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Raison D’ata

Aligning data with your public organization's purpose.

OK, I admit it; this is a blog where the headline came first. I am not one to shy away from a good pun, a bad pun, or any pun, really. I like to pun. And as good as I think this pun is, and to be clear I do think it’s good, it also makes a valuable point — we all fall into the habit of doing things, because, well, that’s just what we’ve always done. And sometimes the act of doing obfuscates the reason for doing.

Even if we think the reason is obvious (“Of course I want to know how much I’m spending on road maintenance.”), or irrelevant (“Council expects a report on overtime, so I'll have employees record how much overtime they work.”), the real reason for all of this data collection is lost in the shuffle of getting work done.

Busyness is the enemy of efficiency.

 Or “Busyness is the enemy of business.” I see this play out every day with our customers, our own staff, and even myself. Everyone is underfunded, understaffed, and overworked. Expectations are high. And some things just HAVE to get done NOW, no matter what — you can’t hit pause on the workday while a broken water main floods the access road to the hospital.

There is another kind of busyness though, the kind you have to watch out for, because if you are not careful, it will start dictating what you are going to do. And before long you won’t be just treading water, you’ll be struggling for air.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step.

Now, I’m not some sort of motivational work coach (although I do play one on TV), so I don’t have all the answers for escaping the busyness trap.  But I can recommend a simple exercise that will go a long way toward your recovery from Busyness:

Take one minute, just one minute, and acknowledge and accept the fact that IF you had the time to stop and catch your breath, your day could run better.

Now for the solution.

Looking to technology is often a good first step. Reducing redundant work and increasing automation are the natural, efficiency-inducing outcomes of technology. However, technology alone won’t fix your busyness problem.

In fact, organizations that view the technology itself as the cure sometimes amplify their productivity issues. Being able to accomplish double the busywork in half the time isn’t efficiency. It’s a sign that busywork is occupying too much of your day.

A technology implementation is the perfect time to assess all those traditions and Bobisms (Something you do because that’s how Bob always did it; Bob died 12 years ago, rest his soul) that are draining efficiency from your organization.

Rather than looking at the hundreds of different tasks your organization performs throughout the year, take a big step back and decide what your goals are. What are you trying to achieve? By answering this question you gain a yardstick against which to judge all those individual tasks. Does a given task contribute to one of the goals? If not, why are you doing it?

Sometimes it’s hard to really understand the root reasons for doing something. But using simple techniques like “The 5 Whys” can help you discern the valuable from the seemingly valuable.

This brings me all the way back to data (finally!).

The data you gather is vital to answering questions about your organization’s alignment with its strategic goals. You need to think carefully about the data you collect, because every time something needs to be tracked it not only incurs a cost but can also cloud your analysis.

It is way too easy to get carried away and decree, “Collect it all!” But remember, if you collect it once you need to keep it fresh—within reason, of course. Having your arborist perform a weekly ‘Leaf Count’ for every city tree may not be the best use of his or her time. Plus, bad/unnecessary data is often worse than no data at all, because it gives you the false sense that you are making good data driven decisions.

If you have a clear vision and goals, it will be much easier to figure out what data you need to support them, because, at the end of the day, meeting those goals is your organizations raison d’etre.

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