Category Archives: Not for Profit

Put the gun down or the charity gets it

Apparently there is a view out there in the stratosphere that charities are out to make people feel bad. Take this article from Geek Ergo Sum, where militant employees of charities prey upon unaware shoppers demanding they choose which is the more worthwhile cause.  Contrary to this popular belief, in my experience many charities are trying to make people feel good… even inspired. Yet the negative perception of fundraising is no stranger to me. Whenever someone asks what I do and I explain that I am a data monkey for a not for profit and I help both fundraising and clinical, they are inevitably more interested in the clinical side. In fact, sometimes it’s like I never said the word fundraising.

When I first started working in fundraising, I was uncomfortable saying ‘I am a fundraiser.’ In fact, for many years, I would preface any suggestion or recommendation I was about to give with ‘I’m not a fundraiser, but I think…’

Some time ago I went to a talk where a very seasoned fundraiser got up and spoke about the fact that no one (or no one he knew) grew up saying ‘I want to be a fundraiser.’ He urged the audience to find some pride in the profession – being a fundraiser should not be a source of shame. For me, I had yet to even identify myself as a fundraiser – after all, fundraisers were those people who actually went out and asked for donations; not a data monkey like myself. Yet as the years have gone by, I have realised that it takes many skills and talents to form a fundraising team and I can no longer hide and say ‘I’m not a fundraiser.’ I am most certainly one. I have also realised that I am fortunate.

The daily post this week asked bloggers to comment on the cause they would like to support (if they didn’t need to work). Nothing came to mind. Then I realised that’s because I don’t have to give up work to support a cause. I am one of a lucky few who don’t have to dream about it. I get to do it each and every day. And that’s pretty cool… I daresay even something of which I can be proud.

How to write engaging presentations: 7 tips for success

I recently went to the A G Bell Listening and Language Symposium in Los Angeles to present a workshop: When Paper and Excel Aren’t Enough: Tracking Every Child’s Development.

IMG_1957When I got back a member of the clinical team at work said to me: how do you write a data presentation that’s engaging? How do you come up with your ideas? How do you create something that will make them sit up and listen and not go to sleep?

This got me thinking… how do you write an engaging data presentation – or any other type of presentation for that matter. Here’s my quick guide.

1. Be Clear On Your Objective

I know, BORING but true. When I am the clearest about what I hope to convey, what I want the audience to gain from the presentation, I do the best job. 

2. Develop the Creative

Yes, data presentations can be creative. If what you have to present on is rather dry, then what a wonderful challenge to your creative side! My mantra is that data is only dull if it doesn’t tell you anything. Use your data to tell ‘stories’.

I’ll give you an example. Some time ago I was working on a presentation about donors and fundraising income. I had a limited timeframe to try to paint a detailed picture of the Organisations supporters such that people could leave the presentation understanding what the opportunities and limitations of fundraising growth may be.

I played around with various analogies before settling on ‘a rainforest’. I described how the donor database was made up of many individuals (trees) and depending on the types of trees, the overall ‘health’ of the forest changed over time. I discussed the old growth forest – those loyal supporters who over the years had increased their annual gifts.

However just like a forest, new individuals have to be added to the forest for it to be healthy and certainly if it is to grow beyond its original borders. Whenever you plant a sapling, you will invariably lose some. And a new tree is never going to be as beneficial to the forest as a mature tree. It will take years for those saplings to stretch towards the canopy.

By using an analogy, I was able to say many things I could not otherwise say. It would have been easy to say ‘yes, the database is bigger than it was as we have added  X thousand new donors but you can’t expect to generate the income at the same rate from these new donors – your growth estimates are too high’… and it would have gone in one ear and out the other. By putting the scenario into an analogy, it makes it easier to discuss. (Some may say that to describe donors as ‘trees’ is to dehumanise them. I’d argue that describing your donor database as a precious rainforest is an appropriate representation of  the many thousands and millions of people who generously support not for profit organisations. The planet can’t live without rainforest).

