After the Miami Heat won the 2012 NBA Championship, a Twitter exchange erupted between Mark Cuban, the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks; and Skip Bayless, sports journalist, TV personality and ESPN commentator. This led to a heated episode of ESPN’s First Take that went viral. Cuban contested that Bayless and other sportswriters only spoke in generalities. Whether Bayless was speaking of Lebron James’ “biggest collapse of a superstar that we’ve ever witnessed” or praising the Miami Heat by saying “Miami wanted it more than Oklahoma,” Bayless’ comments, in Cuban’s view, were too vague for anyone to question. Unfortunately, the issue of using vague generalities to describe a situation reaches far beyond the basketball court.
Melinda Gates’s describes the way we, in the nonprofit sector, usually evaluate the success of our programs by analyzing data at the end of the project, if at all, instead of using real-time data throughout implementation—a practice she likens to “bowling in the dark.” Like Skip Bayless, we can make all sorts of subjective conclusions around the efficacy of our work if we are not expected to offer factual evidence to support our claims. However, unlike sportscasting, the consequences of not using data in our work can be considerably more harmful.