Sector experiencing growing pains on the road to data maturity: report

Posted on 17 Aug 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Data crunching

The overall level of data maturity among not-for-profit organisations has declined over the past three years, according to new research

The report State of the Sector: Data Maturity in the Nonprofit Sector 2023 by UK research and analysis firm Data Orchard found while some areas had seen improvement, less than a quarter of organisations surveyed had the right skills and capabilities to maximise the use of their data.

The report analysed survey responses from more than 380 NFPs from across the world, including Australia.

The company has developed a data maturity assessment tool that enables organisations to measure their position on a five-stage journey to data maturity, ranging from “unaware” to “mastering”.

The tool is used to assess data maturity across seven themes: uses, data, analysis, leadership, culture, tools and skills.

State of the Sector Data Maturity report

Among the key findings:

  • The number of organisations that disagreed that their data was complete, accurate and kept up to date increased from 44 per cent to 57 per cent compared to 2020–21.
  • More organisations (58 per cent) said their staff were not data literate, compared to 47 per cent in the previous report.
  • Confidence around data security has fallen by 10 per cent, with just over half of organisations assessed agreeing they were confident about the security of the data they held.

The report found that skills and analysis were consistently the weakest of the seven key data handling themes explored, and organisations’ responses to questions about these had changed little over the past three years.

Fewer than one in five organisations said they had appropriate numbers of staff managing and developing their data capabilities, while less than a quarter had the right skills and capabilities to maximise the use of their data.

Less than half said they analysed data in useful and meaningful ways, with most doing simple descriptive analysis of past data, rather than “deeper exploratory, experimental, or predictive analysis”.

While there is still work to be done, the report’s authors said their research showed the NFP sector was making progress when it comes to data maturity.

“Those that are investing the extra effort and resources are reaping rich rewards for their organisations and those they serve.

“Many still have a long way to travel on their data maturity journeys and there’s a clear need for improved skills and support.”

“Data science is a team sport. It's not an individual sport.”
Professor Anthony McCosker, Swinburne University Social Innovation Research Institute.

The report follows the recently conducted 2023 Digital Technology in the NFP Sector Survey by Infoxchange. More than 1000 organisations in the sector took part, with the results scheduled to be released later this year.

Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs provided a taste of some of this year's findings around information security, at the recent ACNC Regulators Day event in Melbourne.

"Only 23 per cent of organisations say they have any processes or policies in place to address information security and it's even a lower percentage that say they have an active plan to improve their cyber security posture," he said.

"I think there's massive amounts of work that we need to do there."

Prof Mc Cosker
Professor Anthony McCosker discusses data maturity in the not-for-profit sector at the Connecting up conference.

Professor Anthony McCosker from Swinburne University’s Social Innovation Research Institute said the question of data maturity was an important one for the sector.

Speaking at the Connecting Up conference in Melbourne earlier this year, Professor McCosker said the main goal of not-for-profits using data analytics and building data capability was to inform organisational learning to make adaptations leading to better outcomes.

These goals, however, were being pursued amid a backdrop of multiple debates about data collection and how it is used.

“There's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about how relevant data and digital is in the sector,” said Professor McCosker.

Key issues ranged from user consent and sharing of data by organisations to ethical responsibilities and the appropriate level of resourcing that should be invested in data analysis and management.

“There's a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about data in communities,” said Professor McCosker.

He said done the right way, the concept of data for social good had the potential to make an enormous difference.

“It's more creative, it's more empowering and it's that idea of the more that we know about problems, the more we can do about them.”

One of the keys to using data well was effective collaboration and data sharing within organisations – for example, human resources and service delivery departments talking to each other to achieve better outcomes.

“Data science is a team sport. It's not an individual sport.”

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