Finding this ‘analogy’ or creative hook is not always easy. In preparing for the A G Bell Listening and Language Symposium, I spent a fair bit of time in the toy room… thinking. Before the final presentation (which uses children’s books as a theme), I had pulled out buses, Mr Potato Head and Pop-Up Pirates among other things. In the end, if you are clear on your objectives, your creative execution will come.

3. Write your presentation, then remove half the words

Presentations I give today have far less words on the screen than I once used. I’ve noticed that after the first draft, my process is to remove words with each revision. In my last presentation, at one stage, I left a bunch of text on the screen in a font which was way too small to read to actually prove the point that it’s impossible to decipher quickly, if at all and then showed the visual graphic I had conceived in our database which replaced all that text.

There is nothing more painful, than sitting through a presentation which is drowning in words and the presenter adds so little extra that you might as well just have downloaded the slides and saved yourself a whole heap of ‘listening’ time.

I also agree with many articles which say, don’t read your presentation. It’s a guaranteed pathway to a yawning audience in my book.

4. Give of yourself

People connect with people. When I first started doing presentations, I think my content was such that someone else could have picked up my presentation and delivered something approximating what I had delivered. These days, my presentations are infused with a lot more of my personality. Prior to going to the Listening and Language Symposium, a now former colleague said to me ‘are you going to do one of your wacky presentations?’ (I prefer the term quirky to wacky for the record). I remember saying something like… I think I may need to be a little more serious that I usually am.

So I wrote a presentation that was slightly more serious. I did a trial run. The test audience found the pieces of the presentation which I had infiltrated with ‘seriousness’ to be the least effective. (Thank goodness I did a trial run!)

If it comes natural to you – go with it. It will invariably be better.

5. Consider your audience

I’m a data monkey who is lucky enough to work with an amazing clinical team of Audiologists, Auditory-Verbal Therapists and Counsellors. I also get to work with some very talented and capable fundraisers.

The point is there is not another data monkey among them. While a presentation of defined fields, absent of all ‘free text’ based information may excite me, it’s hardly going to get the Listening and Spoken Language Specialist humming with excitement.

I told Mr West some time ago – ‘if you’re going to present to Clinical, take a toy.’ He was brand new at the time. He thought I was being flippant. He has since learned that I am deadly serious.

6. Wear comfortable shoes

I’m thinking back on a presentation I saw many years ago where the presenter, had a habit of walking 2 steps to the left and 2 steps back to the right (and it wasn’t the timewarp dance). It drove me nuts.

If someone is constantly straightening their clothing, it would equally annoy me. Or tossing from one foot to another because their shoes have given them blisters.

Comfortable shoes and familiar clothes lead to confident presenters!

7. Take Risks

Discussing fundraising through the use of a rainforest metaphor could have been a complete flop. Lucky for me, it wasn’t!

I strongly believe that leaving some room for spontaneity in your presentation is a key to being engaging. An overly rehearsed and scripted presentation with little room for detour to suit the audience is safe. Yet this ‘structure’ can affect the tone of your presentation. There are very skilled presenters I am sure who can deliver the same presentation time and time again and have it almost word for word and still be engaging. I am not one of those presenters. I believe an element of spontaneity and risk is fundamental to success for me.

Sometimes it backfires.

I presented at fundraising software user forum 2 years ago. I decided that I wasn’t going to do a formal presentation. I would ask the audience to all get up and make them part of my presentation.

They looked terrified. It wasn’t my finest performance.

Relying on an audience to ‘give you back’ what you need to drive your presentation is risky. It’s also – I believe – one of the most engaging things you can do. People are far more likely to feel ‘connected’ to your presentation, if you give them avenues to be a part of it.  Just have an escape plan if it starts to look like a turkey!

And there, are my 7 steps to ensuring your presentations are engaging.

 

Miss Milly packs her shoes

spats

Miss Milly – the woman who could sell spats to snakes – is leaving.

