Hello! We are Laura Beals (program evaluator) and Noah Schectman (database administrator) from Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JF&CS), located in Boston, MA. At JF&CS we use a cloud-based case management system to facilitate data collection about our clients and services. We are part of the internal evaluation department at JF&CS (i.e., he is not part of IT) and so we work closely together to ensure that we are collecting data in a way that allows us to complete our analyses in the most efficient manner possible.
Lessons Learned: Though our system has built-in reporting tools, we often download data for more complex analysis in another tool, such as Access or SPSS. In addition, though the data collection tools are designed as easy-to-complete forms in the system, we do have to bulk upload data regularly.
Many case management/performance management systems allow for back-end customization of the data collection tools—you may have the ability to do so in-house (as we do) or you may have to work with a third-party developer. Regardless, as an evaluator, if you are working with an online performance management system, you should ask yourself: “What does the data need to look like when it is downloaded? When it is uploaded?” In general, we first think about how the data will be used, then design the data architecture to match.
Hot Tips: When designing new data collection tools in our database, we ask several key questions about how the data should be formatted on the back-end, including:
– What are the unique identifiers for each case that will need to be downloaded with or uploaded to the database?
– Should the data be arranged so that a case is on a row or each assessment is on a row?
– For each variable, are the variable labels or the numerical values used?
– How are multiple response variables formatted? As dummy variables?
– If names are used, how will they be formatted? What about addresses? What about dates?
Even when we think we have it figured out, we always enter fake assessments for fake clients in the system, through the online form and through a bulk upload, and then download the data. We then review the resulting import/download and triple-check that the data is formatted in the manner we expect. We find doing the work to prepare the system ahead of time saves us a lot of data formatting and manipulation down the road!
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