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Data Proficiency - Lesson Four

Lesson 4: The importance of data collection

The Data Proficiency Program training lessons will arrive monthly in your inbox from mph@subscriptions.in.gov. If you are not receiving the lessons when they are posted via your state email account, you can subscribe to our mailing list to receive the monthly lessons.

Government is known for its paperwork. Forms, information fields and clicks fill many of our days, whether we are the customer or the employee providing customer service. Each of these forms is a way to collect data. The data collected within these forms is critical to providing timely, accurate service or making determinations about eligibility for services.

When data is entered incorrectly, it doesn’t just affect the customer. It also impacts the quality of data within the system. This in turn can lead agencies to make decisions based on inaccurate information or lead to costly correction or “data cleansing” efforts. It is the responsibility of each state employee to ensure that data is collected accurately so that the best decision can be made to improve outcomes for Hoosiers.

There are ways to  make data collection easier and more accurate. The Indiana Management Performance Hub (MPH) helps agencies improve current data collection processes or implement new systems. Great improvements can be made through simple changes. One easy way to improve the accuracy of data collection is limiting free text boxes and replacing them with drop down selection menus. Free text boxes allow the person inputting data to type out an answer. Drop down menus allow the person inputting data to only select options from those listed on the menu.

To understand this in action, think about St. Joseph county in northern Indiana. How many different ways can the county name be spelled? Saint Joseph, St. Joseph, Saint Joe, etc. To accurately account for all St. Joseph county entries, you would have to find all the different spellings (and misspellings) and make them consistent. It would be much easier to include all counties on one drop down menu where there was only one selection option for St. Joseph. This is just one way to improve accuracy and consistency when collecting data.

Extra reading:

Read on about the importance of data collection and how it can be used within and outside of state government:

This is just the start to improving your data knowledge and skills. MPH looks forward to continuing this journey with you.

<< Go back to Lesson Three: Telling stories with data visualizations | Go to Lesson Five: Data in the News >>

The video for lesson 4 (How to Collect Data: Study Hall Data Literacy #4: ASU + Crash Course lesson) comes from the Study Hall: Data Literacy series released in September 2020 by Arizona State University as part of the popular Crash Course learning channel on YouTube.

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