What is Outlier Data

Outlier data in your program data refer to a few pieces of information that are noticeably different from the majority of the information.


Let’s say that you have 300 program participants and 50 of them completed a feedback survey; the survey responses from these 50 people are the data. When looking at how all 50 participants responded to the same question, outlier data shows-up when only a few of the participants provided a response that is significantly different from the majority of participants.

2 Tips

1 |  Quarterly, facilitate program meetings where program data will be explored with specific attention to outlier data; present, discuss, and use the outlier data to inform program developments or refinements.

2 |  Borrowing inspiration from adjacent sectors, cultivate excitement about demonstrating creativity and agility to respond meaningfully to outlier data.

3 Reasons Outlier Data Are Important to Engage

1 |  Outlier data from survey feedback allow you to know if program participants are reading your survey questions in the same way. Do program participants with unique demographic indicators answer survey questions in a significantly different way than the majority of participants? Does the phrasing or word choices used in your survey tool need to be revised to test our whether or not all participants are understanding the questions in the same way?

2 |  Relatedly, some program participants might have the desire to give a certain type of feedback, but you’re not asking for it so only a few participants from time to time offer it.

3 |  Outlier data from outcomes and impact data can inform your program about the unique needs of some program participants. While this may be a need of only a few, is your program agile enough to respond to the needs of program participants who are not successful in your program? Does meeting these minority needs mirror your organizational values?


Inspiration From Adjacent Sectors

Banking on powerful ideas in adjacent fields such as organizational behavior and jazz music improvisation can empower and enliven staff teams who spend most of their time diligently grinding through program delivery. Here are two examples:

1 |  Adam Grant’s research on “Originals” can inspire staff teams to think about how to advance skills towards creativity, generating ideas, and thinking in non-linear ways. When in program meetings focused on exploring program data, encourage the generation of many ideas for solving program needs and program participant needs. The more ideas that staff member develop, the more iterations of the future solution will be carved and sculptor in the process of group idea-building. Every failed idea brings the staff team closer to a solution that will succeed, advancing the program and the program participants.

2 |  Jazz music improvisation – playing around with new chords and beats – stimulates the brain to support creative solution-making. Dr. Charles Limb and his team from John’s Hopkins University have studied the brain scans of improvising jazz musicians and continue to study children when improvising with art mediums to understand and develop creativity. When in program meetings focused on exploring program data, play around with potential rearrangements of program activities, tools, times, and so forth to see if outlier needs can be addressed. Whether or not a solution for addressing outlier needs is discovered the first time, the sheer act of playing around shifts your organizational culture to be exploratory and primes your program for finding innovations when the opportunities eventually present themselves.

Why did we develop 2 Tips videos?

We know that many professionals and organizational leaders do not have the funds to partner with specialists (like us) and/or the time to strategize on what might seem like extra projects.

We launched these 2 Tips videos to support you with making tweaks, adjustments, and refinements in programs and operations — doable for busy professionals like you!