Turning Data Into Action (Not Just Dashboards)

Adopt a data culture to back your storytelling.

What is the most effective dashboard in the country for impacting user behavior? I’ll give you a hint, it deals with focused, real time data from a complex system, that we guarantee you have seen before.

Any guesses? Ok, time’s up. The most impactful dashboard in the country is a car dashboard. It gives you the best predictive outputs that determine if you will get to your destination safely and on time.

The car dashboard is so effective at turning data into action due to one simple reason - it is the perfect feedback loop - you do a thing and the data change right in front of you. If the needle moves past a speed limit, it is telling you to slow down immediately unless you want that ticket.

Right now there is more big data on organizational performance than can possibly be understood and acted upon. Feedback loops ultimately hold the keys to unlocking the real organizational potential of big data.

Custom aggregated dashboards can be powerful and very attractive. There is something very satisfying about having every number you need in one place should you or your team choose to look there. Even when the team may be looking at these dashboards, having too many metrics can make it difficult to see the forest from the trees.

Yeah, more dashboards! 

So, even though I know it won’t solve the problem of turning data into action, here are some quick resources for dashboards. There are tons out there so please don’t spend money to make a bespoke dashboard before trying out what others have built.

Resources to Build your Dashboard

  • Kissmetrics - Aggregate dashboard for sales and marketing
  • Klipfolio - Business intelligence dashboards
  • Build a Google Analytics Dashboard - You can create a custom dashboard in Google Analytics that pulls only the most important data from your weekly or monthly traffic.

There are tons of dashboard proliferation going on around us as data become more abundant. Every social platform, web analytics, health app and hot new tracking company has YAD (yet another dashboard). The YAD epidemic is making its rounds on the Interwebs. While these are ultimately helpful when you need to dig in, they can make it very easy to get lost in a sea of metrics. Imagine if your car dashboard also started giving you your tweet reach, new visitors, Facebook impressions, bounce rate, airspeed, and hundreds of other extraneous metrics? I’m pretty sure accident city would be the next stop.

Feedback loops as a Solution

“What gets measured, gets managed” - Peter F. Drucker

We need to think of ways to build in habits and systems that deliver the right data at the right frequency. Many data management systems have ways of setting up automated messaging - Google Analytics has intelligence alerts and email dashboards. Salesforce also has a way to automate dashboard emails.

At Whole Whale, we became obsessed with the idea of building a feedback loop that helps nonprofits adopt a data culture and be able turn data into action. We also happen to know many people begin to ignore data emails so we turned to SMS as our data courier. We created All Good Text, a free simple tool that equips every nonprofit with a Data Watchdog who tirelessly fetches data to set in place a short and consistent data feedback loop. Turtle the watchdog keeps a leash on the three Google Analytics and YouTube metrics that you identify as the most critical to your organization. She texts you just once a week those three metrics to let you know how you are doing compared to the previous week.

Unless your metrics are all good, our Data Watchdog will not refrain from barking passive aggressive comments to make sure you fix the situation. Hearty chuckles are an intentional byproduct.

Data neither has to be burdensome nor boring. Regardless of which tool you choose, make sure that you are plugged into a feedback loop that not only informs but also nudges you to act on your data. It can’t hurt to bring a Data Watchdog along for the ride.