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Data Defeat or Data Confidence?

Sleeves rolled up, furrowed brows, slumped shoulders, a heaviness in the air…Weighed down with an all-consuming responsibility, no one in the room dared pause for so much as a coffee break. The participants were focused, intense, and determined to wade through the fog and confusion. In front of each chair was a stack of papers bursting with negative statistics and cold statements about the well-being of children in the community. On the one hand, the documents held great validity and interest for those around the table. On the other hand, the information they bore failed to reflect the spirit of the community or the hard work that this group and others had dedicated to children and families. The overwhelming task before them was to make sense of the data, define the key issues, and make a plan to better meet the needs of the community. (an excerpt from Raising the Village, 2009)

What parts of this scenario sound familiar?

  • Facing a seemingly overwhelming task to be data informed?
  • Struggling to work with negative data?
  • Feelings of fog, confusion or heaviness when working with data?
  • Pressure to be data-informed but unsure how?

These are situations many organizations and communities can relate to. It can feel heavy when faced with cold hard facts and yet it is these cold hard facts that can be the fuel to keep us seeking new and better ways of working together. While we know that it is important to make plans and decisions based on good information and data, the process of getting to decisions and action can feel like wading through a thick pea-soup fog.

“Data defeat” typically results in 3 types of behaviours by groups – Avoidance, Dependence and Diving in:

  1.  Avoidance behaviours range from ignoring the data all together to unproductive data-related activities. The later includes things like one-way, overwhelming  data presentations that just don’t shift people’s understanding and the data remains “disconnected” and not used. Avoidance results in uninformed decisions which increases the chance of ineffective action.  
  2. Dependence refers to when a group lets one person shoulder the data responsibility. “I don’t get maps and numbers, but its ok, Betty-Ann understands!” The question then remains, how does the group make informed decisions when the understanding exists in Betty-Ann only. What happens when Betty-Ann leaves? How does Betty-Ann’s insights influence the rest of the group? Dependence fosters disconnection.
  3. Diving in with no plan, as the third alternative, is pretty much a guarantee of a group getting stuck or spinning in circles.  Diving in WITH A PLAN is a whole other story…read on.

A solution exists in your meetings; in other words how meetings are designed to deal with data. A good meeting process will guide a group through the murky, complex world of data so that people emerge feeling informed, cohesive and ready for action.

When introducing or using data to learn, plan and make decisions, strong meeting design is the place to start. Use strategies to help participants safely explore, avoid being overwhelmed, invite questions, vent emotions and look at issues with a fresh new perspective.  

Is the agenda designed to lock into PURPOSE, be loaded with INTERACTION and guide the group to decision making and ACTION?

Click here to receive our (free) pre-meeting checklist of 15 Actions to Make Meetings More Meaningful! 

Is data worth it?

Data helps us to give issues and opportunities colour and detail and depth. Data enables us to make new connections and informed decisions. In fact, true innovation emerges during this journey, even when what we don’t know still exceeds what we do. This journey demands risk taking, being open to getting it wrong, and a persistent inquisitive spirit. Meeting techniques can ensure that participants feel safe for these things to occur.

And it is worth the heaviness…because working together is what it is all about. Truly! We could choose to work harder (hmmm) or get smarter (huh?) or partner better (yeah!!!). So roll up those sleeves and dive in – with a plan – to the data that helps you better understand the issues and moves you forward.

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