One of the exciting developments in association technology is the growing transparency and access to data created by members, prospects, customers, Internet-enabled devices and other sources. However, access to this data does not provide executives and key decision makers with valuable insights. What matters most is what is done with the data. The ever-increasing amount of data must be collected, organized and analyzed to provide meaningful value and drive data-driven decisions.
With more and more data available, forward-thinking associations are beginning to embrace new approaches, including data visualization tools and techniques, to dramatically improve their ability to quickly grasp the valuable information hidden in their data.
Data visualization is a powerful way to simplify the complexity of an association’s data and present it in a form which is comprehensible, insightful and actionable. And with interactive visualizations, associations can take the concept a step further by drilling down into charts and graphs for more detail, interactively changing what data is seen and how it’s viewed—all in real-time.
Three benefits data visualization offers to association decision makers and their organizations:
1. Comprehend information quickly—the need for speed:
By using graphical representations of their business and membership information, associations are able to see large amounts of data in clear, cohesive ways – and draw conclusions from the information. But associations not only have to find and analyze the relevant data they need, they must find it quickly. And for many individuals, because it’s significantly faster to analyze information in graphical format, visualizations help identify problems and/or answer questions in a timelier manner.
2. Identify and respond to emerging trends, relationships and patterns:
Extensive amounts of complicated data can start to make sense when presented graphically. Visualizations help quickly identify parameters that are correlated. Some correlations are obvious, but others are not. Identifying and responding to key relationships between data as well as trends and patterns help build and execute initiatives most likely to influence goals and objectives.
3. Interact directly with real-time data:
Unlike Excel spreadsheets or canned reports that can only be viewed, data visualization tools enable users to interact with data. For example, a canned report will inform the executive team membership is down or registrations for a conference are lagging. However, the report does not identify why membership is down or whether certain membership types are not registering for the conference. Complicating matters, the information in the report could be days or weeks old. When decision-makers have access to real-time data, they have a better opportunity to understand and respond to why membership is down and the reasons negatively impacting the conference registrations.
Too fully leverage the benefits of a data visualization initiative, associations should take steps to ensure their data is accurate and timely. In addition, understanding the data including its size and context (ex. Is the data from social media content or financial transactions?) when determining what data to visualize is important. Equally important is knowing your audience (ex. staff, volunteers, or Board members) and taking into account how each audience may process the visual information is critical when considering which visual conveys the information and communicates the “story” in an engaging and simple format.
This article first appeared in the March 2016 Tech Toolkit in Associations Now magazine.