As a working data analyst in the non-profit sector I find that very often that higher management simply overlooks an analysis or report I produce based on questionable data quality from poor administrative work in the past or conciders a variable unnecessary and has been still tracked for some reason. Thus uprooting any significant results I may have derived.

I've run into this a couple of times here and at a previous job and It made me start asking why I was even employed in the first place, and why were these metrics here in the first place? I asked one of my coworkers and fellow analysts who was working there much longer than me and he responded simply as:

"Who knows, it might be useful some day. Better some data than no data"

This sentiment does not sit well with me, because if a variable is useless and has no ramifications in terms of policy why track it?

Is this normal for most companies to do?

  • 1
    What if you decide to stop tracking some metric now and then a year from now something changes to make you decide it's of the utmost importance? Then you lost out on a year's worth of valuable data (or more than that, if you removed it entirely). Feb 4 '18 at 21:51
  • @Dukeling even if that is the case, management does not seem to care for it. I've been only working at this current job for a 3 months and am having a hard time understanding the work culture.
    – EconJohn
    Feb 4 '18 at 21:54
  • Shouldn't you as a data analyst be explaining to management how necessary or useful a variable is, not the other way around? Although unreliable data should probably be deleted, archived or at least clearly marked as such. Feb 4 '18 at 22:12
  • @Dukeling this is an argument between the much larger administrative branch which inputs the data and the few analysts that work there (which I am a part of). The adimins claiming that they have a understanding of the organizations services already and just need visuals and donor friendly statistics, while the analysts say that omission and inclusion of some variables skew the nature of what the organization is doing and is possibly overlooking some important details. So far we've found many short comings on the administrative end, this can also be part of the source of argument.
    – EconJohn
    Feb 4 '18 at 22:36

Let me write an answer to the part of your question that is on topic here, and then maybe digress.

What should you do if you think your organization is tracking useless information?

You should bring the matter to the attention of your manager, and tell them that in your opinion the data is not worth anything, and ask them the reason for tracking it. You've already done that. Your responsibility is ended. You should now get on with tracking the information you've been told to track. This is especially true when you've been in the job a few months.

There are exceptions to this if your orgnization is illegally tracking personal information, for example.


Feel free to ignore this if you like.

I'm not a data analyst, but it seems to me that there are some potential reasons for tracking 'unnecessary' data.

  1. The data might have been useful in the past, and/or might be useful in the future. If may not be useful now to break down your donations by postcode, but if it suddenly becomes useful, it will certainly be helpful to have years of back data.
  2. How do you know it's not significant if you don't track it? If someone asks you if the breakdown by postcode is significant, it might be better to be able to say "We've done that analysis and it's not important" rather than "We don't know because we don't track it".
  3. It might be more hassle to change the protocol than to keep doing the work. Sometimes the cost of changing databases, analysis programs, reports etc. is more work than the organization wants to get into.
  4. Relatedly, if other similar organizations track this then it might be good for you to, so that people outside the organization can do meaningful comparisons.
  5. Somebody up high thinks it's a good idea and other managers decide it's easier to let it go than to challenge them.

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