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Guest post: The most important asset for good data

Posted on 24th Jun 19 by Chloe Parker

In this guest post Chole Parker, founder of Core Insights, observes that the key to getting the most out of your database lies with humans, not with data.

Most often, when we thinking about making our database work well, we think about getting the best value database for our money. However, the best asset isn’t what database you have, it’s how your PEOPLE use it. Your STAFF are the most important asset when it comes to good data.

I'll give you an example.

Elizabeth was a manager at a small charity. She decided that her staff were taking too much time manually entering data into spreadsheets and, as a growing organisation, she decided it was time to get a new database. She went and researched and found the perfect database for their needs, and worked with the provider to get things set up. She gave the team some training on the new database and that was that. 2 years later, a couple of the initial team members had left and the team had become disheartened with the database. The new team members didn’t know how to use the system, and things in the database had become clunky, as the database hadn’t been adapted to keep up with their new projects and strategies. People had resorted back to creating spreadsheets to hold the data. Elizabeth didn’t understand what had gone so wrong. This was the perfect database, but the staff didn’t seem interested.

What went wrong?

Make sure everyone is involved

The first red flag was that Elizabeth made all the decisions on her own. She probably thought this was wise, as her team were busy and weren’t that interested in data anyway.

However, this meant her staff didn’t feel bought into the process. They felt like the database had been ‘handed down’ to them, and had no ownership over the database. Although Elizabeth had an overview of what the team needed, she couldn’t know everything.

Whenever I’m helping a team to find a new database, I do just that. Involve the team. 3 out of the 4 steps in my “4 Steps to find the right database” course involves team discussions and participation. Your team know what their requirements are for a new database, and can add more value than one or two people ever could.

You’ll also be surprised how the people who you initially thought wouldn’t be interested in data can become data champions in your organisation, with the right empowerment and training.

Being more involved, helps your staff to have more ownership over the new database and allows them to take more ownership in the future.

Make sure everyone is trained

Elizabeth did offer some training to her staff, but as we saw, 2 of her 3 staff team had left after 2 years, meaning the new staff had little knowledge of how to use the database. Investing in good quality training for your existing and new staff, helps them to make sure they are confident in using all relevant parts of the database, saving them time and stress (and prevents them from creating offline spreadsheets).

Aside from using your database provider for training, you could also use peer networks (your database provider may have one of these, or make use of online discussion groups). You could also have a database ‘guru’ who is responsible for training up new team members and being the point of call for questions about using the database.

Make sure this keeps happening

However, involving and training your staff shouldn’t be a one time thing.

We recommend reviewing your database every 6-12 months. Your programmes and strategies change regularly, and a section of the database that was relevant when you first invested, may no longer be needed. You also may need to change, or add new functionalities to the database. If you want to go through a tried and tested methodology for doing this, then “4 steps to get more from your database” will help you go through this process thoroughly and methodically.

These discussions to make changes to your database should also be done with your team. Again, 3 of the 4 steps we use in “4 steps to get more from your database”, involve team discussions. It will keep them motivated by the database, and give them a forum to air their frustrations and training needs with you.

Reviewing your database every 6-12 months should help to draw out any training needs, as you’ll be able to see if their frustrations are down to the database, or how they use it.

2 tips for staff training?

  1. Always train new staff thoroughly in using the database.

  2. Make sure to regularly ask your staff if they need some further training on the database and give them the time and/or budget to do so.

As for Elizabeth? She realised that the database she originally started with was no longer meeting their needs. So, she sat down with her new team, allowed them to air their frustrations and worked with them to come up with a solution. She now sits with her team every 6 months to review the database. She only has to make minor changes, because they regularly chat. Her team are much happier and more confident with using the database. And ultimately? They produce better and more usable data.

This post was originally published here.

About the author

Chloe Parker is the founder of Core Insights. She helps charities and non-profit organisations save money on data processing, analysing and reporting.

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