National Trust

Sowing seeds of change: Instilling data culture at the National Trust

Empowering all employees to make data-informed decisions boosts resilience

Saving over 84,000 hours in efficiencies in year one makes time for critical initiatives

‘Change champions’ drive data conversations and innovation across the charity

As businesses brace against the growing economic headwinds caused by the pandemic, time begins to look more and more like a precious commodity. The pressure to innovate is only increasing while ongoing uncertainty necessitates effective decision-making. Companies who have invested in their data culture early are likely to be in a stronger position to weather the storm.

Here, the National Trust’s Christina Finlay (Director of Data and Insight), Sarah Turner (Head of BI and Insight Delivery), Richard Clayton (Head of Data and Data Science) and Jamie Preston (Lead Ranger) discuss how their data culture is helping the charity tackle today’s challenges with greater intelligence and efficiency.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in The Economist. This is an abridged version of that story - read more on the Tableau blog.

Sowing seeds of change

Jamie Preston, a National Trust lead ranger for London and the South East, faced a problem. Every time he sat at his computer to work out budgets, he lost hours and hours trying to interpret data. Conservation had always been his passion, making him perfectly suited to the role of a ranger - the main responsibilities of which include the preservation of functioning and resilient ecosystems on the lands owned by the Trust.

But as with many jobs, the role of ranger has changed over the past decade. With the aim of delivering more public benefit in an increasingly digital age, the digitisation of internal processes has been widespread. As a result, even careers that were once considered hands on now require a certain level of technical competency. For less tech-savvy workers, this can be a hugely stressful experience which translates into significantly diminished efficiency and output.

We saved 84,000 hours in efficiencies in the first year, which is allowing the business to focus on more value-add activities

Out with the old, in with innovation

Sarah Turner, head of business intelligence and insight delivery at the National Trust, explains that Mr Preston’s experience was far from unique: it was emblematic of a wider issue within the organisation. “We knew we needed to do more with our data, and there was broad agreement across the various arms of the organisation that investing in a better data analytics system would enable us to be more effective in delivering far-reaching positive change.”

The goal, explains Christina Finlay, director of data and insight at the Trust, was to become a data-enabled organisation. “For the Trust, this meant being evidence-based in the way we make our decisions and enabling all employees to be informed by data in their decision-making”.

Over a period of just 18 months the National Trust has done just that, integrating a visual data analytics platform across the business to make it both quicker and easier for employees to get the insight they need. “When you implement any large-scale operational change in a company,” Ms Turner says, “you expect to encounter some resistance. But in our case, it was the opposite. The technology was so intuitive that almost straight away people were reporting an improvement in their job satisfaction, even among those whose jobs were not desk-based”. Ms Turner believes that the key to success was in the application of change management theory. “We identified change champions who were bringing diverse levels and departments together in a cross-functional project team,” she explains, and implemented changes based on their examples of success.

The biggest impact was how the new data analytics strategy empowered workers, no matter their role, to make data-based decisions on their own. The effects reached even those working outside of the central office. For rangers like Mr Preston it has meant less time sitting in front of a computer and more time focusing on conservation. “In previous years I would have been biting my fingernails and asking lots of questions of others,” he says, “but now the software allows me to find those answers myself”.

Data is a team sport that enables everyone to do the best they can in any given circumstance. Ultimately, the National Trust is a people-centric organisation. Our vision in the data team is building better, faster tools that help people to work together.

Keep on growing: sustaining wholesale change

2020 has been a transformative year. Existing technological infrastructures were stress-tested as remote working became a necessity.

For organisations like the National Trust, whose income depends on people buying memberships to physically access and explore the special places in its care, the impact of a national lockdown was immediate and dramatic.

Overnight, teams across the organisation had to rethink their entire strategy in order to deliver products and services that were more relevant in the new context. Supported by an analytics platform that was accessible and easy to use and a data strategy that championed data-based decision making, meant employees could analyse relevant information at speed. This bolstered its ability to respond to the rapidly changing government advice, explains Richard Clayton, head of data and data science at the National Trust.

When lockdown began to ease, the Trust was able to reopen its sites quickly and implement new rules and booking systems with efficiency. “We knew we were going to be able to reopen and we knew we would have to put some restrictions in place to be able to do so,” explains Ms Finlay. “The decision to introduce a booking system was a heart-wrenching one for us. But once it was made, we were able to pull together a team from all across the organisation—IT, operations, data, marketing and communications—and within two weeks we had a totally new system in place.” Not only that, but the ease of access to new data meant that the Trust could also monitor implementation closely and make adjustments where necessary. “The speed at which we were able to get this totally new source of data through to reporting was revolutionary for us,” comments Ms Finlay, “and demonstrates how much progress we’ve made as a business”.