The Unintended Consequences of Data Standardization

Article by Cathleen Clerkin: “The benefits of data standardization within the social sector—and indeed just about any industry—are multiple, important, and undeniable. Access to the same type of data over time lends the ability to track progress and increase accountability. For example, over the last 20 years, my organization, Candid, has tracked grantmaking by the largest foundations to assess changes in giving trends. The data allowed us to demonstrate philanthropy’s disinvestment in historically Black colleges and universities. Data standardization also creates opportunities for benchmarking—allowing individuals and organizations to assess how they stack up to their colleagues and competitors. Moreover, large amounts of standardized data can help predict trends in the sector. Finally—and perhaps most importantly to the social sector—data standardization invariably reduces the significant reporting burdens placed on nonprofits.

Yet, for all of its benefits, data is too often proposed as a universal cure that will allow us to unequivocally determine the success of social change programs and processes. The reality is far more complex and nuanced. Left unchecked, the unintended consequences of data standardization pose significant risks to achieving a more effective, efficient, and equitable social sector…(More)”.