Data and Decision Making: Same Organization, Different Perceptions

Working Paper 36
Publisher: Oakland, CA: Mathematica Policy Research
Feb 20, 2015
Authors
Nan L. Maxwell, Dana Rotz, and Christina Garcia

Key Findings:

  • Perceptions of data-driven decision making (DDDM) activities and culture in nonprofit organizations varied greatly among staff in a position to use data to make decisions.
  • Perceptions of DDDM in nonprofit organizations were far lower among staff at a funder providing program funding and technical assistance to increase the organizations’ use of DDDM than among organization staff.
  • A lack of common understanding of data and DDDM among organization staff and between funders and organizations might limit efforts to use verifiable data to assess impacts of services that nonprofits provide and to scale promising social interventions. 

In this study, survey information from staff in eight nonprofit organizations who were in a position to use data to make decisions showed that perceptions of data-driven decision making (DDDM) activities and culture in their organization varied widely. Survey information from staff at the organizations’ funder (that is, the foundation providing program funding and technical assistance to increase the organizations’ use of DDDM) shows that they perceive far lower levels of DDDM activity and culture than do the organizations’ staff. These differences in perceptions suggest that building an organization’s reliance on DDDM must begin by building a common understanding about what activities are—or are not—being undertaken and that results from research on DDDM using information from only one respondent in an organization might not be reliable.