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Information Management Basics

Community IT Innovators was pleased to collaborate with our partners at Build Consulting for this webinar.

In a special, half-hour format Build shares their expertise in information management, beginning with a fifteen minute definition and overview of the basic challenges. Partner Peter Mirus takes questions from the webinar participants and addresses real world situations throughout the webinar.

  • Has your organization struggled with using data strategically?
  • Do you wish you had better technology to track your data, but suspect you’ll have the same issues even after an upgrade?
  • Are you wondering why everyone is talking about “big data”?

Technology-driven information management plays an ever-increasing role in helping nonprofits understand the world around them—and their impact on it.  But for nonprofit organizations to manage and leverage the vast amount of information you create, you need to understand your basics.

Problems in Governance, Operations, Process, Data, and Technology can derail your drive to make sense of – and utilize – your data.

It’s probably safe to say that no nonprofit manages all five of these aspects at 100% efficiency – this webinar will help you to discover ways to improve your information management mindset.

This webinar is appropriate for nonprofit executives, managers and nonprofit IT personnel – and as with all our webinars, we will discuss technology in a manner that is accessible to a varied audience.


About Build

Build Consulting works exclusively with nonprofits, providing technology and data strategy, project leadership, and information systems management/support. Build helps organizations increase their capacity to leverage data management systems for good.

Build Consulting is passionately independent. They do not receive any form of direct or indirect compensation from any vendor for the recommendations they make or perspectives they share. Their ability to make unbiased recommendations lies in their independence and this has served to further their reputation as trusted advisors to the nonprofit community.

Presenter:

Peter Mirus co-founded Build Consulting in 2015, following over 15 years of nonprofit consulting experience in the areas of technology, branding, marketing, and development. His work for Build’s clients has a broad focus spanning many operational areas, including fundraising, program monitoring and evaluation, accounting, and impact reporting/analysis.

He presented our recent webinars on creating a technology roadmapimproving data quality and creating an information strategy for your nonprofit, and has been a speaker on nonprofits and technology at Good Tech Fest and NTC.


Transcript

Johan Hammerstrom:  Welcome to the February, 2017 Community IT Innovators’ webinar.  Thank you for joining us today to learn more about information management basics.  It’s our great pleasure to co-present today’s webinar with our friends at Build Consulting.  My name is Johan Hammerstrom and I’m the President and CEO of Community IT and the moderator for this series.  Before we begin, we’d like to share a few webinar tips that we think will help you enjoy and get the most out of this webinar.  Most importantly, we encourage you to interact with us by asking questions via the go to webinar chat feature and you can also connect with us during and after the webinar on Twitter.  

We’d like to remind you to avoid multitasking during the webinar, you may just miss the best part.  If you do happen to miss the best part, or if you need to leave this webinar early, want to watch a section of the webinar again, or share it with someone in your circle, we will be posting links to the recording and slides on our website, YouTube and on our slide share accounts.  

Who We Are

In case you’re not familiar with Community IT, our skilled and certified team of IT professionals serves the greater Washington nonprofit community, helping organizations of all sizes and capacities, to advance their mission to the effective use of technology.  

We’re deeply invested in the nonprofit community.  We’ve served over 900 nonprofits since 1993, and we take a strategic and collaborative approach that fits the unique needs and culture of nonprofit organizations.  And now, it’s my pleasure to turn this over to our presenter today, Peter Mirus to introduce himself and tell us a little bit more about Build consulting.  Welcome Peter. 

Build

Peter Mirus:  Thanks Johan.  As Johan said, my name is Peter Mirus.  I’m a partner at Build Consulting.  Build Consulting does information strategy consulting exclusiveness for nonprofit organizations both in the DC metropolitan area and beyond.  Information strategy means helping people with the information and management aspects of their organization.  And that can take the form of providing technology roadmaps or data roadmaps.  It can take the form of part time CIO engagements or systems selections and implementation projects.  So whereas, Community IT works more in the IT infrastructure space as well as some enterprise information systems.  We work exclusively with information systems and data management systems. 

