Using Electronic Case Records for Evaluation in Social Service Agencies Part I by Aaron Gunning and Laura Beals

Hi! We are Aaron Gunning, Database Implementation Manager, and Laura Beals, Director, of the Department of Evaluation and Learning at Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JF&CS), a large multi-service nonprofit located near Boston, MA. We are fortunate that our evaluation team includes two client database administrators/developers, which allows us to maximize the technology for our evaluation needs while simultaneously supporting the needs of direct-service staff and agency administration.

Many of you who work at or consult in social service settings probably have experienced this scenario: data that you need for evaluation or reporting, for example client demographics or dosage of service delivery, lives on a paper document sitting in a manila folder on a staff member’s desk. You know the information is being collected as part of the client’s case record, but you have no way to (easily) access it. Perhaps you have asked the staff member to enter select pieces from that case file into a spreadsheet. This situation often results in data that is incomplete, riddled with data entry errors, or entered long after the services were rendered. Since the data is not very high-quality, it cannot be used for evaluation, and because it isn’t being entered in a timely manner, it cannot be used for making real-time decisions.

To help solve this issue, we are migrating to Electronic Case Records (ECRs)—the social work equivalent of electronic medical records. By replacing paper client case records with electronic ones, we have integrated data collection for evaluation with service delivery, resulting in reduced burden on staff time and dramatically improved data quality and accessibility.

Hot Tips:

  • ECRs not only support evaluation work, but also operations and risk management. For example, because the direct service staff use the ECR to document their case notes, the evaluation team has access to accurate information about service delivery dosage. However, program leadership can also easily monitor the completion of the notes, ensuring compliance with social work case record standards.
  • ECRs allow you to pull the data via reports for both evaluation and operations. For example, we provide “case load monitoring” reports for direct service staff to be able to see with whom they are working at any given time. We also provide “data monitoring” reports, corresponding to key funder requirements, that indicate data completion rates, flag potential outliers, and aggregate key data points to ensure high-quality data.

Rad Resources:

If you are interested in a cloud-based database to support your client-level work, here are a few resources to get you started:

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “Using Electronic Case Records for Evaluation in Social Service Agencies Part I by Aaron Gunning and Laura Beals”

  1. Very helpful resources! So many of us working in nonprofits just don’t understand the different aspects and possibilities in this area, but depend on quality systems to do our evaluation work. I shared this with our IT person. Thank you!

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