After months of research, planning, and prep work, your organization’s shiny new database is up and running. Users are learning the ropes and beginning to plug data in. Your organization will develop its own rhythm of data entry and export, which will meet ongoing internal and external reporting needs. And eventually, there will be enough information available to tell the stories about your clients, services, and outcomes that you’ve been dreaming of since this whole process began.
But now that the database is “done” is that all there is to it? Not quite, and the honest truth is that any good database will never really be finished; the best will allow you to grow and customize data entry and reporting tools as your organization naturally evolves over time. Here are some tips to keeping that shiny new database in tiptop shape, in order to best suit your organization’s need and ensure successful program evaluation.
Invest in dedicated database administration.
More often than not, this gets relegated to an already over-committed staff member who has no expertise in running a complex database and may not be truly committed to taking on the task. A good database administrator, whether it be in-house (with at least 50% of a full time position dedicated to the work) or an outside consultant, will take care of all the back end tasks, customization, and troubleshooting. This role will also work with staff to establish best practices on database usage, to provide custom documentation, and to conduct ongoing trainings to keep staff up to speed as the database changes or as users become more skilled and are ready to learn more advanced features. Finally, they will become the reporting guru – building fully customized reports to track everything from system users, to basic program statistics, to advanced dashboards on outcomes. All of which will free up everyone else to focus on the actual data, and which leads to…
Commit to ongoing data analysis for the sake of learning and improvement.
It is vitally important to perform ongoing quality reviews to make sure data is being entered correctly; that the data you thought you wanted to track is being captured at all; and that your organization is capturing all of the data it needs for reporting purposes. However, it is equally important that the database doesn’t just become a tool for monitoring whether or not staff are doing the work and/or doing it right.
Engage staff at all levels of the organization in the process of using the data to help manage their cases/clients, program performance, and organizational outcomes. The data should be able to point to what is working, what is not, and what could be causing problems. While it may be daunting when data reveals that things are not going as intended, use that as an opportunity to change for the better. And celebrate the successes your data points to and use information that to help redefine areas that are struggling.
When required changes to data tracking and reporting are identified, the database administrator will then be able to implement them in the system, update documentation and processes, and provide training on new functionality. It all comes full circle.