In grantmaking, one word makes more eyes glaze over than any other – data. Those who find it fun are called nerds. And for everyone else, it can bring up feelings of boredom, overwhelm, and confusion. In philanthropy, there can also be worries of time commitment, grantee burden, complicated methods and, frankly, resources circling the drain without adding any function or value.

With one shift in our understanding about data, we can reclaim a sense of wonder, creative agency, and value in our data work: Recognizing that information does not equal data and data does not equal knowledge.

The key force in the formula is that data is actually a decision. More specifically, datamaking is an action whereby we transform information into data so that data can contribute to knowledge.

Information is everything that is coming at us. It is all around us whether we seek it out or not. However, to have data requires intention. We make information into data when we explicitly attach it to a question and explicitly or implicitly connect it to an approach for making sense of it. Building knowledge is a social process where we make meaning together. We utilize datamaking as part of shared meaning making.

Keys to Datamaking Success

Many of the tools and techniques that we have learned about data design and collection continue to be relevant in datamaking, such as:

  • Ask clear questions and prioritize which data points, or combinations of data points, are most relevant to answering the questions.
  • Determine the best type of question, like multiple choice, Likert scale, open or closed ended, short text, or long text.
  • Ensure consistent processes for collecting the most accurate data.
  • Be internally and publicly transparent about the processes for data collection.

In addition to these traditional elements of data collection, datamaking requires an additional three elements.

Deciphering Key Questions

It is equally as important to determine what to collect as it is to identify what we can stop giving our attention.

Identifying What Matters Most to the Work

Data collection as it occurs in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector traditionally aligns with a linear equation of vision to mission to goals to outcomes with data brought in at the end stage of determining if outcomes have been achieved.

Visualizing Where Meaning Making Can Happen

“Mapping” activities are often the starting point of identifying data collection opportunities.

Equity Throughout

One of the main reasons for embracing datamaking is that it allows us to more clearly notice the places where equitable practices can be strengthened. These are the opportunities for asking: Who is involved in determining the questions? Who gets to say what information is important enough to become data?  Whose perspectives or frameworks are valued in interpreting data?

Read the full article about dad for grantmaking by Dr. Angela Frusciante at The ENGAGE Blog.