Q: Our agency’s mission is supposed to be addressing lack of access to vital services. We spend millions a year but it’s not clear how that impacts anyone in any significant way. Our executive director wants to spend money on an animated cartoon featuring a superhero who spreads hope. “Hope” is apparently our agency’s strategy. Not sounding very data-driven, right? What can I do?

I feel your frustration. You face what many who work in government or non-profits face—decisions based on hunches, what’s been done before or a director’s opinion.

That lack of data-driven decision-making has led to where we are today: millions of dollars spent on programs that fail to deliver measurable and meaningful results. It’s a waste of vital resources. And it’s a practice we must end if we are ever to start solving challenges like child maltreatment, untreated mental health challenges, homelessness, substance misuse, and childhood trauma.

If possible, see if you can find someone in management who will support you in pushing your agency to embrace being data-driven. If there is no one in management who will be your champion, then consider going to the board of directors to find support. None of this is easy and requires tons of courage and a sense of powerful social justice. Questioning management may make your position very vulnerable.  Chain of command is not broken lightly in either the gov’t or the non-profit worlds. But if your agency’s director keeps wasting money on vanity projects that would be better spent on evidence-based strategies shown to work, consider changing jobs. Fast.

Know that there are data-loving organizations that do base all their work on data, research and a form of continuous quality improvement. These are inspiring agencies that understand that we’re swimming in excellent data and research that provides all the information we need to start solving challenges today. To all those working in agencies that fear or distrust data, know this: data-driven innovation is coming and the dinosaur anti-data ways are going to be extinct. Here’s to being empowered and effective.