After almost a year spent researching the world of data and analytics in the non-profit sector we’re delighted to share our findings. Our ‘Data Evolution’ project showed data is an integral part of life in charities and social enterprises. For 69% said it’s a priority either organisation-wide or at least in some departments. At the forefront some are using data in powerful ways to achieve greater impact, deliver better products and services, and build credibility and influence.   Those most advanced are using data not just to challenge public policy, but to engage strategically across sectors to evidence the scale and causes of society’s problems and find effective solutions.

For the majority, data is critical to their survival, they collect and use lots of it, but its power remains largely untapped. Our national survey of over 200 social sector organisations revealed only:

57% collect the right data

43% have the right skills to analyse data in useful and meaningful ways

37% have data accessible to everyone in the organisation who needs it

More in-depth researched confirmed our suspicion that becoming great with data involves multiple factors and takes time. There’s no magic tool or mythical hero/heroine that’s going to conjure a miraculous overnight transformation.  For organisations to transcend the more tedious ‘data requirements’ (i.e. operational, legal and funder/contract reporting) and become ‘data empowered’ takes leadership and a huge collective effort.

Knowing where to start, or to even begin to think about, addressing data at an organisational level can be challenging. Data is complex, and frankly, daunting (and I say that as someone with a maths degree and a lifelong career working in digital technology and data!). However it is possible and it is worth it.

Our research revealed some interesting findings about data skills, roles and responsibility.  Very few had dedicated people responsible at a senior strategic level (or indeed at any level). YET data is part of everybody’s job, in fact on average it was about half of people’s job…in every department, team and project.  So whilst investment is perceived as being ‘low’ (only around 18% felt their organisation invested enough in data: people, skills, learning, tools) actually, the sector already invests enormously in data.  It’s just not in the job title. So, if you want to get a grip on data, start by getting some of those hidden data people from across the organisation together to talk about it. To help focus your discussions you might want to use our ‘data maturity framework’. If you would like some friendly people to support and facilitate get in touch with Data Orchard.

Data Evolution was a partnership project of Data Orchard and DataKind UK.

We would like to acknowledge the kind contributions to the research from nesta, The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, Teradata, and Access – the Foundation for Social Investment Thanks too to all those who helped promote the research: The OR Society, NPC, NCVO, Social Enterprise UK, SE100, Councils for Voluntary Services, ACRE, Charities Evaluation Working Group, Charity Digital News, Superhighways, Cosmic and RnR Organisation. Plus our wonderful team, project board and advisors.