Data Check Up

The Analyst Is In

Data Check UpHow a regular data checkup can keep your organization healthy


There comes a time for every manager when you open the latest report and realize your data have become a complete mess. Records are miscategorized. September data seems to be completely missing. And what was this report supposed to tell you anyway?

You might have noticed a small issue a couple of months ago and thought you addressed it. Or maybe you felt the problem was manageable for the meantime, and staff was too busy with other projects to put it at the top of the list. But now it’s­­ time to make a decision and you don’t have the clean, organized, accurate data you need to get it right.

Whether you’re at the breaking point or you just noticed the seed of a problem, you could benefit from a top-to-bottom review of the quality of your data, your policies and processes for managing that data, and the ways you use and apply your data.

Here are some things to consider when conducting your own data checkup.

First, understand how you intend to use your data.

What are you trying to do with your data? What questions are you hoping to answer? If your goals aren’t clear, you won’t be able to evaluate your data quality and processes effectively. But don’t stop there – ask yourself, what else could you do with your data? What else do you want to know? You may be sitting on a treasure trove of information that you didn’t even realize. Expand your field of vision before moving on to the next step of the check-up and you’ll save time later.

Next, think about data quality.

Do the data you are collecting align with your goals? Make sure you are collecting the right fields. You may be collecting too many fields for each record, bogging down the process, or you might be missing opportunities to capture additional useful fields. Raw data is often messy, so think about how you need to clean and categorize the data.  Do you have the right categories? Are they applied consistently? The quality of the inputs will define the quality of the output.

Finally, consider data management.

Make sure you have a sound system for collecting, processing, and cleaning the data. How well is it documented (and do those documents reflect the process that your staff or contractors actually use)? You may have different sources of data that feed into one central system – make sure those connections are properly aligned. And of course, data privacy and security is essential, so give thought to where it is stored and who has access.

Ask these questions about your data and data processes on a regular basis, especially when you plan to launch a new initiative. We recommend designating someone on staff to be responsible for data quality and control, and to make sure they have the time and authority to keep your system in order. This regular data checkup might be uncomfortable but it will keep your data useful and your organization healthy.

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