Making Data Accessible to All Using Data Warehousing and BI Tools by Taj Carson

Hello, AEA365 community! Liz DiLuzio here, Lead Curator of the blog. This week is Individuals Week, which means we take a break from our themed weeks and spotlight the Hot Tips, Cool Tricks, Rad Resources and Lessons Learned from any evaluator interested in sharing. Would you like to contribute to future individuals weeks? Email me at AEA365@eval.org with an idea or a draft and we will make it happen.


I’m Taj Carson, founder and CEO of Inciter (formerly Carson Research Consulting). In the early days of conducting evaluations, I realized I was inadvertently gatekeeping a valuable asset by collecting and storing data in a way that only I could get to. Over time, I heard from many organizations that they wanted more – more access to their data, and more flexibility to use their data to construct stories for a wider range of audiences. Although the standard, PDF format reports often take up the bulk of an evaluation budget, I don’t believe they provide the bulk of the value. For instance, clients may wish to explore evaluation data sets to inform programmatic decision-making, reflect on progress, and share feedback with constituents long after the funder receives their report. Too often the resources spent on study design, data collection, analysis, and reporting did not usefully live on after the reporting stage.

Lesson Learned: There’s a Better Way to Do This.

There’s a better way to deliver data so evaluands can see and use the full results of their evaluation. Combining data warehousing with Business Intelligence tools, such as Power BI and Tableau, allows us to process data more securely, accurately, and efficiently than traditional approaches. This means that clients can query data sets and run reports without our assistance, and we can load data from ongoing years of an evaluation without having to manually repeat the data cleaning and processing steps.

Hot Tip: What Does This Look Like in Practice?

A data warehouse can facilitate the creation of a single source of truth that is secure, clean, and easy to access. The loading process for each data source can be automated using code so evaluators can add new waves of data more efficiently. This means no one has to wrestle unwieldy spreadsheets and multiple databases and evaluands can operate independently of the evaluators.

This all sounds great, but it’s also fairly technical. What does it actually take to build a warehouse?

  • You need some development skills, and not the kind that goes along with fundraising. You will want to know some code (or code-like things), such as SQL, Python, or maybe even Java.
  • You need to understand relational database structures if you want to analyze data across multiple sources.
  • You also need some cybersecurity expertise to secure your warehouse.
  • Finally, you need the wherewithal to maintain the warehouse, which can involve designing and enforcing data governance standards and processes.

You have a decision to make if you want to warehouse your evaluation data: If you have the kinds of skills above, your data isn’t sensitive, and it’s a fairly straightforward warehouse, you may want to build it yourself. If you don’t, consider partnering with a vendor who specializes in building and supporting data warehouses for nonpro?ts.

Rad Resources: Getting Started with Data Warehousing and Delivery to a BI Tool

Above all else, start by documenting all the data sources you want to bring together, and how they should be integrated. This step can often reveal whether you have enough data, and the right kind of data structure to invest in data pipelines and a warehouse.

  • Data Modelling Description
  • Check out this book if you want to deep dive into data modeling
  • Check out our blog post on data cataloging
  • Or this one on data dictionaries
  • Download our PDF on how to decide whether you even need a warehouse

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@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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