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Overcoming Bias in Data Analysis: Insights for Course Creators

For anybody who knows me as a curriculum designer and is familiar with my work, they know that I am a huge proponent of gathering and analyzing data before making decisions. I'm always reminding people to make decisions based on data before they make decisions based on feelings, because honestly our feelings are terrible decision makers. They are not allowed to be in charge.

For all my talking about data analysis and using it to inform your course decisions, there is one aspect I don’t talk about nearly enough and that’s evaluating data with a bias.

Let’s talk about what that looks like and how to overcome it when looking at the data for your course.

I am in a mastermind with some incredibly smart women who ask insightful questions and are generous with their thoughts and their wisdom. And the other day something came up where we were talking about data and like this is my sweet spot, right? This is what I love to talk about because it is just so incredibly important to factor in whenever we are making business decisions, especially in regards to curriculum, and client experience and all of those things.

So we were talking about how, if we're not careful, sometimes, when we gather data, we can analyze it through a very specific lens. Sometimes we can analyze that data and make it seem like it's in support of a specific decision.

Right? Like we can find a way to manipulate the data in order to justify a specific decision.

Oh my gosh, this is just so important to think about, we have to commit to looking at data objectively.

And that is incredibly challenging.

So I brought this up and one of these brilliant women, Leigh, said okay, how do you look at data without a bias?

This is a great question. How do you look at data without a bias? And the truth is, you can't. At least not completely And maybe that's not an answer that anyone really wants to hear.

But the truth is that we're going to look at data and we're going to hope that it points to one direction or another. And we're always going to bring our opinions and our biases into decisions. We just are. And so when we are looking at data it's important for us to know what our theories are before we even dive in. What stories are we telling ourselves? What are we afraid that the data is going to show? It's important for us to know what we really want to happen. And we gotta dig deep for this right? Like, we have to really do some mental work to think about okay, I am afraid of X outcome. So I don't want this data to show that because I don't want to do that.

Because maybe subconsciously we ignore pieces of data, or we intellectualize and we assume things about the information that we've gathered to tell the story we want to tell in order to justify what we want to do. Confirmation bias is a real thing

And this is a really dangerous place to be if I'm being quite honest. I mean, we really have to think about how this holds us back and how it holds our programs back and ultimately how it holds our students back.

And so what do you do, if we can't look at data objectively, and data needs to be looked at objectively, what do we do?

First, we have to fully recognize our own beliefs and theories and hypotheses. Then as we review the data, we get to just look at it with curiosity. We look at it for what it is … information. What can we learn from this information?

From there, it’s important to seek out data that disproves your theory, just so you can get a full, holistic picture of the story it’s actually telling.

And then bring in an unbiased third party.

Bring in an unbiased third party, a set of eyes that is disconnected from the outcome, from the emotional labor involved in analyzing and evaluating data, and we allow them to look at and interpret it without our interference.

We don't want them to be biased too so we have to allow them to look at the data and come to their own conclusions based on the information that is there. And so we allow them to view what they need to view and then ask them what do you think this means? and allow them to give us their unbiased beliefs about whatever they're seeing. They get to tell their own story and interpret the data. And then based on that we get to make decisions moving forward.

Now, sometimes, this might mean that you're bringing in a professional, maybe you bring in somebody like me, this is part of what I do. I go in and I interpret data. Heck, I will even gather the data for you.

But it's important, right, that somebody comes in to do this. It doesn't have to be you. And also you don't have to hire somebody to do this. This is also why it's so incredibly important to surround yourself with people who understand the online business world who love you enough to be able to view this through an unbiased lens. It's just important to have people surrounding you so that you can go to them and say, Hey, can you interpret this for me or, Hey, I'm interpreting this in this specific way, could you look at it and tell me if you agree or disagree, or what else you're seeing here?

That is so incredibly valuable and you are going to be able to get through some of the obstacles that you might come across faster than if you were just viewing it yourself.

Something else that came of this conversation that we had in this mastermind, was my mentor, Shannon Mattern, was talking about her coach, and she was talking about one of the questions that she brought up to ask and her coach posed the question, what problems would this potentially create?

I love this question so much! It is so important that we view this data objectively and we allow the information to tell a story. And then we let it inform our decisions.

But when we make those decisions, we also have to ask ourselves, What problems will this potentially create?

I'm here to tell you that anything you do in your course and in your coaching, it is going to create some kind of problem along the way.

Maybe it's a problem that you have with a student. Maybe it's a problem that you have in your own mind. Maybe it's a problem you have with income. Maybe it's a problem you have with onboarding, maybe it's a problem you have with marketing. There could be so many things, but problems are going to exist when we make decisions that lead to change. No decision is going to be perfectly right. And so we have to develop our capacity to make decisions knowing that there are going to be some things that we break because of those decisions.

And we have to weigh the risk between the possible solution of the problem that we're fixing, with whatever we've determined from the data, and the potential problems that it might create. And by anticipating those problems, we're able to look at it like, okay we've got this data, it's telling this specific story, here's the problem. Making this change will fix this problem.

And by making that change, here's what could happen.

And by going through that exercise, and at first it's just a mental exercise, right, but going through that exercise is going to allow you to play out the scenarios and it's going to allow you to mitigate some of the risk and kind of eliminate some of the problems.

You're going to be able to solve them before they even become problems.

So how do you look at data without a bias? You don't.

You become fully aware of your bias. You look at the data the best way that you can and then you seek support with what you're finding.

You bring in somebody like me who is not emotionally attached to either the product or to the outcome.

Now, the truth is, I love my clients and I get really invested in their outcomes and in their programs and in their student results. I root for them so hard. I do and so I won't say that I'm not emotionally attached to the outcome.

But it's not the same way that you are. Right? This is your baby. You're kind of too close to it. You can't see the forest for the trees kind of thing.

So bringing in a set of eyes that is able to view it differently, is always going to be super helpful.

Even if they're not able to look directly at the data. By sharing the story that you think the data is telling with your support system, you'll then be able to maybe even uncover some things that maybe aren't true. It's just really important to have people around you that will ask questions.

If you're at a point where you feel like you need to look at your course data, and make some decisions or maybe you've already looked at it and you made some decisions and those decisions created a whole bunch of problems or even one problem and you need some assistance, I'm here, let me know. You can reach out to me. You can read a little bit more about my services on my website at Erica I would love to help you.

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