Volunteer Month: Focusing on Community Capacity
April is volunteer month, and before it comes to an end I wanted to take the opportunity to call out the importance of giving a voice to your volunteers and, by extension, your community. At UpMetrics, we often speak to the power of qualitative data. Numbers can only provide so much information – to translate those numbers into desired action, next steps, and a strategy that will impact the areas with the most need, you need qualitative data. Those on the ground can tell you whether they are seeing an impact of your efforts with the audience you intended, or if you’re indirectly solving for something else with your efforts.
Community capacity is a concept we introduced in our most recent white paper and is focused on the importance of understanding what resources and training your community has access to or has experienced in the past. This information can inform multiple things, for example how you collect feedback. Do members of the community have access to mobile devices or the internet? What languages do they speak? These questions inform how you need to prepare a request for feedback and the format in which you share it.
Thinking ahead about ways your feedback loops or general data collection processes can get stuck will enhance your ability to build a system you can rely on for quality data. Another key element in data collection is transparency into goals. If your stakeholders on the ground, including volunteers and grantees, understand the change you’re looking to ultimately drive, they can provide better feedback or information regarding your progress and potential optimizations. In the same white paper, an article from Harvard Business School is referenced which emphasizes the best way to encourage information sharing among groups is to communicate the importance of the practice and how it will directly influence progress toward goals. Ensure that all parties have that understanding and the information needed to connect the dots.
A commitment to experimentation is also key to setting up a communication strategy with volunteers and local communities since you’ll want to continue to evolve as you learn other ways to collect the right data to best inform your decision-making. Two resources suggested in How to Make Data Actionable are Feedback Labs and Listen4Good’s five questions. Another source of information are your peers in the community who may have facilitated feedback loops or other types of information collection in the past. Learn from them, adopt best practices, and see how you can share information you collect to support them on their data journey as well.
The overall theme here is not overlooking the importance of qualitative data – the information collected directly from the communities you’re looking to support. We’re facing many complex issues today, whose root cause may not be obvious if you haven’t spent time in the weeds, speaking to those who are experiencing those challenges. To truly drive change, peel back the layers through different data sources. This takes time, and it requires data capacity. What I mean by that is an ability to not only collect the data but access it in a format that powers analysis. Without an ability to pull conclusions from the information that can inform next steps or identify areas of optimization, the data risks remaining static and untouched over time.