There are different types of information gathered in your Apricot system, each with its own use, context, and purpose. In particular, information exists in a hierarchy – data, information and knowledge, as outlined in the diagram below.
Each type of information is useful in its own way and not all of it is going to provide you with the answers you need to make informed strategic decisions. Understanding the differences and knowing how to develop different types of information will help your organisation get the most out of your Apricot system and transform raw data into actionable reports, dashboards, and analytics. This blog will describe this information hierarchy and in doing so will outline 12 tips to transform your Apricot data on programs, services, volunteers, grants, and/or donors into actionable software reports.
Data lies at the bottom of the hierarchy because it is essentially the starting point or foundation. It is the raw inputs or pieces of information that have little meaning at this stage. That is, data doesn’t provide any context. It is just discrete bits of information that are collected throughout your organisation.
Data is captured on forms and fields in Apricot. Each form is a record and each field on a form captures a unique data point. The structure of Apricot forms (including form linking) and fields define how data will be displayed in Apricot reports.
So because data is the foundation of the hierarchy, good data ensures good measurement. Good data in equals good data out. Moreover, the other parts of the information hierarchy cannot exist without good data, making it a critical component.
Given this, it is important to ensure you have good quality data by taking the following steps:
- Keep data collection focused on capturing data relevant to your organisation’s goals and objectives
- Develop forms and fields based on reports – don’t build forms just for the sake of building forms.
- Build forms, sections, fields, and form logic that encourage good data entry and produce quality data.
- Run data quality reports and reviews on a frequent basis to maintain healthy data.
Information is the aggregation or grouping of data points into an understandable format so that it has specific purpose or meaning. For example, consider a count of participants in a particular program by race. The data is the individual participant intake records and the race field, while the sum of those data points is a piece of information that has meaning beyond the individual records. Generally, information is what you create when you run reports from your Apricot software system. So, information requires consolidation and aggregation of data into reports to reveal trends that exist within the raw data points.
Use the following tips to aggregate your data into information:
- Build and run Apricot reports on a consistent and frequent schedule to gather unique insight from the data in your Apricot database.
- Build a single “base” or audit report for each form in your system (as a foundation), then build more complex reports from that foundational report.
- Filter, group, and visualise each “base” report to match your goals and objectives.
- Follow a structured Apricot report development process that incorporates performance management principles and best practices.
When information is contextualised and given meaning that applies to a particular situation, then it becomes knowledge. Knowledge therefore moves beyond aggregating data statistically or mathematically (which is information), but applies this information to your organisation so that it adds value. It requires interpretation and thought, thus it is more of a human process, as opposed to data and information which are more computational. For example, the count of all participants with a specific race is just information, but you create knowledge by comparing the count to a goal count of participants you hope to serve in a target population. The knowledge you generate is the realisation that you either did or didn’t achieve your goal. However, knowledge can only be generated with clear information applied to a situation, and good data, which is why it is at the top of the hierarchy.
Knowledge can be created with internal Apricot reporting features or external to the Apricot database altogether. Reports run in Excel or statistical modeling software are equally capable of creating knowledge.
If you choose to use the Apricot reporting platform, knowledge can be created with the outcomes reporting tool, the charts feature (specifically target lines), and comparison reporting.
So, you can develop knowledge by leveraging Apricot reporting features in the following ways:
- Build Apricot reports that contain charts and visualisations of information including the visual components of the outcomes tool.
- Format Apricot report charts in bulletins to produce real-time information dashboards.
- Build reports that produce knowledge by incorporating features like outcomes, comparison reporting, and target lines.
- Build Apricot reports that answer specific questions about your organisation’s goals and objectives with data.
Although data, information and knowledge make up the information hierarchy, it doesn’t end here. To truly look at your outcomes and manage program performance, you must go one step further and transform your knowledge into action. While action is not an information type, it is a critical element to the information hierarchy, as depicted in the diagram below.
Data, information, or knowledge alone cannot help you manage program performance and improve your outcomes. Essentially, you need to take action to make a difference by combining all of the three types of information together. So with clear data that is aggregated into accurate information and then transformed into insightful knowledge, your organisation has the context and concrete evidence to take action. Action might be modifying elements of your program design, or tightening the budget next month.
The information hierarchy along with the critical component of Action can give you the evidence you need to make these changes with confidence and accuracy to bring about organisational improvements, thereby transforming your data into actionable knowledge via Apricot’s reporting features!