Data vs. Information: The Differences You Need to Know

By Annie Rhodes

What differentiates data and information?

 

Most people use the two terms interchangeably, but they are not the same thing by definition. Understanding the difference between data vs. information is crucial when running your organization.

Both data and information drive the business world in making decisions. It has never been easier to gather it, and there are countless solutions for extracting and interpreting the facts and figures you collect.

 

Let’s look at the differences between data and information.

 

What is Data?

 

The word “data” comes from the Latin word datum. In its original form, datum means “something given.” The earliest usage of the modern term we know dates back to the 17th century. Over time, data has come to represent both the singular and the plural.

 

The primary data and information difference is that data is no more than a fact or figure. All data is raw, unstructured, and unorganized. By itself, data means very little.

 

These are pieces of information rather than information themselves. Understanding data vs. information can be confusing, so here are some examples of data:

  • Dates

  • Web traffic numbers

  • Number of clicks

  • ROI

Write down the numbers from the above, and they are just numbers. You need to interpret them to transform them into information that can be acted upon.

 

Of course, since data on its own cannot be used, it is pretty easy to misinterpret data either accidentally or maliciously.

 

For example, someone may take a single figure from a scientific paper and use it to craft a completely different conclusion.

 

What is Information?

 

After data has been analyzed, structured, interpreted, and presented, you have information. Information is something actionable.

 

The term “information” is older than data because it comes from the 1300s. The word originates from both Middle English and Old French. However, the definition has never changed. It has always been translated to “the act of informing.”

 

While the two terms are intricately entwined, your nonprofit needs information to make decisions. Converting that data to understand your target audience, and come to conclusions on where your organization should go next, is the essence of what information is.

 

Information can then be converted into a story that meets the needs of your target audience, whether it happens to be a board of directors or the general public. This concept is known as data storytelling and relies on intelligent, bold visuals.

 

How Do Data and Information Differ?

 

How do you explain the difference between data and information?

 

You can use several defining factors to decide whether you happen to be looking at data or information. Let’s look at what is the difference between information and data.

 

What Do They Contain?

 

Data is essentially the raw, unrefined material used to create information. These are the facts and figures you see when you immediately look at your analytics dashboard.

 

Information, on the other hand, offers insights. You gain insights by analyzing the data you harvested.

 

Reliance

 

There is a reliance on data to generate information. This applies from the most basic facts to highly detailed case studies. Information cannot exist without data, but data has no reliance on information.

 

Specifics

 

All businesses need specifics to draw meaningful conclusions and take action. Data doesn’t delve into any specifics because there’s rarely anything to gain from unprocessed data.

 

Information, on the other hand, deals in specifics. This is what it exists for, whereas data will always remain unfiltered and scattered.

 

Data vs. Information in Impact Organizations

 

The difference between information and data is crucial to grasp. Without it, you lose one of your primary resources.

 

Within any field, you need insights to drive your future campaigns. An impact organization needs to know important figures, such as donor numbers, donor retention, and their impact on their communities.

 

Knowing this information enables them to pivot and maximize every dollar spent to achieve maximum social good.

 

How the Data vs. Information Model Works

 

Organizations go through specific steps to take informed actions within a practical setting.

For example, let’s say that a nonprofit is trying to determine whether its latest campaign to help the homeless find employment opportunities was a success.

 

After completing a campaign, the organization needs to make sense of its data. Assuming they have already collected as much data on the program as possible, they need to refine it to develop essential insights.

 

The nonprofit decided to examine 500 cases that formed part of the initiative. Approximately 350 participants managed to secure a job offer within six months of completing the program.

So, how do data and information differ within this context?

 

Data is the raw numbers like 500, 350, and six months. Naturally, there will be many other data pieces, such as initial investment costs, participant satisfaction ratings, and labor costs.

What information could be derived from the data found within this campaign?

  • 70% of participants succeeded as part of this program.

  • 65% of people expressed satisfaction with the program.

  • Most participants received a job offer within six months.

The difference between data and information is subtle, but there are vital differences all business owners need to be aware of to make better decisions for their organization.

 

How to Use Data and Information to Make Better Decisions

 

Data and information are both vital for making better decisions within your organization. But how do you use it to make the right decisions?

 

Use Good Data

 

Data is the foundation of gathering information. Every organization has its own systems for collecting data. You will gather clear, timely, and accurate data during your operations. Likewise, it is common to gather data not relevant to your goals.

 

Knowing what is truly happening within your organization all starts with good data. The quantity of data is less important than the quality of the data.

 

For this, you need data collection systems that can accurately gather important insights quickly.

 

Analyze for Insights

 

The process of creating information begins with analysis. Again, the information you want depends on your goals.

 

Start by searching for trends and patterns. If we go back to the above example, the nonprofit may look at its latest jobs training campaign and compare it to previous campaigns.

 

Did the current campaign do better or worse than the previous five? These insights will tell that nonprofit whether it is performing well or needs to make changes.

 

Larger organizations will have entire teams working on this process to offer a fresh set of eyes.

 

Develop a Story

 

Information is essential, but that information needs to be presented correctly, and that’s where data storytelling and visualization come into play.

 

You need to present your information in a manner that someone without deep expertise can understand. It may include bar charts, line graphs, pie charts, and heat maps. This is important for getting stakeholders, investors, and decision-makers on board.

 

The story informs your future decisions, and its foundations are built on the evolution of data into information into the story.

 

Platforms like UpMetrics specialize in measuring social impact and helping you to create your story. Regardless of your organization’s goal, you can tell the stories behind the numbers and create compelling narratives that will take your good works to the next level.

 

Conclusion

 

Although data tends to be used interchangeably with information, they are not the same concept. Data is only the beginning of your journey from turning meaningless numbers into insights that can be used to change the face of your organization and scale your operations.

 

Gain valuable information about your impact organization with the world’s first impact measurement platform designed with the social sector in mind. Combine quantitative and qualitative data to measure your progress and identify new opportunities.

 

To learn more about how this state-of-the-art platform can empower you to make the world a better place, request your free UpMetrics demo now.


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