OO + NT = EOO

I’d like to start out with just a brief thought and we consider this to be the most important formula for nonprofit information management and it’s OO plus NT equal EOO, and that stands for Old Organization plus New Technology equals Expensive Old Organization. So the message here is that organizations that think technology will solve all of their ills usually set themselves up for information management failure. Good information management is born out of a good culture and successful nonprofit culture is focused on all five of the key areas of information management I’ll be talking about today of which technology is only one and the last of the five.  

So today, we hope to share with you some information management keys that you can use to improve your own projects as well as to use as talking points with others in the organization when you are trying to advocate for good information management practices.  

So first, we just want to talk about what information management is and it’s as simple as it sounds. It’s the management of information, data and the knowledge driven from it.  

A lot of people think about data as something that’s in a table format in an Excel spreadsheet and it is that. And information is inclusive of that, but also, your more qualitative information, your documents, your reports, other things that are extrapolated from data and used to tell a story of the organization. It could include media assets, et cetera. It could include constituent data.  

And most information today is managed either between our ears or within information systems.

Information management is just that: management of information.

There are five keys to information management:  

  • Leadership, 
  • Operations, 
  • Processes, 
  • Data 
  • Technology 

We’re going to briefly talk about each of these in turn and then we’ll spend the rest of the time on your questions.  

So leadership is critical to good information management.  When leadership is engaged in setting the vision and strategy and making key decisions, it’s typical that information management projects go much more smoothly.  We’ve seen this time and time again as projects tend to improve or decline based on the level of leadership engagement.  So one example is, we worked with a nonprofit client over 18 months on a major information management initiative.  And progress and success tend to relate directly to the leadership’s commitment of participating in making key decisions at critical times.  When that was happening, everything went really smoothly and when it wasn’t happening, the attention of the organization tended to wander. 

So it’s important that the leadership understand the importance of their visible role inside of information management projects.  

Operations is the next key and we are talking here mostly about people, project management and communications.  So you have to have the right people on the bus.  Be sure to have good project planning and management and particularly time management.  One of the things that we tend to see as being common in nonprofits is that it’s assumed, practically speaking, that everybody’s time is infinite

So, that can cause a lot of time crunch and attention lack during information management projects as the information project is competing with other interests for people’s time and it’s impossible to get everything done.  So really estimating the amount of time that it’s going to take to realistically complete the information management initiative and getting people’s buy in and commitment to that time is important.   And communications of course is always key. 

We worked with a national nonprofit and they made sure to have the right people involved, good project organization and thorough communications and they had a lot of success in their information management practices.  Making real commitments to that not just in word but in action is really important.  And I’m sure there are plenty of questions about who are the right people to include and how to create a projects management process for information management projects within an organization that’s not really project-centric.  And I’m sure we can get into those later on.

Processes are really important and a lot of people think about process design or documentation.  It’s more than just coming up with the best way to do something.  Sure, you have to have sufficient documentation of the processes, but above all, executing the processes consistently is what’s important.  It’s one thing to agree on a standard process while everyone is in the conference room and another to actually put into practice when everyone’s back at their desk.  

When you’re trying to do data collection, it’s really important to have everyone following the same processes, otherwise the data loses its integrity very quickly.  You want to design the processes and document them for sure, but execution is key.  

And then data must be consistently collected.  It has to be well organized and maintained overtime and above all, it has to be used

Organizations have to do all four of those things well with data in order to have an effective information management environment.  On a number of occasions, we had different clients where there will be one or more problems in each area.  But I’m just going to focus on using the data for the moment.

You know, organizations will have information that they don’t even know that they have or the entire organization at least isn’t aware.  So there’ll be information available for the asking.  Maybe it’s a system, hopefully it is.  But people aren’t always using it to make decisions.  

I remember reading a survey of nonprofits in the United Kingdom a couple of years back that said, over 80 percent of nonprofit organizations collected some data about the impact of their programs and only 6 percent actually use that data to inform their decision making processes.  So that’s kind of a stark analysis.  It’s definitely something that’s getting better over time as organizations get better at data collection.  But a lot of emphasis is sometimes placed on data collection and not enough on using it effectively and that’s where the pay off is, through the collection.  So understanding how to use data once you have it is important. 

