Reporting is an important component of any outcomes measurement system. If you can’t get data out, then your system is practically useless. So your software reports should be able to tell you what programs and services are most efficient, how they are achieving their goals, and whether or not participants are meeting desired outcomes.
Despite its importance, many organisations neglect reporting, or leave it out all together until way down the track. This often happens due to a lack of user proficiency with a system’s reporting tools. When this happens, data entry becomes the focus, while reporting remains underdeveloped. However, a database full of data is only useful if that data is extracted, interpreted, and applied to your organisation. That is why reporting and data should be considered as equal portions of your database’s value.
You can use the following questions to determine if you are getting the most out of your system’s reporting functions:
- Do I generate reports frequently?
- Are the reports that I run accurate and organised?
- Am I applying reports to organisational goals and outcomes?
- Am I analysing these reports and looking deeper into the detail of each report?
- Are my reports informing potential improvements?
If you answered no to any of these questions, this blog will outline 4 tips to help you take advantage of your system’s reporting platform.
1. Maintain data quality
Reports are only as good as the data you put into your outcomes measurement system. Data is required to populate a report, so the accuracy of a report is dependent on the accuracy of the data. Inconsistent, inaccurate, or incomplete data will yield inconsistent, inaccurate, and incomplete reports.
Some tips you can do to maintain good data quality include:
- Cleanup existing data to a baseline level of data quality
- Define data entry procedures and document those procedures in user guides
- If possible, implement data entry features to improve data quality (i.e. data entry requirements and conditionality, such as showing or hiding questions based on a previous answer, or making certain questions required, or using forced choice drop-down menus)
- Implement data quality reviews and checkups on a monthly or quarterly basis
2. Develop reports based on goals and benchmarks
Reports go hand-in-hand with your organisation’s goals. Goals are benchmarks that set expectations for performance. A report contains real-time performance data that can be measured against your goals.
Reports are more relevant and accessible when the information is practically applied to your organisation. So, always set goals and benchmarks before you start generating reports, especially reports requiring complex designs, visualisations, or formulas, and then build that report to match your goals (see SQI’s blog on “5 ways to get more from your Outcomes Measurement data” for more information on this).
Some tips to help you develop your reports around your goals include:
- Define organisational goals using the SMART goal framework
- Develop a report that measures performance for each organisational goal
- Confirm that existing reports are being used as measurement tools
3. Run reports on a consistent schedule
Consistency is a key component of good reporting for three reasons:
- Setting a schedule for reports develops an operational control so reports are actually used
- Running reports consistently on a standard, recurring schedule maintains focus on goals and performance toward those goals
- Running reports consistently improves proficiency with your software system’s reporting platform and will improve your organisation’s expertise in reading and interpreting reports.
Consistent reporting is therefore a good habit to develop as it is an investment in the organisation’s continuous improvement. But not all reports should be run on a consistent, recurring basis. Operational reports that measure standard performance metrics should be run consistently, but ad hoc reports that have a specific one-time function can be generated on-demand.
So, devote regular time for reporting analysis on a set frequency and schedule by taking on board the following tips:
- Develop a set of monthly and quarterly operational reports that measure organisational performance
- Setup a monthly and quarterly task to generate defined operational reports based on a schedule
- Define a process for requesting and building ad hoc reports within the organisation; this will streamline the build process when on-demand reports are needed
- Schedule a monthly report review meeting with key staff. Identify the goals of the meeting, and then review a set of pre-defined reports within the context of the meeting’s goals. Develop some strategic actions based on the outcome of the monthly report review meeting.
4. Use reports to improve performance
When real-time data from reports is compared to organisational goals, contextual knowledge is created which can be used to take action and improve organisational performance (see SQI’s blog on “How to transform outcomes data into action” for more information on this).
The outcomes measurement process is cyclical and continuous – as one step in the process completes, the next begins. It involves the following steps:
- Set goals, define purpose and establish strategies
- Measure and analyze performance (Reporting Phase)
- Define areas of improvement
- Create an outcomes measurement organisational Culture
- Communicate your outcomes
So, reporting will tell you where to improve performance, and that knowledge can be used to make changes.
Use the following tips to take action with your reporting:
- Define at least one action you can take to improve performance after analysing each report
- Use reporting to validate assumptions and develop business cases for investment
Generating reports requires discipline, intent, and a strategic mindset. But if you have good data, apply that data to build reports that relate directly to your organisational goals, measure performance toward those goals on a consistent schedule, and use reports to inform organisational improvements, then you are well on your way to maximising your investment in outcomes measurement software.