Data Management: Choosing What Works
By Allyson Kelley and Kelley Milligan
Data management can be overwhelming. We have been overwhelmed. You might have been overwhelmed as well. There is no single recipe for data management.
We were asked to develop data management training sessions for our good friends and partners at the University of Wisconsin Peer Recovery Center of Excellence. Their work is at the heart of our work, to support recovery community organizations (RCOs) in their efforts to promote healing and wellness.
In April 2023, 30 people attended our 90-minute training session on data management… we learned more than we taught. We realized there are different reasons why people want to manage data. There is not just one data management approach, or four or ten. People and RCOs have various capacities, ideas, and resources.
Why Do You Need to Manage Data
To begin, it is essential to understand why you need to manage data. Is it funding, grant proposals, accreditation, client progress, fidelity to programs or interventions, evaluation and research, or other reasons required? Have a solid reason why you need to manage data. Collect only data that will be used and useful. Who are the people? Where are they at? What do you need to know?
How Will You Collect Data
There are a million ways to collect data. Data collection methods vary based on who you are and where you work and live. Choose the data collection approach that is the right fit for you.
You might not collect any primary data; you might rely on secondary data collected via state and national surveys. Always follow data protection, data use, and confidentiality rules.
Where Will Your Data Live?
Once data is collected, where will it live? Here are some possibilities:
Excel database, SPSS or other software, Google Docs or Google Forms, Text file, Cloud, online software, electronic health record database, file cabinet, folder, dashboard, and others.
Store, Analyze, and Manage the Data
Consider how you will store, analyze, and manage the data. This depends on your collected data, where it lives, and what you want to know. If you have secondary or third-party data, you might not need to analyze it; just store it in an accessible file for easy access. You will probably need a software program like Excel, SPSS, or SAS if you have numeric data. Sometimes you don't need to analyze data; a program will do it for you. If you are part of a SAMHSA grant and enter GPRA data into SPARS, their data visualizations menu presents frequencies, averages, and percentages based on the data you enter. Qualtrics or Survey Monkey has an analysis function. But sometimes, the computer-generated analysis reports lack the level of analysis you want. Maybe you want to know something based on gender, age, or housing status. These two programs have a raw data export function that allows you to export raw data into a CSV or Excel file for further analysis.
Data Security, Access, and Data Protection
When creating a data management plan, it's important to address who will be accessing the data, how they will access it, and implement measures to protect it. Create a data inventory to keep track of your organization's data sources and access information.
Here are Four Data Management Approaches
Software and Platforms
We work with several clients who use paper surveys and forms to collect data. Create a digital copy of the original survey or form. Organize paper files using a system, chronological, date, program, or other. Label files and ensure cabinets are in a safe and locked area. Determine how long paper files need to be stored. Save digital copies to a shared cloud or file using conventional naming strategies such as Survey Type, Unique Identifier, and Year. If you plan to analyze data from paper surveys, these should be entered into an electronic database like Excel.
Alternatively, you might be counting social media stats from Facebook because you want to know how many people liked your organization’s posts or followers. These stats written on paper can be entered into Excel for storage and analysis.
We frequently use Excel spreadsheets to track and analyze our client’s data. Excel is a great tool that allows you to enter data easily and create easy formulas to analyze and present the results. Create an Excel sheet that can house the results of your data collection tools, such as client intake questionnaire or Allen Barriers to Treatment Instrument. Build your data collection tools into Excel, create easy formulas for analysis (sums, averages, percentages), and view results! Determine who has access to the Excel files and how long the files will be stored. If you track identifiable information in your Excel database, you can create passwords limiting access to specific sheets or the entire document.
If you have a more advanced Excel user on your team, they can build a data dashboard that visualizes all data entered in the database. This could mean multiple teams enter data into the same Excel file on their own password-protected sheets!
Frequently, you need a system that all project staff can access for entering data and reviewing findings. There are online platforms, such as Google Forms, where you can build out your data collection form and view your aggregated results. These systems are often free, easy to use, and present findings using easy-to-understand data visualizations. These are a great alternative to paper surveys or questionnaires that are rarely uploaded and analyzed. These tools are accessible through any mobile device, meaning data can be entered easily.
Software and Platforms
Some clients have specific data management needs and seek specific platforms to manage data. One example is the Recovery Capital Index (RCI), intended to measure recovery, a multidimensional survey of a person's social, environmental, and behavioral well-being. The RCI survey platform includes systems for communication and report generation.
Qualtrics is an online survey platform that collects, stores, and analyzes data. We use Qualtrics for most online data collection and analysis. It can be used on mobile devices, apps, websites, and other systems like Adobe.
Data visualization programs like Tableau can help you manage and share data. Last year our team developed a data dashboard for the Doya Natsu Healing Center. This dashboard presents the data in an interactive, easy-to-read format while demonstrating positive outcomes from complementary alternative medicine sessions.
Data helps sustain and inform programs that help individuals and communities heal. Data provides evidence of progress, tells stories of resilience, and gives us hope that everything we do is right and real in this wonderful world. – AK