Turning Data Into Fresh Insights
You might know Nicole Howley as our resident data and policy nerd who loves to make data accessible for decision makers to find new connections and insights.
Nicole has built Business Intelligence dashboards for organizations ranging from homeless service providers to rock climbing companies to ecommerce retailers. She also has extensive expertise in qualitative and quantitative research practices that she has put to use measuring the impact of business decisions and tracking grant progress for nonprofits. Additionally, she has published over 100 magazine articles and blog posts, planned multiple large scale events, and helped companies develop policies and programs to make long term improvements to organizational efficiency. She has a Master of Science Degree in Science, Technology and Public Policy from Rochester Institute of Technology.
This Q&A will help you get to know what experiences Nicole Howley brings to the Open-i Advisors team.
We’ve all come to Open-i Advisors from diverse backgrounds. What are some of your career or personal highlights to date?
Nicole Howley: Career-wise, one of the accomplishments I am most proud of is completing a year of service through AmeriCorps VISTA. In my role, I worked with the Office of Homelessness in Lexington, KY to help coordinate the response to homelessness throughout the city. While I did not work directly with clients, I worked with an amazing team of service providers to develop sustainable solutions to some of the barriers that were preventing people from obtaining housing and staying housed.
I’m incredibly proud of the work I accomplished there from organizing a city-wide count of people experiencing homelessness, establishing the first ID card scanning program at the second largest shelter in the city, to developing forms that helped people document their experience of homelessness so they could access housing resources more quickly. In this role, I felt incredibly motivated by the common goal of ending homelessness through housing and incredibly fulfilled from using my skills in data anlaysis and policy development to make a difference in people’s day to day lives. I am incredibly grateful for the experience and all that I learned professionally and on a personal level.
An additional personal highlight: winning first place in a women’s rock climbing competition in Louisville, KY last year!!
We all try to bring a lot to the table at Open-i Advisors. On the Open-i Advisors team, what’s your superpower?
NH: I wish it was flying. But really, I rock an Excel spreadsheet. I also build business intelligence dashboards that give people the power to make data driven decisions about their business. My goal is to help companies access their data to make better business decisions long term. Is there a cool super hero name for that power?
Outside feedback is enormously important for businesses. What’s some feedback that you’ve received personally that helped you grow?
NH: “If there is no right answer, there’s nothing left to do but decide.” As someone who loves data, reserach, and backing up my decisions, it is really easy for me to get caught up in trying to find the correct next step before moving forward, but in a lot of business, especially those that are incredibly innovative, there is no “right” answer – or at lease no known “right” answer.
Sometimes it can be tough for me to overcome by determination to find the right answer and to just jump into a project when I am not 100% confident in what I am doing. The friend who told me the quote above was encouraging me to get over that decision making hump and to dive in, try, and learn until I got it right by doing instead of getting caught in analysis paralysis. It was advice I really needed at the time and still think back to regularly.
We’re fond of the saying, “If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” What’s one thing you think an organization should immediately start measuring that they likely aren’t?
NH: I am very interested in measuring anything related to an organization’s goals, and I think those goals can vary greatly from organization to organization. However, I would encourage everyone to keep an eye out for the outliers and look into those instances more.
When I was working to address homelessness in Lexington, we would work day in and day out on creating policies and programs addressing the needs of as many people as we could as efficiently as possible and we knew from our numbers that we were making progress in reaching our goals. But then we would look out the window of our office and see the same person day after day, month after month, still experiencing homelessness. We had our spreadsheets, our numbers, and our strategies that worked for the majority of our clients, but we got some of the best insight into how we could improve our system overall from noticing the people who’s needs weren’t being met.
I think finding outliers can help organizations find the nuggets of valuable feedback that might otherwise be overlooked. They can also help organizations determine their unique strengths and the areas that set them appart, as well as some of the areas they can improve efficiency that might otherwise go under the radar.
What do you love doing in your spare time?
NH: Rock climbing – I would rock climb everyday, all the time if my arms would physically let me. Biking – I used to bike everywhere and it’s actually incredibly fun to bike in the snow. Reading – I read more books than Bill Gates last year and it is still one of my favorite accomplishments.