Data collection and utilization can be a challenge for any organization. FRCA and our Members Centers are no different. We currently have 30 members in our network and every single one has unique needs when it comes to utilizing their data to the fullest. Each Member Center has differing strategic priorities to leverage and message their data to learn about and serve families. This is in part due to the unique needs of families in each community. Layered on the community needs, are reporting requirements in each of the funding sources our Member Centers receive. All of this variability can make managing our data collection, analysis and evaluation a difficult thing to do. Our systems have to be flexible enough to allow for Member Centers to collect and utilize what is unique about their own communities. In the same way, our data has to be structured enough that we have commonality in identifying not just what services families are accessing, but concretely identifying family progress as families grow alongside our Members themselves.
While we ask our Member Centers to use one database for our entire network, we know that many of our Member Centers are using three, four, or more individual databases to record different data due to funding requirements. Funders have, with genuinely helpful intentions, provided access to services/tools/databases to capture their specific data so that the data is collected consistently across grantees. It has probably been one of the only sustainable ways to collect that information neatly and consistently at scale. However, I have seen the fatigue for Member Center staff when they have to enter the same records in three places. I know enough to see it is not sustainable for the long term. Most Member Center staff work directly with families because they want to work with families, not because they want to enter data in six places afterwards. I’ve seen the same fatigue when data managers are faced with joining four or five data sources to get to what should and could be a simple answer.
While this is a significant challenge we face, there is cause for optimism. At FRCA we are taking on the challenge of data integration from our major collaborating partners to help alleviate that burden of duplicative data entry. We’re investing in and exploring integration projects that could potentially replicate at our Member Centers or even scale to cover the entire network and State. Most encouraging of all, we have the community of data nerds and the culture to make radical solutions work. Our network taps into the skills of economists, teachers, data managers, developers, scientists, and data-lovers who are so much more than a job title can convey. We have a mutual view, that understanding our data means understanding the people we serve and that makes for more effective decision-making. A network this wide and passionate about families, will always find a way to make it work. This includes the challenges of collecting and understanding information to best serve our Colorado communities, Member Centers and families. As we continue to improve our technical supports to Members, there’s plenty of room to grow. I am excited to be a part of this growth and innovation as we wrestle with the challenges of data collection, analysis and evaluation. This journey will take us all places we never expected or dreamed, as individuals, organizations, or as a network.
By Stuart Sims, Data Manager at Family Resource Center Association
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