How a Lean Data Approach Can Change Your Effectiveness as an Evaluator

The use case for a lean data approach is quite compelling: it’s a decision-making tool for when time and money are short and there is a pressing need to make rapid operational decisions. Who of us hasn’t been in that position before? The lean data approach can also help if you feel most of your time is spent satisfying funder requirements, or if the data collection process is so lengthy that any findings are irrelevant by the time you share them with program staff.

But what exactly is this seeming panacea? Let’s take a closer look.

What is it? 

Lean data is a survey approach to measuring and managing a program’s impact that was first piloted by Acumen in 2014. A lean data approach does not replace but rather complements your current impact evaluation method(s). It applies three lean experimentation principles

  • Customer First – goodbye compliance mindset, hello value for customers and program staff 
  • Low-Cost Technology – finding ways to harness technology to create rapid feedback loops
  • Data-Driven Decision Making – asking the essential questions that, when answered, can aid in deciding on next steps

How does it work?

Rather than taking a “what data do we need?” approach, lean data takes a “what am I trying to accomplish and what information would help me to get there?” approach. The whole process consists of 4 stages:

  1. Get Started. In this stage, you will identify the impact you are trying to achieve and what information you need in order to get there.
  2. Choose Your Technology. Here, you’ll want to choose the type of data collection technology that works the best for your population.
  3. Choose Your Questions and Method. When identifying or creating your questions, be sure that each is relevant to what you need to know, and that the response you receive will drive some type of action. When it comes to methods, you’ll want to map out the program’s user journey in order to pinpoint the times that staff are already in contact with your surveyees. Any of those moments, called touchpoints, are when your questions can be embedded into already existing operations. This is designed to lessen the burden on the clients and staff.
  4. Take Action. This might be the most important stage! The purpose of this approach is to inform a concrete decision, so be sure to take action once you get the information you need.

Curious to learn more? Check out Acumen’s free online course for a more in-depth look, or their field guide for support in implementing a lean data approach in your organization.

Wondering how this approach looks in action? Stay tuned for my next blog on Saturday, December 7th where we will explore a couple of case studies. See you then!

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