Large Scale Eval Week: Erin M. Liang and Mark M. Holske on Strategies for Securing Data for Large and Complex Evaluation Projects

Hello – Erin M. Liang and Mark M. Holske here, members of the research team evaluating the Health Care Cost Containment Law (Chapter 224) from the Office of the State Auditor in Massachusetts.

Large evaluation projects dealing with complex research questions may require several sources of data. Securing data becomes one of the most important and ongoing tasks for the successful completion of the project.

For our Chapter 224 work, we are in various stages of accessing and securing data. These data sets include administrative data (e.g. the All Payer Claims Database (APCD) from the state’s Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) and survey data such as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS) from the MA Department of Public Health. We would like to share with you some lessons we have learned thus far.

Lessons Learned:

  • It can be a long process for an agency to prepare and disseminate data, so be flexible on your timeline to account for this. For example, the APCD contains confidential health information at the patient level and CHIA must de-identify the data and only extract the necessary fields.
  • Be specific about data requests. Standard application forms cannot cover all research situations, and often more information is needed by those preparing the data extract. Be prepared for follow-up questions about your application.
  • Think about future partnerships and endeavor to make the data request process mutually beneficial. For example, the APCD is a relatively new dataset and agencies across the Commonwealth are working with this data for the first time. Sharing experiences and providing feedback will enable each agency to learn faster together.
  • Don’t overreach in your data request. As data geeks, we want to know everything, so we ask for everything. However, keep your request to what is necessary depending on your research questions. Asking for data that is not directly related to your research can delay the receipt of data and possibly strain your relationship with those who own the data.

Hot Tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to touch base with the data owners often to make sure all application material was received and no additional information is necessary.
  • Make your data security expert available to address any concerns regarding data transmission and storage.
  • Once you receive the data requested, make sure all files are included. Large data transfers are complicated, so it’s important to make sure you received everything you requested.
  • Form a working group with members from both agencies to share information in order to improve the process.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Large Scale Evaluation Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from evaluators who have worked on the evaluation of the Health Care Cost Containment Law in Massachusetts. 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.

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