This section shares key processes and milestones that will help your organization build a data-driven culture and integrate racial equity approaches.
Building a high-capacity learning culture takes work and the dedication of time and resources. Staff members from leadership to frontline workers need to understand the value and use of data to establish the required institutional “buy-in.” Collecting data to comply with funders’ requirements for tracking participants does not equate to an organizational culture of performance measurement. Achieving a learning culture requires that staff understand how data are collected and analyzed and how that analysis informs program refinement and strategy, supporting your organization’s long-term outcomes for the clients you serve. Organizational culture looks different for every nonprofit, but this section shares key processes and milestones that help build a data-driven culture.
Lay the groundwork
- Assess your current staff capacity for managing data and learning activities. Map which staff hold responsibilities for data stewardship, performance measurement, and learning activities, and identify any gaps.
- Consider dedicated staff positions for data stewardship, performance measurement, and learning activities. With limited capacity, create a plan to identify which staff hold each of these responsibilities.
- Design a management structure where at least one of these staff members reports directly to senior leadership.
- Clarify the roles and responsibilities around data and performance measurement for staff members who do not work on monitoring and evaluation.
- Work with human resource staff to include appropriate performance measurement functions in job descriptions and performance reviews for all staff.
- Create a consistent vocabulary around your organization’s use of data so that all staff share understanding of performance measurement concepts and terms.
- Develop training and identify professional development opportunities for staff who may have limited data literacy.
- Develop an organization-wide dashboard or system for monitoring performance. Tailor the format, data visualization techniques, and level of detail to the needs of various audiences (e.g., leadership, staff, other stakeholders).
- Market yourself (as a monitoring and evaluation staff person) internally as a resource for training, and use training opportunities to demonstrate for staff how data systems and reporting may enhance their own work. This may involve extra work to become available and approachable to staff who are not familiar with you.
- Identify champions and change agents in your organization. These are individuals or groups that act as your allies in your mission to build a data-driven culture. Champions and change agents can help you translate the vision and value of being a data-driven organization to their peers, senior leadership, and board members.
- Address staff members’ resistance or fears around increased data collection. Have you explained why you are collecting data? Do staff see how the data you collect lead to beneficial program change or increased funding? Are staff given training and compensation if asked to increase their workload to include more intensive data work?
- Facilitate routine engagement with data among staff, senior leaders, and board members to gain their support. They ultimately enforce how data are collected and used to make organizational decisions. For example, you might take the following actions:
- Lead a data retreat with staff and board members.
- Dedicate time at regular departmental, all-staff, executive, and board meetings to discuss performance measurement and continuous improvement. Use tools like data dashboards to help facilitate those discussions and share data across all departments as necessary.
- Identify data “champions” across departments to advocate for data across the organization; meet with champions regularly
Use and share
- Model how your organization can use data for decisionmaking. For example, spotlight data in meetings, share success stories, and use data to inform decisions at the executive level.
- Train all levels of staff in how to use your data system to execute their jobs.
- Connect staff with other data literacy professional development opportunities.
- Share resources and training opportunities that your colleagues can leverage for professional development.
- Review data-use processes at least annually with each program lead and senior leadership and revise as needed.
To continuously improve nonprofits’ services and support staff, many organizations are increasingly interested in adopting racial equity and inclusion (REI) approaches while also becoming more data driven. By measuring the impacts of systemic racism to inform systems change, internally auditing unconscious bias to improve both staff members’ and clients’ experiences, and developing metrics to measure interventions that combat structural racism, nonprofits can connect REI and performance measurement to collectively inform the decisionmaking and strategies that impact an organization’s mission. While other sections of the playbook help you imbue your organization’s REI lens specifically in survey design or indicator development, this section focuses on foundational principles.
Lay the groundwork
- Identify opportunities to engage leadership and build internal processes around REI that can also help your organization improve its measurement and evaluation work.
- Seize the opportunity presented by major milestones such as strategic process implementation or data system overhauls.
