Flirting with “dangerous” data tracking practices

I used to be a die-hard, centralized database fanatic. “If it’s not in the system, it didn’t happen!” was a mantra that played on an endless loop in my mind. This was (and remains) largely in response to situations where someone fails to document something in the database, and when Research is charged with gathering information, we don’t find that certain something.

Because someone failed to put it in the system.

And for the most part, I remain in that camp. Our reporting isn’t correct if we don’t accurately record the things we’re reporting on! So it really is essential that we consistently capture the right things.

I must admit, however, that I am beginning to stray from this idea, particularly when it comes to things that don’t fit so neatly into our database. (Frankly, it feels a little dangerous to flirt with such a “bad” idea…)

For example, let’s say someone wants to track how frequently our gift officers use a particular glossy planned-giving handout on the visit with them. (That is our only goal – we want to know how many of these actually serve as a conversation point in a visit.) There may be a viable way of tracking this in our database – there may be a field we can commandeer to keep tabs on which visits featured this fancy handout. We might have to use some completely non-intuitive field to do it, and essentially fit a square peg in a round hole. And we might have to spend lots and lots of time creating some reports that will pull it for us. And we might have to take even more time going back through this year’s contact reports to catch the ones that require some retroactive recoding.

On the other hand, what if there are just ten such visits per year that need to be tracked? Instead of jumping through fifteen hoops to make this fit into the database, might it be easier to create a spreadsheet on a shared server drive that could be updated periodically?

In this scenario, is it “in the system?” Well, no. But does it still accomplish what we need? Tracking the relevant information in a widely accessible, sharable way that is easy to understand? Yes. And yes.

This is a situation where common sense might override a guiding principle. It certainly feels a little wrong and maybe even dangerous, but maybe there are times when that’s okay… Maybe?


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