when the information displayed by your diagnostic analytics changes, then you should not be using them for that information.
Predictive Analytics combines your healthy data and your understanding of causes and effects to predict the future. They involve the use of statistical analysis and predictive modeling and require more data skill and knowledge on the part of your members. You always have a limited amount of resources. Predictive analytics allows you to apply them in the areas where you think they will do the most good.
Prescriptive Analytics adds an awareness of what you should be trying to make happen to your knowledge of what might happen. By combining data from outside sources about your organization’s environment it suggests courses of action that might open up new paths of action. It also can be used to guide performance by suggesting the direction and effort you need to put in to actually reach your goals.
Organizations are not monoliths and may be operating at all these levels at some times or in some places. Assigning a level to your organization is a way of describing the general level of practice, or the expected level of practice that is found in its day to day operations.