Miss Milly is a very talented fundraiser who values having a data monkey around, if only to laugh at the data monkey’s quirks! Reflecting on my time working with her, I realise that she is a rare breed indeed – a colleague you can have an argument with and still be friends at the end of it!

In honour of her departure (somehow that wording seems oh so wrong!), I’m re-posting my original description of her below. I will miss you Milly!

Miss Milly could sell spats to snakes

I have a colleague who could sell spats to snakes. I once had a boss who was similar. A mate said of her ‘she could say you had two months to live and somehow you’d think that was good news’. Indeed when I think of former boss and current colleague – who I’ll call Miss Milly – they both had a similar way of smiling at the very moment you wanted to scream at them. They repeatedly have that ‘surely that can’t be too hard’ expression?

It’s Miss Milly who convinced me that it was ok to implement a new fundraising database (aka big bird) AND within a few weeks kick off an acquisition campaign, a supporter survey, a few random eDMs and a step up in the community fundraising activity. I have no idea how she managed to hoodwink me into this one but as I say, Miss Milly could convince you to put a screen door on a submarine.

To be fair, Big Bird is weathering the storm quite well. He’s only 3 weeks old and we are certainly making him run. I can tell I’m in for a chaotic couple of weeks. I already am telling myself ‘when I get through these few weeks I’ll have time to sit-down and learn how to use our new database better.’ I am of course delusional because when I get to the end of these few weeks, there will be Miss Milly and her smile and two words… Christmas Campaign.

Networking tips for introverts

Recently we had a staff day including an afternoon of professional development and ‘team building.’ Gulp. Are there another two words in the English language that can bring such dread to an introvert?

For me, it’s a double whammy. Not only do I not enjoy being in a room for 40 other people (4 is about my limit), but I have such a high degree of cynicism when it comes to team building that I find myself coming up with various schemes which may get me out of this exercise.

As for networking, I’d rather poke myself in the eye with a stick.

Thankfully, the facilitator of the session – the value of networking – was remarkably sensible. Sandra Wood ran the session. The timing was perfect as there was a supporters event the following week. When asked about how I felt about networking, I freely admitted that the idea made me feel rather ill yet I also knew there was no way of escaping the function I had to attend.

Sandra’s advice was practical. Eat before you go. Hold your drink in your left hand and keep your right hand free for shaking hands. And my favourite – if you need to join a group, go for a group of 3 not 2. Her practicality won me over. Here was a woman who took the time to acknowledge that this is something many people do not want to do; something people dread and then set about trying to ‘lessen’ the dread. Over the years, I’ve met many facilitators of professional development and in particular ‘team building’. Nearly all of them seem to have the opinion that introverts just need to become team players. Few acknowledge the challenges and for that I really do give Sandra credit.

Through the workshop, Sandra tried to get us to re-interpret our thinking. I was sceptical to say the least. However by the end of the session, I had realised that given I had to go to this event, I might as well try to make it more bearable for myself. Could I feel comfortable in myself doing this – definitely not! Did I feel proud of the work my employer does – absolutely!

That was my key which took off the edge. If I just focused on the positive feelings I have about my job, then that would negate any lack of confidence in a crowd.

I’m pleased to say that I survived the function and even managed to have a couple of good conversations with a some major donors! For that I have to give credit to Sandra Wood Consulting. I certainly won’t be volunteering myself for such events in the future however when I do need to attend, I think I now have a few tricks to get me through them with better results.

What’s in a face?

Do you ever wonder what you can tell about a person from the way they look? Recently, I’ve been assisting with some donor research for a major campaign. When gathering information, photographs invariably come into the mix. This got me wondering – what can you discern from the way your donor looks?

If I were to take the advice of my mother, the answer would surely be ‘a good deal.’ I grew up listening to my mum during the evening news tell me all about people from the way they looked. ‘I don’t like that man; he has a nasty mouth.’ (I don’t really want to admit it but I tended to agree his mouth wasn’t born out of happy street).

