It is an honor to write on the importance of using data to tell your project story. My name is Keziah Waweru, a Kenyan-born and bred data enthusiast with over six years experience as a Monitoring and Evaluation specialist in Africa.
“In God we trust; all others must bring data,” W. Edwards Deming
Data enthusiasts like myself live by the above mantra, since we acknowledge that without data we lack evidence that we can use to prove our project success. While data collection and analysis may seem tedious, overwhelming, complicated and time consuming, it is essential for us to appreciate the value added when there is data that speaks for you. This is especially useful for projects that aim to influence human behavior and perceptions, which is often more difficult to prove and takes time to achieve.
Nevertheless, why is data important? I will use African proverbs to illustrate five points on why I believe data is key to highlighting your project success.
1. You can never say that your mother is the best cook unless you have tasted your neighbour’s food.
When implementing any project, we must always acknowledge the existence of other factors and actors that influence change. Therefore, we cannot claim the successes accomplished in a project unless we can prove the specific role that our intervention played. Data therefore helps us to narrow our focus on what value our interventions added despite the complexities that exit.
“A tree is known by its fruit” – harvest your fruits using data.
2. If you think you're too small to make a difference, you haven't spent a night with a mosquito.
Are there times in project implementation when you feel you have not accomplished much, at least not enough to embark on data collection? Do you sometimes feel like your interventions may be too minimal to produce big impact? Well, experience has taught me that it is very importance to gather project data continuously, however incremental it may be. Documenting gradual accomplishments is critical in project implementation. Success is rarely instantaneous.
“If you wish to move mountains tomorrow, you must start by lifting stones today”- use data to capture your full story.
3. Every closed eye is not sleeping and every open eye is not seeing.
Data helps us to unearth some truths that we many not easily decipher by trusting what is on the surface. As the adage goes, ‘do not judge the book by its cover;' same goes for project successes, we must not base our project successes on our assumptions but on credible data.
‘Do not think there are no crocodiles just because the water's calm’- let the data speak for you, no assumptions.
4. Do not look where you fell but where you slipped.
Data is also useful in helping us learn from our mistakes and understanding our gaps along the way. Otherwise, we can never attain our project success unless we can continuously correct and improve on our gaps throughout project implementation. Do not wait for the big bottlenecks to adapt to challenges; the earlier you foresee and correct your path, the better it will be in the end.
‘If you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents’ – listen to your data and take early precautions.
5. It is the one who lives in the house who knows where the roof leaks.
Data helps us to tell our project successes from our beneficiary's perspective. As development practitioners, we cannot claim to fully understand the experiences of our target beneficiaries unless we hear from them. Continuous rapport with partners is key to collecting quality data for our projects.
He who is afraid to ask is ashamed of learning – learn from your data, through the perspective of the people who truly matter to the project.
In short, there are always two sides to a story. However, data helps us to view our successes from all perspectives and prove our side of the story. I always advise people that if you cannot prove it using data, then it did not happen! Evidence is key to telling that story and data helps us to build on that evidence. This is particularly essential for your organization’s credibility and branding since your story is verifiable. Invest in data and you will not regret it, I promise.
Not to know is bad, not to desire to know is worse (yet another African proverb).
Keziah Waweru is an experienced Regional Specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the international affairs industry. Skilled in Research, Nonprofit Organizations, International Relations, Capacity Building, and Strategic Planning. Strong support professional with a Master of Arts - MA focused in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution.