Monday, November 17, 2014
Can End-Users Really Use Data Analysis Tools Without Data Experts?
But herein lies the rub: if we make it so easy for end-users to be able to use what is actually quite sophisticated software, then how do we know they are using it correctly? Or more to the point: how do we know they are getting the correct data, getting the correct data which they really want, and interpreting the correct data correctly?
Let's take the simplest of examples: a user wants to know how many supporters they can mail for their next event. This means knowing how the database and data defines such supporters, knowing how to exclude deceased/gone-aways etc, knowing other opt-in and opt-out codes, knowing the opt-in and opt-out policies, knowing the meaning of the values within a specific field, knowing if other groups of users might want to approach the same supporters at the same time. And knowing exactly where and how all this is held in the database.
Maybe it isn't that easy after all… Add on any further level of complexity such as last raffle gift (not just any gift), average gift over the last 3 years, if they came or were invited to the same event last year, and you're starting to tax even the data experts.
Which is why so many charities have centralised, specialist data teams who do such work. Or at the very least, highly trained users in each fundraising team. With this approach, we can be sure that the specialists know not only the data and all the above conundrums but they also know what additional questions to ask the fundraiser who wants to know such answers.
All of which pains me a great deal to have to write. I want end-users to be able to run such queries themselves, I want them to be able to be empowered to ask 'what-if' type questions so they can see data patterns, I want them to be more self-sufficient so that it will help them and take some of the strain off the database team.
But to get such analysis software to a point where this is possible, to ensure the data is so easy to understand that anyone and everyone can do, to ensure that internal policies are fully understood - all that is not necessarily easy.
Which doesn't mean we shouldn't try to do it and it doesn't mean it can't be done. We just have to ensure that appropriate software and data and policy training is given to those who need to know - and probably to limit the sort of reasons for why they are doing it in the first place. i.e. As long as the users are doing such queries just to get rough counts, to get some idea of data, to be able to do a first data sweep of a data mining exercise, then I think that should be possible. But sadly I don't think even the best software in the world yet means that a end-user can do their own segmentation and create their own mailing files for their next big event. We still need the data specialists for that.