Advancing Organisations’ Data Maturity - Sian Basker, Data Orchard

19 Aug 2022 15:25 | Sue Russell (Administrator)

Advancing Organisations’ Data Maturity

The unexpected benefits of assessing your organisation’s data maturity

At Data Orchard, we work with organisations - primarily not-for-profits - looking to improve their use of data to make better decisions and achieve greater impact. One of our key offers is assessing data maturity. You can read a bit more about the history of our work with data maturity in our blog, but suffice to say it’s been an ever-deepening fascination since 2010, when ‘big data’ and ‘open data’ really began making waves.

In 2015, after trying and failing to find a framework out ‘in the wild’ that would help give structure to how we think and talk about data with not-for-profits, we took matters into our own hands. In 2017, in partnership with DataKind UK we published our own. To our knowledge, it was the first data maturity framework produced specifically with the not-for-profit sector in mind.

Since then, our theory of data maturity has continued to evolve; we’ve launched our own Data Maturity Assessment Tool to help organisations figure out where they are; and we increasingly work to raise the levels of data maturity in the not-for-profit sector - both as trading consultants and champions of ‘data4good’ in our social cause.

As such, we are often asked to speak about data maturity, data maturity assessments, and what good can come of all this talk about data. In this blog, I wanted to explain a bit about our Data Maturity Assessment Tool and highlight some of the slightly surprising effects that assessing data maturity seems to have on organisations.

What is data maturity?

Invariably, when we’re asked to talk about data maturity, we find ourselves coming back to the basics… What is data maturity and, while we’re at it… what is data?

We define data maturity as:

‘An organisation’s journey towards improvement and increased capability in using data​’

When we talk about data, we have a very broad and holistic definition. We mean all the types of information an organisation collects, stores, analyses, and uses. ​This could be recorded in many formats: numbers, words, images, video, maps.​ This means it’s everywhere in an organisation - in every department, in every service and team, and in every job role.

Bringing simplicity to the complexity

Because data is so pervasive, complex and - yes - messy, it’s really helpful to have a simple framework to give structure to how we think about it.

Our Data Maturity Framework sets out seven key themes and five stages of maturity, from ‘Unaware’, through to ‘Mastering’. The themes are areas that we’ve identified as being crucial when it comes to advancing data maturity. Some are more obvious and practical - like ‘data’ and the ‘tools’ you need to collect, store, and present it. Some are about purpose in how you use it and how you analyse it. And most importantly, three are about people.   ‘Leadership’, ‘culture’ and ‘skills’ are essential to making data work for an organisation.

Figure 1 Data Orchard's Data Maturity Framework

Asking the right questions

To quote Maya Angelou "You can't really know where you're going until you know where you've been". Knowing where you are starting from with data maturity is really important.

After developing the Data Maturity Framework, we immediately found it was great in theory to know what constituted bad, good and great levels of data maturity. But, if it wasn’t easy for organisations (and especially busy leaders with little time or interest in data) to use it to assess where they actually are right now, then it wasn’t helping them plot their path to greatness.

Asking the right questions to assess what stage an organisation is at, under each of the key themes, is the art of the Data Maturity Assessment.

We launched our online tool - the free Data Maturity Assessment Tool - in 2019, and since then have created paid multi-user whole-organisation assessment version. There are also options for other agencies and partners to use our tool with their own clients or members.

The tool is, essentially, a simple online questionnaire that produces a clear, easily digestible report on where an organisation is, based on the answers given. It allows organisations to benchmark themselves against peers, plan their next steps and - depending on engagement across the organisation - identify differing viewpoints across the organisation.

I won’t go into too much detail about the tool itself - you can read about it on our website, and you can even use the quick, free, 5-minute taster version to try it out for yourself (though even the full version only takes 20 minutes to complete).

Unexpected (perhaps) benefits of assessing data maturity

What I do think it’s interesting to highlight, though, are some of the less obvious benefits that organisations get from going through a data maturity assessment.

Let’s be honest, not everyone loves data the way that we, as data professionals, do. In fact, in our experience, most people actively dislike talking about data. Perhaps more worryingly, our State of the Sector 2020 report found that, in 63% of not-for-profit organisations, the leadership don’t see the value of data.

But, simply by going through the process of completing a data maturity assessment, we find that people from across an organisation (not least leaders) are:

        Encouraged to learn about data, by having to think and talk about it in new ways

        Inspired to come up with new ideas and motivated to get better at data.

I’m not sure if we even appreciated the power of this when we designed the assessment tool, but going through a data maturity assessment is, in many cases, a huge learning opportunity. It increases understanding about data maturity itself, and enables shared thinking and a common language about the challenges an organisation faces.

Yes, it also allows an organisation to measure where they are… But this opportunity to learn, coupled with its effect as a catalyst for further discussion and action, is possibly the biggest benefit we see for many organisations. We’ve lost count of the number of people that have reported back to us that they are suddenly having more positive conversations about data, feeling enthused about making plans, and that they have a better understanding of data and data maturity, simply through taking the assessment.

Measurable impact

As ‘data people’, we think anything that gets people nearly as excited as us about talking about data has to be a good thing, and that is borne out in the… erm… data! You can read our 2022 impact report here. One organisation we witnessed become newly enthusiastic about data after conducting a data maturity assessment, is a cancer support charity that completed repeat assessments over the course of three years.

The graph below shows the difference in their data maturity from their baseline assessment in 2018 to their 2021 assessment three years later.

Figure 2 Change in organisation data maturity scores from first assessment in 2018 to fourth assessment in 2021

Clearly, this organisation’s journey didn’t just consist of taking yearly data maturity assessments. Their journey has been supported by various interventions. In the first year Data Orchard provided training and advice, over the next two years there was investment in new tools and training, improving data quality, analysis and reporting. However, that baseline assessment was a key part of engaging and inspiring people in the organisation to take action, and convincing leaders to invest. Repeat assessments have certainly helped sustain the momentum over time, as well as helping them prioritise and plan their next steps….and they’re looking for analytical skills on their leadership team too!

Find out more

If you’re interested in watching my DAMA UK webinar on Advancing Organisation’s Data Maturity, it’s available here.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Data Orchard’s work in data maturity, or think you or your clients could benefit from a Data Maturity Assessment, we’d love for you to get in touch.

We also have a small but growing group of data professionals in our Slack group, aimed at connecting a community of data people who can share knowledge and experiences. Why not join?

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