And then finally, we get to technology, the shiny toys.  Technology really needs to be aligned to the four prior keys.  

If the technology doesn’t 

  • serve the vision of the organization as expressed by leadership, 
  • if it’s not consistent with the operational practices of the organization and well supported, 
  • if it doesn’t reflect the process that the organization needs to conduct in order to be successful in its mission.  
  • And if it doesn’t serve to properly collect, maintain, organize and use data, then it’s pointless.  

So the new technology will for the most part not make up for what is lacking in other areas of information management.  And ultimately, technology is great and it can be fun to implement, at least for technology folks, perhaps not for other people so much.  It can do amazing things, but you really have to get all of your ducks in a row.  

So I’m just going to conclude the talking part or the presentation part of this webinar by emphasizing to what extent the last two of these, data and technology, are dependent on the first three.  

And again, we talked about the importance of leadership and operations and processes and how the consistent application of processes, well-founded operational practices and great leadership are critical to having effective data and using it and leveraging technology to do that.  So if you don’t have the first three right, your odds of getting the latter two right are a really difficult proposition.  

There’s an episode that we could do for each one of these areas.  Today’s goal was just to give a brief overview in as short a period of time as possible.  Just start those seeds of ideas building in the minds of our audience today and really, just to take the time to answer your questions.  

You know, it’s one thing to talk about doing these things and present them on paper, but quite another to figure out how to apply them within your own organization’s culture.  So that’s where I’m going to leave it for now.  I’m happy to dive into any one of these areas with any questions that you guys might have.

Johan Hammerstrom:  All right.  Thank you very much Peter.  It’s a great introduction to information management and I think it’s a good opportunity to kind of explore some of these areas in more detail, particularly as it impacts any of you in the audience today in issues that you’re dealing with, with your organization.  

Questions and Answers (13:35)

So, we have a question here, if you could talk a little bit more about management of photos and videos.  That’s a key type of information that I think is still challenging for people to manage effectively, particularly the metadata that goes along with photos and videos.

Peter Mirus:  Yeah.  That’s a great question.  It’s something that a lot of organizations really struggle with, particularly if they’re moving to their file management in the cloud.  Previously, they were managing all of their files on a local shared drive.  If they’re moving all of that into Office 365 or Google apps, what’s an efficient way to do the media management? 

And it’s usually a multi-tiered solution, so I won’t get into a lot of details.  But you might have an area where you do collection of a lot of different assets.  Sometimes organizations have a ton of photos.  They dump them all into a file folder and nobody ever goes to them and assigns some metadata to them or prioritizes them or clears them for public use.  Sometimes, what we recommend is that people have one location in the cloud where they keep a very well curated set of assets and then they have another location that’s less well-structured where they sort of dump things while they’re waiting to be processed.  

So for example, you might have a lot of photos coming into your organization.  You might want to actually keep them on your local shared drive as the most efficient place to manage them and go through and curate them and then upload the ones that have the most durable quality for marketing purposes or for supporting program reports into a curated area.  That could be a, Adobe Creative Cloud storage environment, it could be a Dropbox environment. It could be a SharePoint media asset library.

So there’s a lot of different ways you can approach it.  Something I’d be happy to address more in a follow up email message with whomever asked the question.

Johan Hammerstrom:  Okay.  Great.  Got some other questions here.  

Any particular tips for houses of worship?  Anything special about managing information for a house of worship? (15:51)

Peter Mirus:  That’s a pretty broad question. I know there are parish systems that help manage parishioner information about their families, create automated giving processes, track interests in different ministries and programs. That’s not really our area of expertise. We usually don’t work directly with parishes or dioceses.  

