Becoming a Data Driven OrganisationIntroduction to Data Series

What is data in simple words?


In this new series of articles, we are going to explore some of the foundations behind using data within your organisations so that you can:

  • plan effectively, 
  • make better decisions,  
  • evidence the effect you are having in the world. 

In this article, we are going to do a deep dive into data and exactly what it is. 

What is data?

You can’t go very far these days without hearing the word data, whether it’s data on your phone, personal data collected by websites, or phrases like ‘big data’ or ‘data science’ but what is data?

For the most part you can think that data is like information. A piece of data is a piece of information. Broadly, you could substitute one for the other and not go too far wrong. There are, however, some subtle differences between information and data because in actual fact data is the building blocks of information.

“Data is the building blocks of information.”

Data is instead the raw materials which when processed and given meaning by people it becomes information. Data is instead the raw materials which when processed and given meaning by people it becomes information. It can come in many forms. It might include: 

  • Social media posts from your followers
  • Information from your website who is using it and how
  • Financial data e.g. what funding, costs
  • Detail about your employees – working hours, appraisals, and feedback
  • Information and data about the population you serve, what their problems and needs are.
  • Feedback and other data with regard to your services i.e. impact or outcome measures
  • Information from questionnaires/surveys
  • Feedback
  • Observations

So how do we turn data into information?

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1. We structure it or organise it so the end result is useful
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2. We put it into context, for example, we know that the series of numbers 12/05/1974 are actually someone's birthday.
3. Most importantly, we find it valuable - something is only 'informative' if it can be used or valued by someone.

The most crucial part here is that information is useful whereas data in its unprocessed form is not. 


Data is most likely across all parts of your organisation, but it can often be challenging to know what is available or how to use it to create value for your team. As people and organisations we are producing unprecedented amounts of data, often passively or with very little effort. That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that it is the right data. We have a tendency to collect data which is easiest – easiest to find, store and analyse. Instead we should be thinking about value. What data can we collect that we can then turn into something valuable and meaningful to us? The right data can be used to help you understand more about your organisation and support you in making decisions. 

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