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Posted by on Apr 14, 2017

Data and Grants: Patterns and Performance

Data and Grants: Patterns and Performance

Examine your data, look for patterns

Earlier this month I checked in with my elementary school-aged son on what he’s doing in math.

“Recognizing patterns,” he said.

My first thought was, “Still? He’s been working on this since preschool.”

A week later, I switched my thought to, “Of course they’re still working on this skill.” I had just gone back to the President’s budget seeking patterns to predict where grants are headed, especially with so many references to data pointing to a lack of success.

My kid and his classmates are on to something. The ability to identify and communicate patterns—through performance measurement in grants work—is an essential skill in an environment of limited resources for policy implementation.

Though it may feel like this goes without saying in our current era of accountability, a worthy point of emphasis continued by the business-meets-government mindset of the Trump administration, the patterns grants professionals are looking for are about basic and fundamental questions:

  • Is there waste, fraud, and abuse of funds?
  • Is reporting on time and regular?
  • Are successes or issues being tracked and reacted to accordingly?

Yet the patterns can be complex to determine without looking at the right data at the right time.

But of course, we’re overwhelmed by data as grants professionals. And if you’re like me, you want to skip right to the fancy charts and dashboards. In any case, Data visualization tools and skills will make a difference in your decision making.

If we want to get to those tools, we first need to make sure that we care for our data. This is why implementation of the DATA Act continues to be important. It also requires continued significant investments in systems, training, and collaboration.

All of this work collecting, managing, and visualizing data will have benefits because of the patterns we will see. These patterns should help us better:

  • Prioritize monitoring efforts
  • Signal project risks sooner
  • Identify trends across programs and projects (positive or negative)
  • Fulfill the goal of linking performance and budget information

So let’s roll up our sleeves and dive into the data together. We’ll all benefit, and develop our analytical and collaboration skills along the way.

And if you happen to be attending NGMA in Arlington, April 18-20, stop by booth #14 and say hi!


  1. Nice post! I like illustration from your child’s math homework to measuring performance. What are key metrics or types of data you look at when you’re searching for the patterns you reference?

  2. The metrics I’m looking for will depend on my perspective and/or role for a given program or project.

    On one hand, I’m looking for patterns to develop over time – for those natural trend lines.

    On the other, I’m constantly looking for variance. Who’s the grantee who didn’t submit reports on time and accurately? Why are 3 of 10 grant awards off budget?

    Of course, consistent variances over time turns into a pattern.

    If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, hop over to the Analytics section of the Management Concepts blog.

    • Thanks for the further breakdown!

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