Data collection and assessment tends to be everyone’s least favorite part of a benefits outreach and enrollment project. But when properly implemented, these efforts not only support your funder’s reporting requirements, but can also serve as a useful tool to give you insight into what you’re doing that’s working (or not working) so that you can direct your resources appropriately.

AgeOptions, a Benefits Enrollment Center in suburban Chicago, shares some of their “tried and true” strategies for data collection and assessment.

Who was the target audience?

Community-based organizations that conduct benefits outreach and enrollment efforts

What did they do?

AgeOptions developed a comprehensive system to coordinate their own, as well as their partners’, data collection efforts. Here’s what they learned in the process:

  • Make sure you put the proper systems in place very early in a project. First, you’ll need to identify a champion for data collection on your staff or project. This is the person who can “rally the troops” among staff (and partners) on how to build this into your culture. It is a good idea to secure buy-in on the importance of tracking data both in your agency and in your partner agencies.
  • Identify the key elements that need to be tracked. Make sure that all partners are aware of data requirements and ensure that staff and volunteers (both internally and with your partners) are all on the same page in terms of how different data elements are defined.
  • Offer to take the time to meet one-on-one with each partner so that any questions or issues that they have can be identified early on in the project instead of waiting until reporting deadlines are missed.
  • Be willing to explore with partners what data they may already be collecting and how it is being captured. Perhaps there are current reporting systems in place within their organization that will facilitate the collection of the data that you need. When working with a diverse group of partners, each may have a different level of technological sophistication. It is important to make sure that all of the partners have a method of collecting the necessary data.
  • Develop tools that support data collection such as specialized worksheets. Review definitions carefully and make sure everyone is clear on what each item is capturing. Take the time to explain the tools and worksheets and be open to feedback. Based on the complexity of your reporting form, for the first few months of the grant period you may need to have the staff person who is in charge of data collection review all reports each month and provide follow-up training for the partners.

What was the result?

The above data collection and assessment strategies have enabled AgeOptions to successfully take on increasingly larger projects that have involved many diverse partners. By providing partners with a well-defined, properly supported system of data collection and assessment, they are equipped with the tools, resources and assistance that they require to be successful and work effectively. According to Maribeth Stein of AgeOptions: “…implementing a comprehensive data collection system from the start of a project will not only help you to evaluate the overall successes but it will also help you redirect your efforts mid-way through the process. This will allow you to implement new strategies to more successfully meet your end goals.”

For more information

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