Skip to content

Via HBR: “Nonprofits: Master ‘Medium Data’ Before Tackling Big Data”

DataPicAs noted in our introduction to this topic, You Knew It Was Coming…, we’ll spend this month with a mix of original content and curated posts of existing content from anywhere, the latter because there is a lot of good information out there already. We start with a review of a blog post by Jacob Harold, originally published in Harvard Business Review.

To make sense of the opportunity and challenges with big data, the primary task is to gather “structured information about who you are, what you’re trying to do, and what’s happening,” says Jacob Harold, CEO of Guidestar in this HBR blog post: Nonprofits: Master Medium Data Before Tackling Big Data.

While the comment is directed to nonprofits, any business does well to start right there. For context, consider that a very large segment of businesses outside of the social sector are finding big data “too difficult, too expensive and just plain intimidating.” source   In that light, sorting through big data becomes a much more feasible thing when your own information baselines and processes are intact.  Think about it.  Technology now ages in hyper dog years. Compare “the internets” of ten years ago to “those” of today. Compare the phone in your hand to the one coming out in October. It wouldn’t make much sense to try to lurch from the next big thing to another when the next big thing is promised every day. But there is no opting out of the scene.

Jacob’s proposal then, to master medium data, is also a way to understand big data.  But this isn’t exactly a simplification. He notes:

“This may seem like a low bar but nonprofits face legitimate challenges in gathering, organizing, and using even basic data. First, most nonprofits are simply too cash-strapped to invest in cutting-edge information systems to track their activities, engage with their stakeholders and understand their context. Second, the diversity of organizations makes comparison difficult: how could we possibly compare the work of the University of Chicago to a homeless shelter in Albuquerque or to Greenpeace? Third, it isn’t easy to know which are the most effective programs for battling climate change or child slavery or homelessness. Finally, the unique economics of the nonprofit sector — the buyer (donor) is frequently a different person from the user (beneficiary) — interrupt the direct feedback loop that often drives innovation in business.”

Read the whole article here. Then let’s hear from the nonprofits who have taken steps to master their own data.  Share your tips, anecdotes, references, and resources here on Markets For Good.