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Developing a Cycle of Virtuous Data Management

In last month’s newsletter, I discussed the Cycle of Doom, which I see repeated too often at many associations. But there is an antipode to this cycle, which I call the Cycle of Virtuous Data Management, or simply, Cycle of Virtue.

The Cycle of Virtue works this way:

  1.  Once users are comfortable with managing data in the database, they begin to see the quality and value of the data. They start using the data for things like marketing and communications programs, analysis, decision-making, and a host of other reasons.
  2.  Because the value of the data is so good, users continue to monitor the data, ensuring that it is kept clean and augmented with other data where possible.
  3.  Because the data is being continually maintained and updated, it continues to be valuable, and users continue to use it. The Cycle of Virtue is in place and is self-sustaining.

So how do you start the Cycle of Virtue and ensure it sustains itself? Here are four suggestions:

  1. Clean up the data you have already. If your data isn’t relatively clean, the cycle can’t feed itself. So figure out what data needs to be cleaned up and execute a program to do that. And don’t forget to enlist the help of your members and customers! Send them an email and ask them to update their contact info and demographics, and explain why this is important to them.
  2. Augment the data you have with useful data from other sources. Almost every association I work with uses a third-party to manage some subset of association data (most commonly outsourced registration for a large event). But many of those associations never take the time to bring key data back into the central system (e.g., simple attendance data). The result is that key pieces of data about your members and customers are missing from your database, which leads staff to believe the data is not complete or useful.
  3. Implement an ongoing data management and clean up strategy. Cleaning up the data and augmenting it is important, but once that data is clean, you need to have specific plans in place to keep that data up-to-date. Answer these questions: Who on staff will be responsible for maintaining the data? What resources are available for clean up and augmentation? How can we help the members and customers help us?
  4. Watch for shadow databases. As noted in the previous article, a shadow database is any active set of data that is managed outside the primary AMS. Most often these rise up because staff doesn’t know how to manage that subset of data within the primary system. Shadow databases can kill the Cycle of Virtue because they “hide” key data from other users. So watch for shadow databases, and when you identify one, incorporate that data back into the primary database.

Kick out the Cycle of Doom and kick-start the Cycle of Virtue. It will work like a perpetual motion machine, feeding itself and keeping the cycle moving if you follow the four simple rules of Cleaning, Augmenting, Maintaining and Incorporating.

Hat tip to Rob Kaighn at Personify for inspiring this article. Click here to see his interview of me on the Cycle of Doom.

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