So, I would say that one of the key challenges for the parishes that I have worked with in the past is just being able to come up with the resources to support a good information system from a cost standpoint.  And fortunately the available tools I know just broadly speaking have become much better.  But outside of connecting the person to what my parish uses specifically which seems to work pretty well, I don’t have any additional insight to offer in that area. 

Johan Hammerstrom:  Okay.  Any sort of broad recommendations about data visualization as a way of performing data analysis? (17:00)

Peter Mirus:  Okay.  So, data visualization tools are great for a couple of different reasons. One is that it really helps organizations to see their data quality.  For some reason, if you show somebody an Excel spreadsheet and point to missing data within a column, it doesn’t have the same impact as showing them the percentage of missing data that there is on a graph or a pie chart. So, there’s a lot of different ways to get a good sense of how good quality your data is by looking at it through data visualization tools.  

We usually recommend either Tableau or Power BI.  Some of our clients are using other tools that have data visualization aspects to them whether it’s dashboarding or reporting capabilities that are built in various case management solutions, CRMs.  Other clients are using GIS-type tools or SPSS to do some aspects of data analysis and visualization.  And others are even using verbatim text analysis tools to do analysis of qualitative confirmation and do visualizations from that.  Even  down to analyzing emotional needs within their audience. 

So there’s a lot that can be done.  There’s a lot of tools available.  I’ve mentioned a few of them.  There are a lot more out there.  We’ve written about that a little bit on the blog at build.com.  So, people can check that out.  Go to the blog and search for a data visualization if they want to get some more information about that.  Or they can send us a message with specific questions and I’ll be happy to answer those.

Johan Hammerstrom:  Could you repeat Peter, the name of the data visualization tools?   

Peter Mirus:  Tableau and Power BI which is available as a part of Office 365, as well. And there are a lot of other tools out there.  But those tend to be the ones that are most frequently used by nonprofits, in part because of the accommodating pricing that’s available.  And Tableau Public, in particular, if you don’t mind having the data that you’re analyzing available on the public forum, or if it’s already a matter of public record.  You can use Tabloid Public for free and present your visualizations there.

Johan Hammerstrom:  Great.  Let’s see.  All right.  This is a great question.  It’s a little bit long, so just bear with me Peter as I work through it. 

Peter Mirus:  Sure.

Johan Hammerstrom: (12:58)  Because it’s a great concept or challenge that I think often people face when trying to improve their information management.  

In a perfect world, it would be ideal to approach these steps in the order that you have them listed in, a linear process that starts with leadership and ends with technology.  But sometimes, maybe even more than sometimes, technology choices sometimes need to be made earlier than may be optimal, given the process you’ve got laid out.  Or sometimes, you’re coming into a situation where the data choice has already been made.  The technology solution has already been implemented ahead of coming up with the processes.  

So what are your recommendations for changing or aligning multiple processes in the context of technology, for combining existing processes into new technology?

Peter Mirus:  That’s a great question and it’s one that we deal with all the time.  We’re coming into clients that have existing ecosystems, right?  It’s rare that we start with a client on the day they were born.  So they’ve already got data practices and technology and processes in place and maybe they’re looking to replace some of those.  Maybe they’re not looking to replace any of them. So you work it in as you can.  

I’ll give you an example.  We went to a client that was using Raiser’s Edge as their CRM and Luminate Online Marketing for their marketing advocacy platform.  And we did an assessment of how to improve their data quality.  And over time, that led to improved processes and operational practices. 

But what we really needed to do was get the buy in of leadership by demonstrating how the data that they had or the data that they didn’t have, but could get, would either help or — in the absence of good data, hurt their organization. 

And once we were able to create a couple of small projects and get buy in around those and take those up to leadership and say, these are the impacts, then that starts to open minds a little bit.  And so that opens the door for you to slowly start to improve processes and operational practices and get leadership to come around. 

So in this particular client, we started out just by doing a lot of data cleaning and scrubbing.  And then we went out to each of the individual departments that were putting data into the Raiser’s Edge and Luminate Online and starting to work with them to understand their process gaps,  Really dig into what their biggest pain points were, make some recommendation, some of which were solved by changing the technology or tweaking the technology a little bit but many of which were just addressing their primary concerns and emotional baggage, gently providing education, et cetera.  

