Della Rucker of Wise Economy Workshop and EngagingCities sat down with Rob Sentz, EMSI’s VP of Marketing, to discuss the genesis of EMSI’s new certification program, which launches next month at the EMSI Conference, and much more.
As Rob articulated, EMSI’s big goal as a company is to help our clients use labor market data to make intelligent decisions for their communities. And the certification program is the next logical step in getting people up to speed on how to interact with our data to get better results.
Listen to the conversation here or below. We’ve included some thoughts from Della that she posted on her blog. She also has a forthcoming book to keep an eye out for: The Local Economy Revolution: What’s Changed and How You Can Help.
Here’s more from Della:
This interview with Rob Sentz of [Economic Modeling Specialists Intl.] introduces you to one of the most thoughtful and comprehensive data analysis platforms out there today, and it gives a great insight into why producing a Thing that grabs a lot of data — or grabbing data to try to plug into a fast decision — isn’t enough. Not if we actually intend to develop intelligent solutions to wicked community problems.
When I heard that EMSI was starting a fairly intensive training program for users of its subscription-based tool, I was a little surprised. Even the earlier versions of the EMSI platfom that I have used in years past were, I thought, pretty easy to use, and I knew the new version, which I had seen but hadn’t played with, was even more user-friendly. So why would this very established platform, with lots of long-term users, feel the need to get into the training business?
The answers, for me, were pretty interesting. Here’s a few of the elements that I think are most informative:
- EMSI wanted people to understand what they were doing. They wanted users to not only grab data sets that looked relevant, but they wanted people to understand the background of the data they were using — what a source was designed for, what it includes, what it doesn’t include, what assumptions underlie that data set and how it might or might not be relevant to your situation. Educated people, theoretically, know that data sources are only as good as the source, and that “garbage in” can equal “garbage out.” But how often do you use online information, or get handed some kind of analysis, and have any clue whether you can actually trust the information to mean what you think it does? And if you don’t know if you can trust it, do you take it on faith or do you slip it into the drawer and go back to deciding by the seat of your pants?
- EMSI seems to understand that in pushing for this higher level of understanding, they are quietly fighting against one of the biggest challenges facing every analyst, analysis-user, or data-provider: We want that pile of information to directly tell us what to do. Make it easy, on us, we secretly tell our computers. Just give me an answer, hand me a Number, and let me get on with it. But Rob articulates the challenge beautifully: real data analysis, the kind that allows us to make intelligent decisions, is not a magic pill. There are few easy answers. Meaningful data analysis requires, as he put it, a “conversation” with the data — a back-and-forth process that takes us gradually through the layers and builds a mature understanding, not a simplistic assumption — or a wild goose chase.
- EMSI came to this understanding out of a very simple strategy: they listened to their customers. As Rob says, “Any time you create a technology, people will use it for stuff you haven’t planned on.” So EMSI has remained in conversation with its users, too — and grown and changed along with them. It wasn’t enough to just put a platform out there and update the information regularly. The meaning, and the value, of what they provide to their subscribers, comes from this ongoing conversation, and their willingness to change in ways that build that relationship. And that’s a different skill set than crunching data or building an app.