Lean Data: monitoring for decision making
One of the most often heard mantras in social innovation is “test fast, fail fast and adapt fast”. As a social innovator, I still find it a little difficult to let go of the idea when I think that there are still so many issues to define, to analyze and land…
Social innovation is probably one of the sectors where you will find the most support programs, where you will find the best communicators and mentors who, with a microphone in hand, or via an earpiece in your ear, tell you how to launch, pilot and scale your business idea. Their power of communication is so powerful that no-one can doubt their recommendations. However, beyond a survey here, an analysis of the competition there, and a vague description of possible lines of financing, there are few practical tools that end up in our toolbox giving us the much desired peace of mind, the feeling that yes, this way we are doing well, this way we are getting somewhere.
So few are they, that we still feel as if we are facing the abyss when we set out to launch our business idea as quickly as possible and adapt as we fail. And why? Simply because the only indicator we can count on to determine if we are “failing” is that our product or service is not selling. And this hits where it hurts the most, our scarce financing power. Through its course “Lean Data Approaches to Measure Social Impact“, Acumen.org solves this dilemma. The course is a must for any person or organization dedicated to social innovation. Certainly, at SIC4Change, it was a turning point.
Lean Data focuses on three basic principles:
- Obtaining quality information to guide decision making;
- Ensuring that this information is focused on the users, i.e., the people whose lives I want to improve through my product; and
- Gathering the information quickly and cheaply.
To achieve the above three principles, it uses two vectors: first, technology. According to the seventh “Mobile Life” study conducted by TNS, more than 6 billion people around the world currently have a cell phone, (approximately 92% of the world’s population). This fact, without any doubt, makes the phone one of the fastest and cheapest ways of obtaining information and communicating in any corner of the world, be that via a call, SMS, IVR, or WhatsApp, depending on the level of coverage in each community and the literacy level of its population.
The second vector is understanding at what stage of development your product or service is at and, based on this, determining the 4-5 key questions you should ask yourself. In this way we should ask ourselves if our product is really responding to the needs of the population and if it is not, how we can adapt it, or perhaps we are already at the stage of asking ourselves what changes it has generated in people’s lives. These different phases will lead us to design different types of questionnaires that we can send to the target audience through one of the above-mentioned communication channels, obtaining the information we require to adapt our service to the user’s needs quickly and cheaply, without putting our investment at risk or having a negative impact on the population.
With the Lean Data approach in mind, we can take as an example the micro-learning platforms that are usually born from the premise that knowledge transforms people’s lives. With the Lean Data approach embedded into the strategy, these platforms can adapt their content and communication channels to the needs, aspirations and habits of the target audience quickly and cheaply, successively increasing their impact and scaling up to a larger number of communities.
And this is the key to Lean Data, to stop considering communities as passive subjects of a “monitoring system” aimed at responding to donors or internal organizational premises and indicators, and let them become co-participants in a design process to adapt a service or product to their daily needs.
Without a doubt, I believe this is a transformative and almost mandatory approach to work for any person or organization dedicated to social innovation.
Blanca Pérez Lozano is the founder and co-director of the company SIC4Change, a social innovation cluster whose main lines of action are: technologies to solve ongoing problems such as child malnutrition; the creation of collaborative platforms to promote technological solutions in partnerships; and consulting with other entities in terms of project evaluation, development programs and strategies, social innovation, SDG contribution strategies, and economic and productive development. Throughout my professional experience in various organizations and as a consultant and external evaluator, I have specialized in specific methods for promoting social innovation and learning (Design Thinking, Developmental Evaluation, Human Design Thinking, and so on).