Three cautions about data

Luc Tayart de Borms

Alliance’s making the issue of data central to this edition is very timely. Few people will doubt or question the importance of data in our professional context. I am sure this ‘new asset class’ will be in the centre of discussions in the philanthropic sector for the next few years. As is often the case, though, when a new item is put on the agenda, there is a danger of overpromising. Let me just counterbalance some of what is written here with three warning flags, each under the heading of a quote of Einstein.

‘Perfection of the means and confusion of the ends seem to characterize our age’

So that we don’t have more and more surveys dropping into our mailbox, it is vital that we reflect in advance on the use and added value of the data being gathered. Data gathering is expensive in terms of both budget and time allocation. It is important that everyone in the sector grasps this and uses data gathering carefully, avoiding overdose and mindful of budgetary trade-offs.

The danger is that surveys ask for too much data, forgetting that in reality only a few are needed for advocacy and policy purposes. It is also easy to forget that data are often relevant only if one can compare them year by year. This means that data gathering needs to be structurally embedded in an organization and that the budget needs to be guaranteed for more than just a one-off exercise.

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