It seems my mum isn’t the only one who uses mouths and eyes as a indication of personality. As I collate the research together and a new image appears, I hear comments from colleagues like ‘he looks friendly’, ‘she’s like my grandma’, or ‘oh… I’m not sure about calling him, he looks cranky.’

Snoop: what your staff says about youSo I delved into my bookshelf and unearthed a copy of Snoop: what your stuff says about you. I acquired this book more than 2 years ago now. It seems that since then the author Sam Gosling has acquired a PhD and the book has been re-released with a new lime green finish.

I remember buying it. It was the first paragraph on the back which caught my attention:

What does your desk reveal about your personality? What about the books you own or the pictures on your wall? And what’s the best way to find out what your new partner is really like?

It was the desk comment which did it for you see, comments on my desk are not uncommon. Many a colleague has remarked that they don’t understand me and my desk. My messy desk does not fit with all their other perceptions. ‘How can you be so meticulous with your data but have a desk like that?’ This one is almost as common as ‘How can you work with numbers all day long yet you can create art like that?’ (For my answer explaining the two can co-exist see: Data and Creativity.)

Would Snoop reveal to me the mystery of my messy desk? (I’m not sure whether it solved the mystery but Gosling himself admits to a mess of a desk and he seems to have some street cred when it comes to analytics so I’ll take that as proof that a messy desk does not spell the end of my analytical career).

But back to donors and their faces. Gosling for the most part focuses on physical environments, however he does talk about some research he conducted where he asked students to 

rate people’s personalities just from looking at photographs of them. Considering they have nothing more than a still photo to go on, our observers… were surprisingly accurate at judging others’ levels of extraversion, agreeableness, and openness.

So it would seem if on viewing a photograph of a donor I see them as creative or unconventional, this can be a valid way of determining they are a person high in openness.

My next line of thinking is whether we can do anything with that? I tend to think perhaps we can.

If people who are high on openness like playing with new ideas, trying new activities and challenging traditional thought, then I’m sure that in turn can influence which programs they may want to financially support. Alternatively, if I’m seeing photographs of donors who appear relaxed and cheerful, then assuming that they may be high on agreeableness is apparently ok. And I’m sure that fundraisers are looking for people high agreeableness since they “tend to be helpful, selfless, sympathetic, kind, forgiving, trusting and considerate.”

He doesn’t say much about people with nasty mouths though. I must tell my mother that.

 

 

Big Bird gets a makeover

One of the databases I use each day is getting a make-over. ‘Big Bird’ – as I have affectionately named the DB in question – it would seem is due for some cosmetic surgery.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking the same. With a nose that size, I’m sure that a bit of rhinoplasty isn’t going to be enough. The surgeon is really going to have to pull out a hammer and chisel to make his face more streamlined. Trinny and Susannah will be hard pressed to find clothes which suck in Big Bird’s waist and accentuate his curves. Considering the magnitude of the change required to give a giant yellow feathered gawky bird a make-over, I started to ponder whether he really needs one? What is ‘beauty’ in a database? (assuming that a man in yellow stockings with giant feet it is not). And is the pursuit of beauty an appropriate one for a not for profit database appropriate?

Is this what a not for profit database should look like?

Is this what a not for profit database should look like?

I stop and try to imagine what a not for profit database should be. A family station wagon with a 5 star safety rating? A Datsun 120Y? A turbocharged 4wd porsche – stylish but suitable for different conditions? I’m sure we would all agree it isn’t a Bugatti Veyron.

