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Beware the Recency Effect
27 December 2018, by , in Data Management, No comments

I’ve written in the past about cognitive biases and how they can affect our judgment. One that I didn’t mention in that article is the recency effect, which I find can have an adverse effect on data management, or more importantly, how we don’t use data as well as we should.

The recency effect essentially says if you have, say, a list of numbers, you’ll remember the last few and the first few, but the middle of the list is quickly forgotten. I see something similar in associations when staff is seeking, for example, an expert on a certain topic. Rather than using actual data collected over time (e.g., collecting areas of expertise from members when they join or renew), staff will send an email to all staff (and maybe volunteers) asking “Who do you know who has expertise in X?” [Admit it, you’ve done it yourself!]

While this may indeed result in some answers, the recency effect ensures that most people will name the first or last person they came into contact with who has that expertise. People who were met “in the middle” will be forgotten.

Wouldn’t it be more effective (and more efficient) to be capturing that data over time and then just querying the database when the question is asked? Implementing a standard data collection policy that gathers this information over time will ensure you don’t fall victim to the recency effect.

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National Association of Life Brokerage Agencies

“Wes was able to come in and offer tangible, relevant advice that made us more productive immediately. I value his understanding of databases but more so, his understanding of how nonprofits work. There was no lost time educating him about how membership organizations are “different.” Wes recommended changes in processes as well as tips and tricks that were easy to implement made an immediate positive impact.”

Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan

Mary Pat Paris
International Registration Plan

“This is the second database implementation we’ve done since I have been at Western Arts Alliance (WAA). The first I did on my own. This time we engaged Wes Trochlil as our database planning consultant. Let me tell you, this process is a whole lot easier having Wes on your team! For a small association like WAA, it’s tempting for board and EDs to question the justification and expense of a database planning consultant. But it’s the small associations that need Effective Database Management the most. Wes strengthened our planning process, clarified our needs requirements, helped us steer around solutions that couldn’t meet our objectives, and saved us money in the long haul.”

Tim Wilson, Executive Director
Western Arts Alliance

Tim Wilson
Western Arts Alliance
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