By Deb Nystrom, Senior Partner at Ideas for Action

Leaders know that good data is essential to good decisions. But what data? Data is the first of four elements from a simple acronym DPPE. It stands for Data, Purpose, Plan, Evaluate.  DPPE, as I learned from a highly experienced mentor, is a good way to categorize project phases as well as many small to complex leadership tasks. These may include:

  • Updating strategy and programs
  • Making a policy or process change
  • Implementing new initiatives in organizations,
  • Educating leaders for 21st century needs
  • Building a house the suits the neighborhood as well as the buyers (photo above)

This blog post, the first in a series of four, features key lessons learned useful to leaders about working with Data, particularly data from a variety of stakeholders, including the community.   It’s smart strategy to invite members of your community to provide input to your surveys and interviews when you plan. As Sara Maher, from Wayne State University describes in this 1 minute video clip, they also are happy to be invited to your strategy session and can add new energy, engagement and perspective:

Sometimes the community is overlooked, and it can be a project stopper as described below:


The university announced earlier this week through a letter from president Mark Schlissel that it would be putting the proposed transportation center “on hold” while resident concerns were heard and dealt with.

~ MLive, Michigan news article, March 2016


Start with Data, Start with Stakeholders

Often, the key question is Who as much as What, when it comes to data. Stakeholder analysis is an important part of answering the “Who” of collecting data and is sometimes overlooked.  The chart below illustrates why.  It is important to check our methods of balancing who we hear from and why certain views might be more relevant or important than others. Simply engaging with and hearing from overlooked constituencies can prevent offense, as well as unintended, negative news stories.  This includes overlooked stakeholders, such as the fishing industry five years after the BP oil disaster. The recent example cited above is about neighbors who protested a proposed transit center resulting in a university president and regents apologizing for overlooking them, as reported in the local media.

deb_post image2The Data phase of DPPE also is well matched with the word “Discovery.” We can more easily move to a generative place of asking questions for which we don’t have answers if we adopt a discovery mindset. It also helps us create readiness listen to what the data implies, as well as adapt to the implications of the data.

When Collecting Data: What’s Important?

Collecting data often involves multiple methods and stakeholder groups. Physicist Albert Einstein provided a reminder of the need to filter and focus our data and consider different types of data collection when he stated, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Realize that “it’s all data” when leaders, advisory groups and organization start working with, or reacting to or even “fighting” their own data.  It’s easy to get defensive with views and opinions you don’t like.  The leadership challenge is to set aside “shoulds,” “wishes,” and defenses and open our hearts and minds to hearing the voices that are speaking to us in data delivered in a variety of ways.


The UM (University of Michigan) is a benefit to the community but that’s not a ticket to ignore the community and pursue only its own interests.

~ Commenter, MLive, Michigan News post, March 2016


Resistance is a Resource

At times, our own resistance to our data is also a resource to us in the following ways.  We can:

  • Build relationships  with our constituents or stakeholders in our communities and our organizations who think differently from us, yet desire or “have to”  maintain a presence or relationship with us.Prepare ourselves to  understand and make meaning of our data, especially when we “fight it.”
  • Develop new ways to communicate through our differences as we begin to ask questions for which we have no answers. (Conversational Intelligence, by Judith Glaser, mentions this.)
  • Renew our commitment as leaders to fully hear and sponsor change that honors different voices and stakeholders that matter to us and affect us.


“What is in the way IS the way.”

~  Mary O’Malley, author, and a counselor in private practice


The Leader as Data Champion and Sponsor

The simple act of asking for feedback and opinions creates expectations for change. Leaders will have the task, when deciding to gather data, to commit to get back to those voices and opinions with a collective report and response to “what you said.” This alone is a major commitment to possible, productive change, as well as a recipe for mistrust when this step is not handled well.  In a future post in the DPPE series, we’ll cover consistent leader commitment and the challenge to avoid leader “waffle.”

Leadership Data Commitments

The D in Data also includes making a dedicated commitment to fully communicate task and process steps in handling data.  Leaders who collect data from people will find that it is important to:

1) Gather data with integrity (confidentiality does not guarantee anonymity)

2) Realize data comes to us in many forms, both quantitatively and qualitatively, (It’s all data.)

3) Hear diverse perspectives, honor different voices, setting aside our natural defensiveness to views different than our own, and

4) Sponsor consistently, throughout the life of the intended use of the data, the purpose and plans for which it was collected.

Leaders will find that the sense-making task to analyze all data received, in multiple forms, is made manageable with the assistance of a microcosm group of the whole such as through an advisory or design team.  Much is written about 21st century leadership complexity relying much more on teamwork for good decisions, and less on the heroic “command” leadership of the past.  A design team can help craft good data collection questions and  methods as well as help interpret the resulting data and communicate back to constituencies.


A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding.

~ Marshall McLuhan, Canadian Communications Professor


So as you plan for the Data in DPPE, also plan for resistance as a learning tool for opening minds to new ways of seeing. Plan for developing receptivity to the fullness of data, including qualitative conversations, remembering stakeholders and Einstein’s advice about what counts and what cannot be counted.  Plan for long term sponsorship of the project, consistently, as a guardian of the data collected.  

To find out more about DPPE can help you with strategy, facilitation, planning, projects, change, leadership, contact Deb at: or contact Deb here.  Deb Nystrom and Jolene Knapp worked with Wayne State’s Physical Therapy program as a part of Deb’s association as a Senior Partner with Ideas for Action, LLC.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Credits: To a mentor, the late Kathy Dannemiller who introduced me to DPPE early in my consulting career.


A companion Ideas for Action post that complements the Data focus of this post is: Tools for 360 Degree Vision and Foresight, by Deb’s colleague, Jolene Knapp, referencing the Ideas for Action book, From Insight to Action: Six New Ways to Think, Lead, and Achieve, by Jean Frankel and Gabriel Eckert, ASAE Association Management Press (September, 2012)

Power versus interest grid adapted from Eden and Ackermann (1998: 121-5, 344-6).

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