It’s easy to get excited about “Big Data” and advanced analytics. They’re a couple of flashy buzzwords not a lot of people know much about. New technology and research methodologies help organizations do things they couldn’t do before. But capability alone doesn’t translate directly to added value. In my years of market research and data analytics, I’ve seen many political committees struggle to create value from the data they collect. Why do they fail to discover value from their data? Because they fail to follow a simple five-step process, anyone can implement.
1. Data Collection: The process beings with collecting useful and trustworthy data. Without data that is relevant, complete, and actionable, analytics alone will not get you very far. Reliable data is the foundation for all your subsequent insights and decision-making abilities.
2. Data Visualization: After you have collected your data, these raw points usually need to be cleaned and organized so that they are useful and understandable to your audience. Here is where data visualization comes into the process. We’ve all been victims of a poor presentation; a whirlpool of infographics that fail to be informative, filled with confusing or misleading charts, littered with distracting fonts and colors. The more information you’re dealing with, the more difficult it is to filter down to the most significant bits. Clarity is critical here; simple beats sexy every time. Being able to visualize data is key to turning it into information that can be used to drive better decision-making. Effective data visualization can often determine success and failure.
3. Reporting: Analysis is not just about performing research, mining the data, then reporting the results. Straightforward data reporting can be used to spot potential problems or opportunities, but it rarely initiates action on its own. One of the biggest issues with analysis is too many organizations fail to move beyond just providing information. Actionable data within your reports is paramount to converting raw information into meaningful insights that can be used for better understanding and improving your PAC’s performance.
4. Decision-making: The next step in the process is making a decision. The correct person or people within your organization should review the data, as well as the reports and recommendations. No resources should be assigned, or changes made until a decision is determined. Perhaps a decision requires additional data or further analysis before an executive feels comfortable moving forward. And that’s okay! But, be satisfied with your findings and decision before proceeding.
5. Take Action: After a decision is made, the next step is to develop an appropriate course of action and execute it. If your organization is unable to execute the valuable recommendations from the findings successfully, the execution team should be held accountable. Not every action will achieve its expected result; however, an organization committed to data-driven decision making will continually refine and improve its approach over time learning from both its failures and successes.
You can generate significant value from your data when this process is followed from start to finish. Organizations frequently end up questioning the value of their analytics efforts because they often don’t make it all the way down the path. It is important to understand if you have a gap in your path to value. Many organizations have a heavy focus on reporting but put little time into actionable analysis. Without action, the other steps in the process are performed in vain. Your best bet is to set a course and follow the path to the end. Action is where the real value of the process is created for your organization.
Chad Taylor is Market Research Analyst for Sagac Public Affairs, a national company providing communications, research, fundraising and management solutions to hundreds of political, non-profit and corporate organizations. Sagac is the leader in the political community for strategy and implementation of political action committee finance operations.