- Meet with leadership and boards, give presentations, and bring in external speakers to build excitement and belief that investing in REI is critical to your organization’s mission (if REI is not already a part of your organization’s thinking).
- Seek out training and professional development opportunities for monitoring and evaluation staff related to racial equity in data and nonprofit services.
- Assess existing infrastructure and reporting practices.
- How does REI show up in your suite of performance measurement tools (e.g., logic models, surveys, data dashboards)?
- Are there opportunities to easily improve outdated or racialized language used in surveys or to frame long-term outcomes to explicitly identify racial equity goals?
- Should you reexamine reporting practices to identify updates that will improve data quality?
- Assess the demographics and lived experiences of your staff. Do you have a diverse, inclusive staff? Who is not represented among your staff? How might this affect your work?
- Consider seeking diverse opinions about how REI can inform measurement and evaluation practices and vice versa. Democratizing performance measurement brings more ideas to the table.
- Offer clients and nonmanagement staff leadership opportunities, as well as opportunities to participate in developing more equitable outcomes or improving intake forms.
- Emphasize continuous improvement to give the staff the space to provide feedback and critiques on current practices and offer new ideas for incorporating REI and antiracist practice into all parts of measurement and evaluation.
- Search for opportunities to have conversations with funders or management about improving metrics to reflect your organization’s REI lens.
- Expand data analysis to include disaggregation for variant outcomes; race and place are key areas to examine.
- Create processes to evaluate and mitigate racialized collection bias.
- Review surveys, intake forms, and questionnaire language and update data collection tools to reflect your REI lens.
- Review client assessment tools administered by staff and identify areas for subjective assessment. Modify assessment framing when possible. Bring in experts to hold unconscious bias training for staff. Promote accountability by tracking how staff assess clients, disaggregating data by race, gender, or other relevant variables to detect bias.
- Invite clients’ feedback on data collection tools through interviews or focus groups. Create opportunities for clients to review data collection tools and offer insights on whether language could be improved to be more respectful.
- Add secondary data about the community you serve to dashboards to situate program data in context or to inform program improvements that will help you meet larger needs that program data might not pick up.
- Create additional research questions or hypotheses about how structural racism affects clients and begin data collection and analysis to better understand the issues.
- Expand partnerships beyond a program. That is, work with your referral network or other organizations in your sector to recognize shared challenges and collective solutions to the structural racism issues that affect your work (e.g., limited affordable housing, lack of living-wage jobs, need for child care).
- Consider creating organization-wide metrics that track how you influence and improve systems-level issues. Improvements could include partnerships across your city or service sector (e.g., food access) that promote changing policy or municipal practices; client testimony; and data sharing with advocate partners to help illuminate issues clients face, such as limited public transportation or punitive arrears practices.
- Continue to engage with clients about improving the data collection process, and build your feedback loop process as detailed in the Client Feedback Loops and Engagement section.
- Pilot new data collection tools or dashboards with staff and request feedback.
- Meet with community partners or similar organizations to discuss data alignment or ideas to better elevate REI in your organization’s measurement and evaluation.
- Bring in consultants, if appropriate, to assess areas of performance measurement that can be improved and to provide guidance on updating documents.
Use and share
- Build off your pilot work by redesigning data collection tools or dashboards to incorporate staff feedback and expand to more programs.
- Analyze and discuss disaggregated data with staff and share their new insights with leadership.
- Update and share outreach material to reflect program improvements that incorporate REI.
- Be ambitious. Insights from your organization’s service work can feed into advocacy work to address structural inequality. Share your aggregate data with organizations working to improve policies that impact clients.
- Continue to update programming based on REI data and new analysis.
- Offer yourself (as a monitoring and evaluation staff person) as a resource for your organization or teams when they are expanding their REI work.
- Continue working with partners to share data and measure your organization’s contribution to addressing structural racism at the city or neighborhood level.
- Keep the conversation going with funders to inform how REI metrics can improve program performance and support goals for both clients and the organization.