Knowledge Advisory Group

Where's the Humanity in Your Data?

Trina Willard

Founder
Knowledge Advisory Group

Note: Our great friends and partners at Knowledge Advisory Group truly inspire the team at Generate_Impact with their human-centered approach to the work they do.

We invited Trina Willard, Founder & Principal Consultant, to share the story of how she and her colleague Sandra Wright, Ph.D., met and developed their unique heart-centered approach to leveraging data to drive benevolent impact.

When Sandra and I met way back in 1997, in a small, chilly office in the Supreme Court of Virginia building in downtown Richmond, we immediately connected through our shared love of two things: (1) psychology and (2) research.

We had both been trained as social psychologists, who study how individuals think about, influence, and relate to one another, and how those interactions affect a wide range of social issues. Specific topics we studied as part of the social psychology curriculum included attitudes and attitude change, stress and coping, conflict management, helping and social support, cooperation, leadership, group decision-making, prejudice and discrimination, aggression, and social influence.

This background contributed to our common interest in human services to address society’s most urgent problems. Over the years, we have worked in the design and evaluation of programs for juvenile and adult offenders, addiction, homelessness, older adults, survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, food insecurity, mental health treatment, social justice issues, and many other topics that are personally important to us.

Our “data geeks with people skills” tagline reflects our compassion for the individuals who are impacted by the programs and services being evaluated, as well as our empathy for the challenges faced by staff who are charged with collecting data for program evaluation.

While most program staff understand the need for evaluation, their primary responsibilities involve providing direct services to people in the community. In addition, we’ve found that many service providers have not received much training in the research skills needed to implement a program evaluation strategy, so these tasks often aren’t in their wheelhouse. That’s where we come in.

While our daily work has revolved around data for many years and our common brand of logical thinking is the foundation of the services we provide, the ways that we as humans use, interpret, and feel about data is at its heart. Some of the questions we explore with staff include:

  • What key data are needed to know if your program is making a difference?

  • What aspects of your data processes feel difficult for you or your team?

  • What supports do you need to make data tasks easier to manage?

  • How can you actively use program evaluation results to improve programs and services for clients?


These discussions provide us with the information needed to design an evaluation approach that is simple and realistic for staff to implement, given other demands on their time and resources. We all have different talents, and providing support to these critical service providers is a key driver for us. Applying our skills to socially-relevant data has become a deeply fulfilling way to partner with mission-focused organizations that are on the front line helping the most vulnerable populations.

If your organization needs program evaluation support, click here to schedule an appointment with Trina and Sandra.