If you had asked me 2 years ago whether I cared about how stylish my database was, I would have said NO. I was moving from Barry Fife (the bloody useless database), to Big Bird, the simple, yellow gawky database and I was happy. But over the past 18 months or so I’ve come to realise that good looks may be needed for good functioning (and probably good grammar which I’m clearly in need of at this point in the day!). When the ‘look’ of a database starts to get in the way of people using the database, then it is time for that surgery to occur. I’m pleased that Big Bird’s masters have realised this and are working on redefining him. I’m hoping that his makeover plan involves:

  • a cosmetic surgeon to soften his face
  • a personal organiser and psychologist specialising in hoarding to work on getting rid of some of the clutter,
  • a speech pathlogist to improve his clarity and language, and,
  • a GP to look at his health problems holistically and refer for treatment where needed.

I can imagine re-defining the image of your database is a tough ask. I’ll be watching with interest to see how the medical team fare on this one. I’ve seen a preview of the care plan and so far I’d say the patient is in good hands.

Why I gave back some of my pay

My text message conversation went something like this:

Me: “I refused some of my pay today.”

Andrew: “What??? Have you gone soft in the head?”

Me: “No. I’ve just seen the end of year forecast for work. We are facing a massive shortfall. We have over 300 deaf kids to help and I’ve just seen a letter from the state government saying we are only funded for 45.”

Andrew: “Oh. Got it now. Not soft in the head at all. As you were.”

This news comes around the same time that Andrew and I finally get to drop off the car to have the wheelchair lifter fitted. 6 months ago, I rang charities asking for help to fundraise for this vital equipment. One charity said if we could prove Andrew had his neuro-muscular condition before he was 18 then they could help… but there was a 2 year waiting list. Another told me how hard it was to get funding and then sent me information about a government scheme. The scheme was only for  families and even if we had been eligible, it was a drop in the ocean compared to the real cost. I rang another charity – yes, we help with making vehicles accessible for wheelchairs – but only for children!

Despairing that our need didn’t seem to fit into anyone’s criteria, I didn’t know where to turn. I told my boss and my colleagues what was happening. They didn’t blink.

‘We’ll help.’

In the coming weeks, friends, colleagues and people who were brand new to the Organisation, and didn’t know me from a bar of soap rallied around. People gave up time after work and on the weekend. Some donated goods for the garage sale; others came to the fundraising dinner; a group of ‘cake bakers’ sprung into action; a sausage sizzle was organised along with a cheese stand. Many gave private donations. I was absolutely blown away.

Today, someone asked me how the Shepherd Centre was different to other services. It’s hard to answer – not being an employee, a recipient, or an observer of those other services. But I felt I could say one thing with confidence: it’s not in the Shepherd Centre spirit to turn people away. If help is desperately needed, help is given. The things people did for Andrew and I – on their own time – was consistent with what they do for our families. I admire their passion and dedication and think myself lucky to work with such a fantastic group of people.

My friends and colleagues at The Shepherd Centre supported Andrew and I in ways for which I can never thank them enough. Giving up a little of my pay was the least I could do right now.

If you are thinking about giving a donation to a charity this Christmas, please consider The Shepherd Centre. For more information see the following article:

Government funding cut despite record number of children at The Shepherd Centre

Disclaimer: the above is my own personal opinion. I would also like to stress that all assistance provided to Andrew and myself was on people’s own time and independent of the Organisation.

So perfect it doesn’t exist

Since a young age, I’ve been cursed, maybe blessed, depending on your view, with perfectionism. (Grammar nuts may point out that my perfectionism does not apply to the correct usage of a comma based on the previous sentence). I have often thought that perfectionism was a problem for me; a personal struggle between doing a good job and getting the job done. A personal trait which, for some, was confusing as I am also known for my seriously imperfect behaviour when it comes to tidiness. (Yes, my CDs are in alphabetical order yet my desk is a scattered paper abstract art piece).

Yet all this was not a big deal. I never really considered it’s impact on others. After all it was my perfectionism.

Then I met someone more perfectionistic than myself.

I’ll call this person FISH. Those of you who know me personally, don’t try to figure out who FISH is because the name is completely random and has no link to the real person – or none that I know about! Perhaps I plucked FISH out as a name because secretly I’d like to get a fish and perform the monty python fish dance on said person. Of course, I want to be John Cleese not Michael Palin. (Should I be showing my age and baffling any readers: refer to youtube video of the infamous fish slapping dance).

