If you have been reading my writing for the last few years, you know that in addition to employing the preceding phrase fairly often, I argue that not everything that can be measured about an arts organization’s activity is a valid measure of the value of the organization and the work it does.
What should also be acknowledged as a corollary to that is that not all data is created equal or equally valuable. Since there is a growing push for arts organizations to do a better job of embracing data-driven decision making .
Over at Arts Hacker, I recently summarized a post by Colleen Dilenschneider distinguishing between key performance indicators (KPIs), diagnostic metrics and vanity metrics.
Briefly, KPIs measure progress toward your mission/goals, diagnostic metrics inform KPIs and vanity metrics sound impressive, but aren’t an indication of any sort of progress. (i.e. Your social media engagement increased 1000% in a week because you posted a kitten meme.)
The problem, Dillenschneider says, is that valuing vanity metrics can result in allocating resources away from mission focused activities and evaluation. For example, the executive director may suddenly gain national prominence and invitations to speak at conferences, etc. which may raise the profile of the organization and make many stakeholders extremely proud of their association.
But if this isn’t contributing to a recognition of problems with the quality of the work being done and the poor community interactions that are occurring, then there is no value to having a year over year increase in the number of speaking invitations.
If you are trying to use data to inform your decisions, take a look at the post. The line between KPIs and diagnostic metrics can be confusing and it can be easy to categorize the latter as part of the former without a reminder of the dividing line.