Overcoming Common Challenges with Data Collection

You can’t manage it if you don’t measure it. But once you’ve measured it, what do you do with all of your data? Do you have a good way to roll it up? How can you use the data to make thoughtful decisions? For organizations that are collecting data from multiple sources, the result can be a tremendous amount of information without an effective means to analyze it, or communicate trends.

Here is a quick run-down of the common mistakes many government and private sector companies make while trying to put their data to good use:

Common Mistakes
Even the most well intentioned organizations stumble as they work to stand up a quality data management system. Here are a few of the most common errors:

  • Lack of a central data repository: Often times, organizations collect an array of EHS data multiple sources, yet decision-makers want to see a holistic view of their organizational health. They want to know, for example, if management system conformance is tracking with compliance finding decline over time. Having data in a central location allows for data roll-up and trending, while  dashboards and reporting tools can help an organization access and analyze data for real-time decision-making.
  • Setting weak targets:  Good data can only come from measurable targets. A target to ‘reduce water consumption by 20% in 2015’ does not allow for the granularity needed to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Organizations need to establish baselines and define measurable targets to achieve.
  • Poor data quality:  Pencil-whipping happens. Your organization is only as good as the data inputs. The better quality data you have the better the future analysis will be.
  • Uncertain outcomes at the onset: Sometimes those asking for the data are not certain of what they truly want to measure. Collecting information on air permit compliance is not the same as tracking monthly air emissions. And changing data call questions prevents analysis of trends over time.

Tips for Setting up a Solid Data Management System

How do you avoid these obstacles? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Train your folks: Strive to ensure each organizational level understands their role in the implementation and sustainment of the system. Weak data collection at the source is just as troublesome as a senior leader who does not know what they want to measure.
  • Communicate needs: Engage leadership early in the process and brainstorm with them on the intended outcome of the data collection effort.
  • Set clear goals with well-defined outcomes: What to track should be very clear. The more understanding you have of the goals will allow for more measurable targets. A strong goal and target combination allows for defining specific actions to get the job done.
  • Create a one-stop-shop for data management and analysis: Technology can be leveraged to create a centralized repository from a myriad of data topics and locations. And using technology allows organizations to make their data visual for decision-making.

Leveraging technology allows organizations to streamline data collection methods and build dashboards and other tools to communicate results. Dashboards across organizational levels are proving to be a benefit for risk analysis, trending and planning for future resource needs.

To learn more about how to leverage technology to communicate your data, join NAEM and Solution Foundry on Dec. 4 for a webinar on “Streamlining Your Data Collection Systems.”

About Krista Goodale

Krista Goodale is a Senior Consultant at Solution Foundry. She is focused on implementing management systems and providing overall project management support for large federal customers. She is a Registered Environmental Professional and Exemplar-Global Certified ISO 14001 Lead Environmental Auditor.

View all post by Krista Goodale »

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