As Fish wants to be sure the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed, the ducks are in a row and the documentation completed down to the gnat’s ass, Fish does not move. Yes that’s right. Everything stops, stalls, halts, is shut down or nipped in the bud.

If I’m sounding like a thesaurus tonight, it’s because I’m being perfectionistic with my descriptions of my irritation. You see just using one word to describe Fish’s inaction, would be, well, inadequate! A single word does not convey to degree to which Fish can drive me up the wall, round the twist and down the rabbit hole! Fish is such a dyed to the wool perfectionist that I’m struggling to remember the last time I managed to negotiate task completion without a hiatus to allow for due diligence to occur!

All this has got me wondering – am I like fish? Do I drive people doolally with my perfectionism? Then I realised that the answer must be no. After all the name of the blog is the data monkey not the data fish. A good thing really as wet data may be a very bad idea as I’m not sure data has been given swimming lessons. With that piece of unfettered nonsense I shall endeth today’s rant before I decide to attach floaties to my date fields and flippers to my text strings!

Sex, chocolate and training

It’s Friday night. I’m lamenting the difficulties of keeping adult learners focused in a software training session. My partner looks like he has a pearl of wisdom to offer. He turns and says to me:

People are motivated by sex and chocolate.

I look at him strangely. He continues.

You obviously can’t use sex in your software training but a little chocolate bribery may help.

I always have chocolate in training but it seems hard for people to maintain their attention. I explain to my partner that sometimes I make people turn off their monitors so they will actually listen for a moment rather than playing with it. His response?

Awww. You took their toys away?

*************

I’ve trained staff on and off over the years. I’ve been accused of being very school teacher-like. The tools of our children’s educators seem taboo in a workplace environment. Asking staff to complete tests to demonstrate they’ve understood the concept seems to generate a faint hiss in the room.

My year 1 teacher used to have a bell she would ring to get everyone’s attention. We couldn’t talk when the bell went off.

Sometimes I need a bloody bell.

I know there are gazillion articles out there on adult education that I could try for tips but to be quite honest I’m not in the mood for answers, I’m in the mood for complaining! And why not? We all reach a point where a little lamenting may be good for the soul. I’m facing 7 full days of training in the next 3 weeks. For me this is a lot. It ranges from 3 people to about 16. I fear that chocolate bribery will only go so far!

So I’m bringing in the big guns. I figure if chocolate alone isn’t enough, it’s time to bring in a little violence. I’m not referring, as you may expect, to me adopting very old fashioned teacherly ways and caning my students.

No, I’m talking about ‘prop destruction’. I think of many training sessions that I’ve attended and I’m reasonably confident that at the end of the day I’d enjoy taking to something with a cricket bat.

So I’ve ordered a pinata. A dinosaur pinata to be precise. I intend throughout the day to pin all our antiquated tools to the triceratops before we smash it up and release the confectionary!  I’m hoping this will spice up training; generate some enthusiasm and some laughter.

If it doesn’t, perhaps someone should confiscate my cricket bat.

Disclaimer: before anyone raises any concerns about a charity spending money on a lurid orange dinosaur for the purposes of training, be assured that it is my personal donation to the success of the course.

Why disability databases are like fur seals

Need a fundraising database? No problem. There are plenty on the market to choose from. Ring around a few mates and you’re likely to find the same names popping up again and again. From the time you start thinking about a new fundraising database, to having it installed with all your data converted you could have given birth to a sheep or a goat. In less time that it takes for a human baby to grow you can have your fundraising database safely settled into it’s new nursey.

Yet there are two sides to most not for profit Organisations. The funds and the services. If a database for your fundraising team is as quick as having a goat, how long does it take to get one for your client services department? In my experience, 9 months can come and go and there’s still no database. That’s right. If you’re planning on birthing a client services database, then start making friends with fur seals, giraffes and elephant mothers-to-be as these will be in your mother’s group. I hope for your sake that it isn’t as long as the elephant (22 months).

