The goal of our data strategy work at ParsonsTKO is to make sure every organization’s data lives up to its highest and best use. These efforts take many forms, but can be distilled to this:

Does your data support your people and does it help make their daily work easier?

As an analyst, I spend a lot of time with our clients’ data. But I also need to spend just as much time considering the impact of that data – learning how it’s used, exploring unanswered questions by staff, and matching those questions to data that already lives in a system somewhere (or that may still need to be collected).

If you’re curious, I’ve already put an article together on the biggest hidden treasure metrics that your org may be sitting on.

But right now, I want to explore how that data gets used to:

  • Reassure staff that their efforts are working,
  • Warn them when the seas are changing and if a strategic reset may be needed, and
  • Help them leverage their work for greater impact by getting it in front of the right audiences on their preferred channels at the right time.  

I’m going to offer you a 3 step approach – and I urge you to read all the way through, because step 3 is absolutely crucial, and it’s the one I most often see ignored or filed under ‘we’ll figure it out as we go.’  If there’s not a plan in place when you begin, it won’t happen.  So plan for it now!


Step #1: Explore unanswered questions in your organization

These are often centered around specific audiences and how they find, engage with, or take action following consumption of your content.  Examples include:

  • Do the right audiences find the content intended for them?
  • Do people take the next steps we hoped they would after reading this content?
  • Are policymakers spending enough time with our content to understand our position?

Since our primary goal with data is to support staff, make sure to offer ample opportunities for brainstorming and prioritization among the people who will be reviewing the data regularly.


Step #2: Find metrics to support data driven decisions

Here, we prefer engagement metrics (which look at how much content was consumed, by whom, and how) over ‘what happened ‘metrics (such as page views, sessions, or users).  Or, to put it another way, it’s important to measure outcomes while also measuring activity.

As part of identifying these data points, it’s critical to review both the engineering that powers your data capture as well as what’s being collected.  Ensure the data is collected properly, that it meets stakeholder expectations (e.g. is ‘average time on page’ quite low even though content teams hear from readers that they spend a lot of time digesting the articles?), and is trustworthy for decision makers (i.e. look for potential outages, or anything that might indicate data can only be partially collected).


Step #3. Build on current habits  

Researchers have found in recent years that the best way to add a new habit to your life is to attach it to something that you’re already doing regularly.  By daisy-chaining these habits together, you make adoption much easier. The good news is that you can use this same technique to create rapid organizational adoption of your new data reporting!

  • Identify meetings where these questions already come up, ideally something with a regular cadence (weekly or monthly editorial meetings are great)
  • Learn the reporting preferences of the attendees of that meeting (do they want to have metrics emailed to them ahead of time to review? Would they rather have a dashboard that gets displayed in the meeting and review results live? ) 
  • Invite your new report or dashboard to the meeting. At NRECA, for example, the Digital Strategy team developed a social media intelligence dashboard that became a star player in outreach planning – so much so that it got its own nickname (“Smitty”), and the attention of many other internal departments who clamored for their own versions. 


Let data help empower your employees

It’s easy to be intimidated by data, or to doubt its ability to improve upon the gut-level instinct of experts. Indeed, by no means do we see data as a replacement for the hard-won expertise of professionals at your organization. Yet it’s certainly possible for targeted metrics to enhance their decision making, giving insights into the habits and preferences of your audiences that had previously been invisible. By following these three steps, you’ll gain valuable information to help prioritize your investments, empower your staff, and make their daily work lives easier and more productive.