If Phelps were a country…

London is gripped by Olympics fever. I am loving the Games but loving even more the opportunity for Olympic data games. My favourites so far:

If Michael Phelps were a country he would be above India in all time medals won.

If Yorkshire were a country she would (at the time of writing) be 11th in the London 2012 medals table. (My mother hails from Yorkshire so this particular fact would make her very proud).

And an American friend laughed when I informed him that  Team GB is streets ahead of the US when one disaggregates medals won by population size.

Slicing and dicing data in different ways can give different winners. When applied to the Olympics it’s quite fun. But in the development sector we must take data more seriously.

Data needs to move us from a point of “trying to do something beneficial” to “actually doing something beneficial”. In this sector passion and personalities govern so many investment decisions. So we need good, reliable data, with common vocabulary, that demonstrates the impact of what we do and allows us to justify investments.

A company would not roll out a new product without first generating evidence of impact. In that case “impact” means profit. In our case “impact” is social. But our data needs to be just as rigourous. We need innovative ways to generate data, and we need to get better at understanding and articulating what our impact actually is.

Some blogs about data

The Guardian’s brilliant Olympic Data Blog

Dean Karlan and Caroline Fiennes on the scientification of development in Stanford Social Innovation Review

Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation on measuring the bottom line in the Stanford Social Innovation review

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