By taking inspiration from the way corporations use business analytics to optimize their Big Data, our Program Measurement and Evaluation processes can be greatly enhanced.
To understand the connection, let’s start with the mission of the Measurement & Evaluation program.
“The ability to effectively evaluate projects, programs and processes is becoming increasingly essential to organizational success today. American University’s online Master of Science (MS) in Measurement & Evaluation provides you with the knowledge to lead these evaluation efforts and the technical skills needed for analytically demanding roles in upper management.” 1
A good analytics solution constructs a universal framework for collecting, analyzing and utilizing data to determine project effectiveness and efficiency.
Likewise, an efficient measurement and evaluation of projects, programs and policies using analytics should ensure success. An analytics centered approach will likely work with corporate, non-profit and governmental organizations across various sectors and industries.
We can look specifically to two key business analytics concepts I have used in my twenty plus years of analysis work; Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Data Visualization. The key to my success was my ability to answer important business questions using analytics.
Analytics is generally defined as the discovery of patterns in data that provides insight and identifies opportunities. As Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP said about analytics, “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.” 2
Organizations that invest in analytics generally make much better business decisions then one’s that don’t. In fact, IBM found that organizations who use analytics are up to 12x more efficient and 33% more profitable. 3
In the corporate world, business analytics is widely use to track, analyze and report Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
KPIs are rolled up to senior leadership to drive business strategy, identify and mitigate risk and to optimize operational productivity.
This approach is very similar to the way projects in the Measurement and Evaluation are tracked, analyzed and reported.
So we need to ask ourselves, what are the KPIs for the project, program or process we are measuring? What points of data need to be captured, analyzed and reported to determine success?
A successful analyst is able to remove the noise when analyzing data and isolate what matters most to his or her organization. That is what is at the heart of measurement, knowing what data is important and what is not.
Once we have the right data, we can measure what the data tells us to determine success, causality, impact… whatever the outcome may be.
A quote often attributed to management guru Peter Drucker perfectly sums up why big corporations rely so heavily on analytics when he said “What gets measured, gets managed.”
Similarly, policy decisions can be made based on what is measured. Project funding can be impacted by what is measured. Process optimization can be directed by what is measured.
Once we are able to measure what is truly important to policy-makers, managers and decision-makers, we need to make sure we present the data in a compelling way.
This is where data visualization comes in.
I often make the analogy that if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a good pie chart is worth a thousand rows of data.
We all know that most people learn more by seeing something then by reading or hearing it. Data visualization takes that a step further.
Data visualization is not only important to presenting our insights but also for exploring the data for insights. Most people find it easier to process information when it is in the form of a picture then a collection of data.
Chip & Dan Heath, Authors of Made to Stick, found that, “Data are just summaries of thousands of stories – tell a few of those stories to help make the data meaningful.”
The ability to take all of the data gathered in the measurement phase and use it in the evaluation phase will make a significant difference in the success of the project, program or process you are working on.
According to the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, “Program evaluation is a systematic method for collecting, analyzing, and using information to answer questions about projects, policies and programs, particularly about their effectiveness and efficiency”. 5
Data Visualization can be used to paint a picture of a program, project or policy that influences outcomes based on the KPIs. And by appealing to the basic human fascination with stories, a persuasive graph, chart or infographic can make all the difference in the world.
By adopting the business analytics concepts of KPIs and Data Visualization, and applying them to the world of programs, policies and projects, you can find the same level of success I found in the corporate world.
- American University, “Certificate in Measurement & Evaluation” http://programs.online.american.edu/online-graduate-certificates/project-monitorin Accessed October 20, 2016
- Carly Fiorina Speech from December 6, 2004 http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/execteam/speeches/fiorina/04openworld.html . Accessed October 20, 2016
- Simon Thomas, Senior Analytics Consultant for IBM https://youtu.be/Zi8jTbXnamY . Viewed October 20, 2016
- Chip & Dan Heath, Authors of Made to Stick, http://heathbrothers.com. Accessed October 20, 2016
- OPRE, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/opre/resource/the-program-managers-guide-to-evaluation-second-edition. Accessed October 20, 2016
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