Jodi Benenson and Abby Kiesa
October 19, 2016Read More…
Research and evaluation have long influenced activities in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit organizations are increasingly establishing or being asked to establish metrics or to conduct evaluations for a variety of reasons. Indeed, research, evaluation, and data regularly inform philanthropic and policy decisions, and vice versa. We live in a data-driven society that has furthermore become obsessed with big data, a term that describes the ability to collect and analyze data on every participant or even every transaction. Thus, instead of periodically surveying or interviewing a sample of a nonprofit’s members or employees, organizations can now create and use databases that measure every contact, activity, donation, or half hour of an employee’s time.
Organizations that use big data have an unprecedented ability to understand whole populations, track and assess particular individuals, and develop strategies that influence behavior. The use of research and evaluation so broadly and the emergence of such data interest require us not only to think about the velocity, complexity, variability, and variety of data but also about what we do with the data, because big data does not always translate to better data. There are also, of course, ethical considerations vis-à-vis how we gather data—“big” or otherwise—and what use we put them to.