Changes and updates to the structure of your ETO database are common and often necessary. As you make changes and improvements to your program outputs, outcomes, impact or reporting requirements, you may find better ways to track key metrics, enter data in a more efficient way, and redesign the way your reports present your data. So it’s important to conducting a formal, strategic review of your system on a semi-annual or annual basis – you can download our assessment template to facilitate this. Reviewing your database and making any necessary changes to its structure ensures that you capture data that is up-to-date and relevant to required reports.
Regardless of the reason for updating the structure of your ETO database, any update should be done with careful consideration and planning, otherwise, any changes that you make may be inefficient and ineffective to use.
Before you dive-in and start rearranging data in your database, this post outlines 10 questions that you can ask to assist your planning and help you determine if your organisation needs an update.
1. What are users saying?
The data you report and “pull out” of ETO software is only as good as the data you “put into” ETO software. Before making any changes or updates to the current structure of your data, it is important to gather feedback from your front-end users because they are responsible for data entry.
Ask data entry users:
- What is working
- What isn’t working
- What issues do they frequently run into
- What challenges do they have with the system,
- What improvements do they recommend, and
- What they need to make their work in ETO easier, more efficient, and more effective.
Asking front-end data entry users for feedback should start a strategic review of your current ETO database structure. With this feedback, you can then establish a list of expectations for any major or minor database structure updates.
2. Are complaints about the database related to the software or internal processes?
There is often confusion around whether database structure issues are software problems or internal process problems. Your organization needs to have solid processes, methods, and procedures in place that supplement the structure of your ETO database.
It is therefore important to identify which complaints are internal process-related issues and which ones are database structure or technology related. This question is important because you don’t want to build new data structures unnecessarily when simple improvements to your organization’s methods, procedures, processes, and workflows will solve the issue. And, if you do decide that you need to make changes to your current internal processes, you need to assess whether this will also mean changes to your database structure.
3. Are there duplicate fields in the current structure?
It is very easy to duplicate fields as you add programs, services, and fields to your ETO database structure. This can compromise the quality of data entry and reduce the quality of reports.
Duplicate field creation is something you want to minimize, eliminate, and avoid because it can become a serious long-term problem if left unchecked. It is important to review all current data fields and identify fields that are duplicates. Existing duplicate fields need to be removed from your ETO database and duplicate fields should be avoided when making additions, changes, or modifications to your database structure.
4. Is data missing?
You can uncover missing data by reviewing your program design and identifying shortfalls in current reports. If you can’t report on something, there is a good chance the data doesn’t exist. You can also uncover missing data from front-end user feedback.
Ask yourself the following questions to identify missing data in your ETO database:
- Are our funders asking for data we can’t easily report?
- Are we pulling data from different sources (inside or outside of ETO) and aggregating the data manually?
- Do we have partners, participants or users asking for data that isn’t readily available?
- Is our data formatted in a way that is reportable (i.e. using lists of discrete choices in fields rather than text boxes, and putting fields in the right places)?
5. Are we using the data in the current database structure?
Often organisations that use ETO software build new fields, forms, and data structures that sound good on paper, but are never used in reporting, program performance management, or continuous improvement projects. These fields are built in the database because “we just want to have the data” or “we may need the data in the future” or “we have always tracked this data.” Data may also become unused when program or funder requirements change and the data that was tracked is no longer useful.
Over the long-term, unused fields make the data structure burdensome and makes report writing difficult. It is important to track and manage only the data that you will actually use in reports. This will keep your ETO database neat, tidy, and clean.
6. Do we have a data quality and management plan?
A data quality and management plan ensures high quality data in reports and contains the following elements:
- Data entry standards, manuals, and guides for end-users
- Data quality reports run on a consistent basis
- Identified staff that are responsible for managing data quality
- Developed culture that supports end-users in entering quality data
- Consistent capacity building and training for data entry users
Having a data quality and managment plan in place before making changes to your database structure will ensure that the implementation of a new database structure is successful. It will also ensure that the new database structure is sustained and maintained long-term.
7. Can we show our current outcomes?
Is your organisation able to “show” the outcomes and impacts they are having on your target population using empirical data from the database? Are there gaps in what you can show in your ETO reports, which means there may be gaps in your data collection?
Answering this question before making changes to your ETO database will help you identify whether your ability or inability to show current outcomes with data is training related, report related, capacity related, strategy related, or field and database structure related. If the gap is field and database structure related, you can fill those gaps with a new database structure.
8. Have our outcomes, goals, and anticipated impacts changed?
Many organisations who use ETO are performance-based in that they use data as part of a continuous improvement plan, making adjustments to programs, services, and goals as part of its organizational improvement processes.
Using a performance-based approach will prompt numerous strategic changes to your program design, the services you offer, and the measurements and metrics you track. These changes usually require database structure updates and changes in order to continue tracking progress toward your goals and continually improving results. Identifying these changes and how best to track this data should be the basis of any database structure change.
9. Do users have sufficient ETO training?
Consistent and accurate data entry is the key component to a good data management and reporting system. A good training program is one of the best ways to ensure quality data entry for your users. In addition, the more exposure your users get with ETO software, the better equipped they will be to enter quality data and take ownership of the data they enter.
Developing an ETO training plan that addresses both your current and future users’ needs is a key component in developing a positive user experience and seamless transition to an updated database structure.
10. Do we have at least two ETO software administrators?
Your organization should have two users who are fully trained in your ETO database structure, setup, and system. Fully trained means they should know the ins and outs of ETO software, what ETO can and can’t do, the structure of your data, how to run and interpret reports, and how to manage and leverage data stored in ETO.
These two users should use the system consistently and should be able to help other users when needed. These two users should also collaborate with each other, support each other, and provide each other with a sounding board for potential changes.
Having two users also ensures that in the event of staff turnover or illness, someone in the organization has knowledge and ownership of your ETO system and is aware of any database structure changes that have been made. This backup of ETO knowledge in your organization mitigates potential risks.
ETO software administrators don’t always need to be staff internal to your organization. You may consider outsourcing administrator support to an ETO software consultant – see our post on 7 ETO tasks where you may need the expertise of an ETO consultant.
Use these 10 questions to gain insight into how your database is structured now and how you want to modify the structure in the future. This will help to make the transition to a new database structure more successful.