Humans and organizations alike are consumers of information. We look for knowledge and data points and collect a vast amount of facts. We want to know and discover meaning behind everything that we count and quantify as much as possible. We measure performance, employee opinions, outcomes, services, time and expended resources. We obtain numbers for every possible activity in every aspect of our lives. But to what end?
In today’s activities alone, I can quantify a number of things. I know the total hours spent on projects for work and how much money that translates into. I’ve calculated the miles per gallon for my car. I know how much I spent on clothes, gas and bills for the month. I gathered statistics on crisis intervention. I even retrieved the weather forecast for the weekend. As read through this short list I see clear uses for information I collected. However, in some cases I’m not sure how I will use the knowledge I’ve gained.
This can happen in organizations as well. That is, an organization may gather and compile facts and data to not use it. Now this isn’t the case in all organizations, however I think it is particularly true for smaller businesses and non-profits. It’s cool to know that there is seemingly no end to the amount of things you can quantify. But when do you stop gathering data for sake of having it and actually use it?
I have carried this question with me for the last two years and it recently became more conscious. The event that triggered this query was a class project. For several weeks, I have been working on a team to complete a project in program evaluation. We have focused on examining data on an existing organizational program to evaluate their program outcomes and data collection methodology. The data we examined reported client population, outcomes achieved and services provided, which are all important to a program’s evaluation and development. After several meetings with the program managers, it was unclear as to why this program was collecting data. Now, one can deduce the various reasons why it is important for these individuals to collect various data points however, the reasons they provided were vague. As consultants for this project, we couldn’t wrap our heads around why the program officers spent so much time collecting information when there wasn’t a clear avenue for its uses. Furthermore, collecting the right data was another issue. It appeared to be a true case of gathering data for the sake of having but not understanding its uses and potential power.
If we turn to back to the first question I posed, of gathering data to what end, the answer is fairly clear: to evaluate. We want to know that we won’t be broke by the end of the month, so we gather information on our expenses. We want to understand the climate of an organization, so we gather employee opinions via survey. We want to know if our programs are achieving the goals and outcomes for which it was established, so we measure performance. Yet, as I previously mentioned there are some cases where knowledge is left unused. Sometimes people and organizations just don’t know what to do with the information they gather. It just isn’t enough for someone to say they possess knowledge and hard facts and therefore understand. Understanding, doesn’t improve program longevity. Understanding doesn’t create improved processes to help employees and organizations succeed. However, understanding how to use that knowledge can improve organizational and individual effectiveness and efficiency.
This is where I believe we have a strong value-add in the world of work. We are trained and understand how to interpret and utilize data to help organizations and/or programs evolve and develop to be sustainable and successful. When an organization or program has difficulty translating and utilizing their information, we can help. We ensure that they are making the correct assumptions, conclusions and recommendations for goal achievement. In addition, we can provide expert guidance to these organizations and programs that will aid in process improvement, superior service delivery or whatever it is they are trying to attain.
It is my hope and goal that our team will be able to leverage this value we have to help improve the program for which we are consulting. After all, accumulating information doesn’t create knowledge and wisdom for institutional development and growth. However, imagine the vast amount possibilities and changes you can perpetuate with your knowledge and ability to not only decipher data but you ability to turn that information into meaningful action.
We have more information now than we can use, and less knowledge and understanding than we need. Indeed, we seem to collect information because we have the ability to do so, but we are so busy collecting it that we haven’t devised a means of using it. The true measure of any society is not what it knows but what it does with what it knows. -Warren Bennis