And then, doing things like developing a better way of receiving and triaging information of data requests that’s not an aspect of operations.  Coming up with a better way of estimating time spent in day-to-day projects.  So helping the organization understand what it really took to run that data and technology operations and sort of keep it humming.  And so, I would say that when we first came in, there were a lot of folks, executives inside of the organization that had a distrust of the data and the tech of the information systems team.  And we really had to work within that organization or rebuild that trust and it’s the data and the capability of the technology to deliver. 

And by the time we were 18 months in, leadership had really started connecting data to organizational performance and organizational outcomes that were mission-oriented; to the point where they even started making data quality a part of performance evaluations for management and their department heads. 

So it’s something that’s built overtime.  Sometimes you need to harness the use of an outside voice to bring some perspective inside of the organization, so it’s not just the same people beating the same old drum over and over again.  

But that’s just one example. We’ve worked in many such circumstances.  And it really helps in this regard to interact with peers within the community, whether it’s through NTen  or Inside NGO or any of these others that have a technology focus or a technology focus as part of what they do.  And just hearing about the case stories, or what kinds of successes organizations have been able to achieve that are analogous to your own organization.  And what they are doing with data and what kind of stories are available out there that you can forward to or bring to the attention of decision makers inside of your team.  They really help you get upstream in the decision making process instead of always having to start out with the data and technology choices that are handed to you without complete consideration.  

So I hope that was a good answer to the question.  

Johan Hammerstrom:  I think it was.  If there are follow ups for the person who asked that question, please chat those in.  We’re happy to keep the conversation going.  We got another question Peter.  

Have you found good ways — oh, this is a great one.  Great questions today.  By the way, I really appreciate all these really good challenging situations that people are dealing with around data management.  

Have you found good ways, Peter, to encourage volunteers or incent volunteers to enter data and follow good data management processes?(26:19)

Peter Mirus:  Yeah.  There are a bunch of different ways you can do that.  I mean we’re dealing with an organization right now that has 10,000 volunteers distributed nationally so they are a very volunteer-driven organization and a big part of our work is working with organizations that have a lot of volunteers that are federated, multi-chapter, organizations, lots of volunteers. 

So, there’s a couple of different ways you can approach that.  One is to just acknowledge that there is going to be no such thing as a perfect outcome.  Volunteers are motivated by a lot of different things.  But one of them usually isn’t data entry.  

But the second thing is, try to make it as fun for people as possible.  And by fun I mean a couple of different things. One is, trying to give them as low friction of a data entry process as humanly possible.  A really good interface is available from mobile devices that streamline data capture, the ability to do it in a moment when you’re actively thinking about it.  It’s really important.  And that makes it more fun for people that do data entry just because it gives them experience.  And believe it or not, their experience with your technology, sort of accrues to the brand of your organization as well.  

What I mean by that is, their perception of your competency as an organization and how proud they are to be associated with your mission also comes in part from how they interact with you.  And if they’re interacting with you through a data entry system, then their impression of you is in part going to be formed by that.  So that actually has a relationship to fund raising as well and increased volunteer engagement if you make it easy for them to help you. 

And another thing is, if you have an online community or have the opportunity to develop one, you can invent games or allow awards, recognitions and badges based on how much data has been entered or the quality of the data and sort of make it fun.  Make it possible for people in the volunteer community to be recognized for their achievements or for their contributions from a data standpoint, especially if it’s activity data, things that they’ve done.  If you give them an opportunity to receive an award or a recognition for it, even it’s a badge under their e-profile.  So those are two good ways to make it a little bit more fun and creative. 

So thank you very much for joining us today.  Thank you so much, Peter, for your time.  This was fantastic. 

Peter Mirus:  Thank you.

Johan Hammerstrom:  And we look forward to having Build back again with us on our webinar series very soon. 

Peter Mirus:  All right.  Thanks everyone.
Johan Hammerstrom:  All right.  Thanks