Part of the problem here is that there are no usual suspects. Ring around other Not for profit Organisations and you will probably hang up empty handed.

Of course, I’ve made a huge assumption here. I’m thinking that fellow charities must be using a database to track their service provision. In your quick ring around and you may find out that the ‘database’ is the paper file. The ‘database’ is a few excel spreadsheets. Or my personal favourite, the ‘database’ is something that Jane’s husband made up in two days in Access because Jane’s husband is ‘good with computers.’ Does anyone know how to change it? Yes – Jane’s husband does. Oh great. Let’s hope Jane and her husband never get a divorce.

A year in the making

So where’s the good news? I thought I had it. I thought (stupidly) that because it took twice as long to implement a client services database that it meant it would all go twice as smoothly. Twice as long means twice as good, right? Wrong!

The issues of data quality that exist with most fundraising database transfers weren’t going to plague me. After all, we had hardly any data as it was all in those paper files.

The data quality curse

Yet it seems the data quality curse knows no limits. The same curse which causes your fundraising team to put Mr & Mrs Jones on one client record, infects the clinical department as well. I’m hoping that I have the power to stop it before it gets too bad but the signs are all there.

Take this simple example. The humble look-up list. When you open your fundraising database and pull down the ‘Title’ field, if it’s been through multiple data conversions without a data tyrant at work, you’ll have an abundance of choice. In addition to the usual Mr, Mrs, Miss and Ms, it’s likely you have Rev and Reverend, Sister and Sisters, Mr&Mrs, Mr/s, Householders and my favourite Mr 7 Mrs (where someone forgot to press Shift for the ampersand).

In the case of Title, there are standards. It’s easy for a data monkey to come up and fix them all up, however what does one do for diagnosis? Or disability?

Other. It’s the answer to everything. When you just can’t decide, go with Other. If I had money for every time someone had asked, why can’t we just have Other and then write what it is, I’d be buying a house with a pool big enough to house a fur seal.

To be fair, some of these things aren’t easy. While there is an Australian standard for language and country of birth and ethnicity and god knows what else, there is not one of recognised ‘disabilities’. Or at least not one I can find. (For anyone looking the best I can find is a list from the Department of Family and Community Services of conditions recognised as eligibility for the carer’s pension. And if anyone has found one on the Australian Bureau of Statistics, or elsewhere, please send me a link!)

Another little trick the data quality curse has up it’s sleeve, is the multi-talented data field. This is a little like a bunyip, a yowie or a yeti. It must exist as people talk about it but I’ve yet to see one! It’s that field that magically transforms itself as the user’s will. When people don’t feel like typing a date, it undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes a text field. Just the other day we were having a discussion about when we should enter a date and someone came up with an ‘exception to the rule’. As it was a date field, their usual request of Other was null and void. Instead they called in the multi-talented data field and suggested they just put an asterisk after the date. Never mind that a date field doesn’t allow such deviation… the multi-talented data field lives on and intuitively changes itself to allow such a thing. Pity it doesn’t also create a data dictionary definition which explains what the asterisk actually means.

But there is one more trick the data quality curse has up its sleeve. Worse that ‘Other’ in look-up lists and data fields which can magically transform themselves from date to text is the third weapon in the arsenal. The shoehorn.

This has to be one of the most used and most spectacular methods of creating a big data quality issue. It’s when you don’t have a home for something in your database, so you find another field you aren’t using and you shoehorn the data into it. This is common when Jane’s husband built the thing and now he has run off with the massage therapist to outer Mongolia and no one knows how to change anything. This is how you end up putting the mobile phone number in the medical record number box. Or the word deceased in the title field as he forgot that us humans are mortal. And if you’re looking for the name of the next of kin, try location. Obvious really.