Category: Data Management

But Researchers Never Found All the Pieces Yet

I have spent the last couple of years at my job wrangling data: visitor numbers, electronic resource fulltext downloads, activity reports, things like that. All of the numbers and reports and the like are stashed in Google Sheets and Google Docs, in SharePoint and in OneNote, and they are shared constantly through email and Slack. And we can put them all together to tell compelling stories about the work we do.

But I know that this isn’t quite enough to really capture the whole story. There are better data points and better ways to collect and manage those data points and better ways to evaluate them.

(I am giving some of my spreadsheets the short shrift when I put it that way. They are beautiful spreadsheets and like Big Daddy Kane they get the job done.)

I’ve thought a lot about how we can improve our data collection and management over the past couple of years. I’m not thinking about little tweaks here: I’ve done those little tweaks already. I want to make significant changes, and I’ve put a lot of thought and done a lot of work to figure out how to do so.

My office is presently implementing a new two-to-three year strategic plan. As the plan has fallen into place, a lot of the work I had done has been incorporated into it. Even better, my colleagues have come up with new ideas that either complement or improve on mine. Fresh sets of eyes bring fresh perspectives, and people who haven’t lived with the day-to-day tasks of data management can help those who do see the forest through all of the trees.

We recently had a meeting with folks from outside our office to talk about our data plan. They will be helping us put it into motion. One of the social scientists we met made a point that summed up how I’ve felt the past couple of years: How do we move from data management to data evaluation? We all agree that we’ve come up with a framework to make that leap.

I love it when a plan comes together. Now if we can just continue our work without further interruptions, everything is going to be great.

We Want Qualitative Information

I am quite desperate for a way to manage and analyse qualitative data.

My main job task at work is managing quantitative data. If it’s a number we can plug into a spreadsheet, I know how to collect it. There is plenty of room for improvement and, to be honest, I am cursing the fact that I didn’t pay more attention in my Access class in grad school. But generally speaking, I have a good handle on the types of quantitative data we collect, the flaws and the needed improvements to our processes and to our datasets, and the ways we can use that data to tell our story to whoever asks.

But we have access to all sorts of qualitative data as well. For example:

  • Reports from foreign service officers;
  • Cables from posts;
  • Reports submitted to an internal reporting system;
  • Posts in the community forum on our website;
  • Posts in our Facebook group;
  • Newsletters and other activity reports that are either sent to us directly or shared via our email lists.

All of this is spread out over a variety of disconnected locations. We have troves of information stashed in mattresses all over our house and seemingly no good way to tie it all together.

So that is my holy quest: to research and compile ideas for managing qualitative data and figure out how best to implement those ideas. I am told that it better not just result in a word cloud.

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