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Using Data for Decision-Making

When you get in the morning, how do you decide what the weather is likely to be? Often, we look up the weather forecast on our phones. But we also look out the window. After all, sometimes the weather report tells us there is a 10% chance of rain at the same time as the rain is falling down all around us. You’re making the decision off a mix of someone else’s data and analysis (thanks!) and our own experiential knowledge as we rush to close the windows before the rain gets in.

I have a family member who is a Ph.D. and loves fantasy baseball. I think if you asked him, he’d tell you he crunches the numbers, looks at the data, and assembles the best possible team. But fantasy baseball is a predictive game – you can’t really know what will happen – which means you rely on a mix of the numbers and your “gut” about what is likely to happen, for example, what you believe about each individual player, the game itself, or the teams playing. He’s making his decisions off a mix of someone else’s data that he analyzes along with his intuition about what is possible.

Fantasy Baseball Perception v Reality


I’m a thrifty person. When I go to the grocery store, I compare brands, taking time to look at the price per unit and assess sales, before putting something in my cart. But I do not always pick the lowest price because I also consider things like brand, flavor, and how I might want to cook with the item. Then I make my choice. That garlic hummus may be less expensive, but if I’m planning to eat a hummus wrap in close quarters, I may decide to go with the more expensive roasted red pepper version. I’m making my decisions off an informal return on investment analysis – I’m paying attention to the quantitative (the price), while considering the quality of the experience I’m going to have and its impact (in this case, on those around me!).

What’s the point of all these examples? We are all very good at using data for decision-making. We do it constantly. We also know how to combine data with intuition and experiential knowledge. Most of the change agents we work with have the core skills already in place to leverage data for decision-making. But, often, we lack two critical things in our jobs to make this happen:

  • The right data at the right time.
  • The right process for applying the data to the decision we’re making.

Our new toolkit on using Data as a Tool for Change is designed to take what we are all already good at and bring it into our work as agents for change. It gives concrete advice about how to find and collect the right data given the decision you are making and provides some specific processes to incorporate that data into your decision-making process.

Next month we are going quite a bit deeper, exploring how to engage in real-time strategic learning as an ongoing, comprehensive approach to integrating data into the DNA of your program, project, organization, or collaborative. Sometimes, however, you just need data for a specific decision. Do you have one of those decisions coming up soon?

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Spark’s New Year’s Resolutions to Support Sustainable Change

Spark Policy InstituteDon’t you just love thinking up New Year’s resolutions? I know I do – they’re so full of the rich promise of that makes Change, capital C, so alluring. A fresh start – an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and say, “On the other side of this line, things will be different!” No matter how difficult to solve, no matter how complex the problem, making and owning a resolution is, literally, to renew your resolve to solve that complex problem. That in itself is an important step towards meaningful and sustainable change. And that’s why we at Spark are making a few resolutions for 2013 – to remind ourselves why we’re here with you on the front lines of the battle to create change in our communities.


Six Resolutions for Making a Meaningful Difference

So here are Spark’s Resolutions for 2013 . . .

Spark Policy Institute

  1. We will embrace meaningful change even when it’s hard for us.
    • We try to do this every day, but it isn’t easy! So we enforce upon ourselves regular pauses for reflection. We ask ourselves “Is this strategy moving us towards the change we desire?” “Is that change meaningful?” “What can we do to make sure we’re on the right track?”


  1. We will use data to guide our decisions, along with intuition and experience.Spark Policy Institute
    • For example, we’re planning some changes to our monthly webinar series in 2013, based on your feedback. More expert advice, more real-world examples to illustrate our points, and more interactivity. You spoke, and we listened.


  1.  We will engage all stakeholders, including those most affected by policies and services. Critique helps us do good, even better!
    • So please keep that feedback coming – informed change is better than arbitrary change! Comment on our blogs, attend and critique our monthly webinars, email us to tell us what you think of the resources in our Igniting Change website, and most of all, tell us how we’re doing in our projects with you – morning, noon, and night.
  1. We will keep learning, even when it means giving up our old ways of doing things.Spark Policy Institute
    • We’re all about learning, so we engage in regular quality assurance check-ins on our projects. And we’re always refining our quality assurance methods so that we can help create high-quality, customized solutions to our clients’ problems.
  1. We will work on the things we love, because passion gets results.
    • Our clients get the best outcomes when we have passion for the topic. We’re always focused on outcomes, but in 2013 we’re making sure to bring the passions of our team to bear on every project.
  1. We will be healthy! Research says dark chocolate is good for you, so we’re going for it!Spark Policy Institute


Spark Policy Institute

Got any New Year’s Resolutions of your own? We’d love to hear about them! And best wishes for a sparkling new year from all of us at Spark!