Marketing & Communications

Getting to the Good Stuff with Data

By Elsbeth Russell • August 13, 2014

Big data is such a hot topic, it seems like it’s everywhere lately. For that reason I decided to check out the session, “Getting to the ‘Good Stuff’: Evidence-based Decision Making for Associations.” Presented by Elizabeth Engel, MA, CAE, the CEO of Spark Consulting, LLC and Peter Houstle, the CEO of Mariner Management & Marketing, the session was based on a recently released white paper that features six association stories that highlight what you need to know when making evidence-based decisions.
Elizabeth Engel
Elizabeth Engel, Spark Consulting, LLC

The key to finding useful data, Engel and Houstle said, is identifying meaningful patterns in that data. Finding these patterns allows associations to make informed decisions rather than decisions made on assumptions or because they’ve always operated that way.

The session started with Engel asking what was stopping audience members from using data to make decisions. Responses included small staffs and limited resources, having data stored in too many different systems, working with data that is not validated and possibly not accurate, and problems getting responses from members due to survey fatigue.
The presenters provided a roadmap of sorts to help lead to better decision making, starting with determining what questions you need to ask of your data. Collecting data from sources like your CRM and AMS systems and other areas of your association that compile data, like accounting, is next, followed by cleaning that data by removing duplicates and addressing any missing or incorrect data.
To analyze the data, Houstle and Engel suggested using a dashboard like Tableau and said that graphically presenting your data will make it easier for your audience to consume.
While your data can’t tell you what to do, it can make it easier for you to interpret your situation and make an educated plan that will help in most routine situations.
Engel and Houstle stressed that every person in the association should have access to the data, it shouldn’t be just reserved for certain people to use.
Peter Houstle, Mariner Management & Marketing, LLC
Peter Houstle, Mariner Management & Marketing, LLC

The key, Engel said, is worrying less about making the right decision and focus on making the decision you’ve made right.

Extra takeaway: At the end of the session Engel passed around some postcards so that attendees could write themselves a note to serve as a reminder of an action item that was spurred from the session. Engel said she would mail them to attendees in about a month, just as a reminder to put some of the ideas from the session into action. Anyone who has every attended a conference knows what it’s like to come home with a notepad full of great ideas only to abandon those ideas when real life kicks in back home. I love the idea of having a reminder sent in the weeks after the conference to help you remember the energy you felt around certain concepts, ideas or strategies.