I co-founded Idealistics in 2005. Eight years is a long time. This is not easy to write, but I have decided to move on from Idealistics.
My interests and skills have evolved over the last eight years, as has the social sector. Data is the belle of the social sector ball, but as a philanthropic community we are at something of a crossroads.
Through Idealistics I have had the opportunity to see firsthand how non-profit and government social programs use (and misuse) data. These frontline realities are significantly messier than the rosy promises poetically popularized by those well paid to be far removed from the day to day difficulties of executing data informed social programs.
The debate about how to use data in the social sector has a lifespan of an unknown length. At some point a new standard of data “best practices” will be established, and the sector will move on to another issue for the foreseeable future. The decisions the sector makes now will have consequences for years to come.
The upside potential is well documented – money flowing to the most effective programs, programs designed to meet social (not just funder) needs. But the consequences of getting this wrong are significant as well, and there are well intentioned forces moving us in the wrong direction.
Like the decisions that led us to the obsession with overhead, a costly mistake that has been with our sector for decades, wrongheaded efforts that try to supplant analytical capacity for jargon and shallow infographics threaten the sectors’ future ability to truly learn from evaluative metrics.
Indeed, we ended up with the simplistically misleading overhead-ratio metric in order to avoid the real complexity of comparing the seemingly incomparable. Shortcuts are costly, and if the sector is serious about maturing into a more data driven industry, we have to invest in our workforce’s analytic capacity.
Which brings me back to my decision to close Idealistics. I’ve enjoyed my time with the company immensely, and am proud of its accomplishments. Through this blog and others I have been fortunate to play a small role in the vast discussion about how the social sector uses data.
While blogging has been cathartic, taking pot-shots while hiding behind a WordPress install is hardly heroic. And although Idealistics has allowed me to be a part of making big differences for a relatively small group of organizations, no one could argue Idealistics is moving the needle in how the sector as a whole engages data.
It’s not. I’m not.
My career, and technical training, has prepared me well for the intersection of social issues, data, and technology. I’m grateful that this intersection is the talk of the sector, and I’m afraid I’m squandering this opportunity by trying to be a one-man band.
These issues are too important to me to ignore the fact that the right thing for me to do is to join a team. What that team is, I’m not sure.
I’m at the early stages of reaching out to folks. Hopefully wherever I land, I’ll be a part of an organization (whether a consulting firm, non-profit, technology company, whatever) that is building a smart team to tackle thorny data issues in the social sector head on. If you have any ideas, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As for this blog, it will be moving back to its old home at fullcontactphilanthropy.com in the coming weeks. If you subscribed via RSS, you don’t need to do anything as the RSS feed will stay the same.
Anyone who has ever been a business owner knows how emotional running a business is. Although I know this is the right decision, it’s still very difficult. I love Idealistics, and am grateful for the opportunities I have had through it to work with great people and organizations.