What have we learned from dealing with the Data problem of NGOs is that they are all almost the same, just repeated many times.
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If anyone of you has worked in a non-profit organization, you can relate to the “hire somebody, our reports due” situation.
That is exactly where I found myself in May 2015 when I started working with Chemonics International as Database Specialist with their Regional Agricultural Development Program-South (RADP-S).
The “Don’t Worry, We Have Time” Phase
It is reasonable to put more focus on getting the project going in the initial few months, that's when more focus is placed on Logistics, HR, Operations, and such. However, that is also the time when the NGOs are generating lots of data that could later come to save them or bite them.
In this phase every department starts small and keeps track of its data in its own preferable data-tracking system, sometimes each individual has their own preferred data-tracking tools and as the project slowly grows bigger and more people come on board, the number of systems, and the versions of data they possess become unmanageable to work with. That is where the problem starts, but unfortunately, even in the case of most experienced project managers, it goes unnoticed until sometimes it's too late.
The “I think We got a Problem” Phase
Usually, a couple of months into the project is when the first big meeting takes place with the donors and that's when the light bulb moment happens. It is then when the donors ask for figures, it is them when they ask for fancy charts and progress against the key performance indicators and such. And in some cases, this is when the donors get worried too, not because enough work is not done, but because they lose their confidence in the way the project is run. Keeping in mind that in conflict zones, there are already too many factors to be dealt with, none of the donors want to hear about problems that could have been avoided, including that “bad data”.
The “We Gotta Do Something” Phase
Right after that meeting with the donors, the HR is instructed to hire what we call a “magician” to gather all that data from the miscellaneous systems, each having multiple versions of the data to produce one report in almost no time and that is also the time when everyone learns about a secret word from the magician “GIGO (Garbage in Garbage Out)”.
Image Credit Alok Kumar
Of course, the new data specialist can’t go back in time to fix the data collection system from day one, what they can do is a compromise, and provide options to the management to decide how are they going to deal with the bad or lost data.
What Could Have Been Done Differently
I am glad you asked, cause there are solutions. I would speak of my personal experience.
In today’s world we can rarely find a problem that has not been solved yet, if it exists such a thing, entrepreneurs call that a “business opportunity”.
Therefore, the first thing the NGO management needs is a mindset shift. Data is something you need to consider NOW, just like HR, Operations, and Logistics.
Secondly, to look for an affordable, proven, scalable, and considerably widely prevalent tool or solution and incorporate it in the project early in its lifecycle. I used the word “considerably” with caution, and the reason that is, sometimes the project managers hear some cool names from big IT companies such as Oracle or Microsoft and think that would solve all their problems. However, the truth of the matter is that we mostly do not need some big-name, top-of-the-line technology, sometimes the solution is hidden in tiny tools such as Quickbase and such.
We here at RapidIteration do just that, our team has hands-on experience of decades of working in conflict zones and we have seen what worked and what was a catastrophic failure. Our team would be glad to assist you in that regard.
To book your free consulting session please follow the link and we will be glad to assist you with a tailor-made solution for your organizational needs. Book Your Free Session
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